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Falcons vs. Steelers: 4 Key Matchups to Watch in Week 15

Atlanta returns home to take on Pittsburgh in what figures to be a pivotal contest.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With three games left in the 2014 regular season, the 5-8 Falcons (somehow) remain atop the NFC South. A win against the Steelers wouldn't guarantee a division title, but a loss would put a lot more pressure on Mike Smith and Co. heading into next week. Given Atlanta's well-documented struggles in the Super Dome, Sunday's outcome figures to have a major impact moving forward.

The Steelers (8-5, second in AFC North) are considered a favorite, but have also struggled against lesser opponents: they've already lost to the Jets and the Buccaneers, and barely overcame the lowly Titans. Needless to say, the Falcons have reasons to be (cautiously) optimistic.

Here are four key matchups to watch during this Week 15 bout.

Le'Veon Bell vs. Atlanta's front seven

Le'Veon Bell is one of the most dangerous running backs in the league, and possesses a skill set that could give Atlanta fits. A quick, shifty runner, Bell is especially tough to bring down in the open field. This could present problems for the Falcons, who feature a number of poor tacklers.

And, much like Eddie Lacy, Bell has tremendous value in the passing game. The Michigan State alumnus has a whopping 693 receiving yards on the year -- quite a jump from 2013, when he had just 399.

Cameron Heyward vs. Ryan Schraeder

A Suwannee native, Cameron Heyward has been one of Pittsburgh's more effective defenders this season. His five sacks are respectable -- and are tops on his team -- but that stat alone doesn't capture his ability to rush the passer. Among 3-4 DEs, Heyward is in the top 10 in QB hurries, QB hits and total stops. According to Pro Football Focus, he has missed just one tackle this year.

Heyward will see a lot of time against Ryan Schraeder, who, surprisingly, has been quite good in recent weeks. Schraeder was very solid against the Packers, posting a 1.6 pass block ratting on PFF. He's finished with a positive overall grade in three straight.

Desmond Trufant vs. Antonio Brown

Desmond Trufant has taken on some of the NFL's most talented receivers in 2014. Antonio Brown may be the best of the bunch.

Brown, who trails only Julio Jones in receiving yards, is in the midst of his best professional campaign, one that has cemented him as an elite wide out. He's coming off a stellar performance against Cincinnati: nine receptions, 117 receiving yards. Additionally, Brown has at least 70 yards in each of his past 15 games, an NFL record.

Matt Ryan vs. the big mistake

Matt Ryan has quietly put up some good numbers of late. Right now he's fifth in the league in passing yards (3,802) and is also fifth in PFF's QB rating, one spot behind Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. That said, he's made some untimely and lowlight-reel worthy errors in 2014.

Last week's interception was one of several ugly picks this year, as a failed throwaway landed in the hands of Morgan Burnett. That turnover resulted in seven points for Green Bay. Of course, at the time, it didn't seem monumental; the Packers were up big, and were blowing the Falcons out of the water. But Atlanta orchestrated an impressive comeback, one that fell six points short.

A quick disclaimer: I do think folks have put too much stock in these errors. An interception is an interception, regardless of how gruesome it is. Still, Ryan needs to avoid such mistakes against Pittsburgh -- otherwise, another close loss may be on the horizon.

What matchups will you be looking for on Sunday?