Believe in Falcons; will beat Tampa

Matt Ryan has turned his career around with the Falcons and winning on the road isn't such a big deal any more.

The NFC is so wide open that a Thursday night meeting between Atlanta and Tampa Bay could wind up having some significance when the playoff races conclude.

Neither team has been particularly consistent. Had the Falcons not held off Green Bay on Sunday, they would have been in a freefall similar to last season, when they went from 6-1 to 8-8.

The Buccaneers, meanwhile, can't win at home, dropping all three matchups. One of their three wins came in Atlanta to open the schedule.

Tampa would be most tempted to throw on offense because Atlanta is ranked only 27th against the pass. Now that their top three running backs — Doug Martin, Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers — are hobbled, the Bucs might not have a choice.

The Falcons (No. 6 in AP Pro32) are 2 1-2 point favorites over the Bucs (No. 25). They will respond better to the challenge.

FALCONS, 30-24

KNOCKOUT LEAGUE TIP

Denver did the deed last Sunday, though it wasn't easy. How can we not go with DALLAS this week?

No. 2 Dallas (minus 7) at No. 32 Cleveland

Searching really hard for Browns' first victory. This isn't it.

BEST BET: COWBOYS, 27-16

No. 23 Carolina (minus 3) at No. 26 Los Angeles

Despite their win over Cardinals, don't see Panthers as favorite here.

UPSET SPECIAL: RAMS, 20-17

No. 11 Pittsburgh (plus 2 1-2) at No. 24 Baltimore

This would have been upset special if we knew more about Big Ben's availability. Still ...

STEELERS, 24-20

No. 3 Denver (pick-em) at No. 7 Oakland

Are Raiders ready for changing of the guard in AFC West? Not quite.

BRONCOS, 23-20

No. 10 Philadelphia (plus 2 1-2) at No. 14 New York Giants

Late-game collapse at Dallas could plague Eagles for a while.

GIANTS, 21-20

No. 30 Jacksonville (plus 8) at No. 4 Kansas City

Can't believe the Jags will be horrible once again. As for a win against Alex Smith-less Chiefs — nope.

CHIEFS, 27-20

No. 16 Buffalo (plus 7) at No. 5 Seattle, Monday night

Bills need LeSean McCoy on the field to compete.

SEAHAWKS, 22-10

No. 17 Detroit (plus 6) at No. 8 Minnesota

Both teams come off road duds. Take the hosts.

VIKINGS, 17-14

No. 28 New York Jets (plus 4) at No. 21 (tie) Miami

This game will not be decided by outstanding QB play.

DOLPHINS, 16-13

No. 21 (tie) New Orleans (minus 2) at No. 31 San Francisco

Niners aren't ready to beat anybody right now.

SAINTS, 29-16

No. 27 Indianapolis (plus 7) at No. 9 Green Bay

Packers are SO banged-up, but still the better side.

PACKERS, 23-14

No. 19 Tennessee (plus 4 1-2) at No. 20 San Diego

Even though they can't finish, Chargers are solid enough.

CHARGERS, 30-23.

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