Two very similar teams coming off ugly defeats look to right their ships in a key NFC South Divisional matchup. For Atlanta (1-4), their season may be on the line, for Tampa Bay (2-2), it’s an opportunity to put the final nail in a division opponent and make the NFC South race a 3-team affair.
Tale of the Tape
Bucs Offense vs. Falcons Defense
It’s uncanny how alike the Bucs and Falcons are. Both teams have solid offenses. Both teams’ defenses are the pits. The big difference between them is the Bucs were winning their shootouts earlier in the season, while the Falcons weren’t. The Falcons, like the Bucs, are coming off an embarrassing effort. The Falcons were steamrolled by the Steelers and the Bucs are hoping they’ll be able to duplicate some of that success on Sunday.
Atlanta can’t stop the run or the pass, so this might be a good game for Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones to finally produce. Jameis Winston will be making his first start of 2018 and he should have all but O.J. Howard ready to go for Atlanta’s overmatched secondary. He should have time to throw, as Atlanta’s defense is among the worst rushing the passer (tied for 27th with Miami and – yep – you guessed it – Tampa Bay). Overall, Atlanta’s 31st in Scoring Defense (Tampa Bay is 32nd)
The most important piece in this game is protecting the football. While Chicago was a disaster all around, the Bucs lost to Pittsburgh due to turnovers and nearly blew the game against Philly for the same reason. We all know Winston’s proclivity to give up the goose, but he can’t do that this week or it will severely hurt his team. Atlanta is a +2 in giveaway/takeaway ratio while Tampa Bay is struggling at -4.
That’s got to change on Sunday.
Falcons Offense vs. Bucs Defense
The Falcons aren’t quite as dynamic as the Bucs on offense, 13th in Total offense and 9th in scoring. Of course, facing the Bucs defense, any offense can be dynamic. Honestly, though, the Bucs have really only given up big points in two of their four games this season – the opener in New Orleans, where Drew Brees put up 40 in a losing effort and the debacle in Chicago. They held the Eagles to 21 and the Steelers to 23 (Pittsburgh’s other 7 points came on a pick-six).
So rested from the bye, some self-scouting completed and getting back some of their banged-up guys, there’s reason to hope for a better effort from the Bucs defense. Matt Ryan is Matt Ryan and we all know how difficult he is in that dome. We don’t need to be reminded of the 56-0 at halftime game a few years back. He’ll get his yards, as will Julio Jones, the key is to force some turnovers and still possessions.
If the Bucs do one thing well, it’s containing the run, and surprisingly, Atlanta hasn’t been very effective running the ball this year. Tampa Bay needs to keep that trend going because if Devonte Freeman gets hot, it might be another long day at the office for the Bucs.
Of course, Matt Bryant continues to be a finger in the eye of every Bucs fan at kicker for Atlanta. Matt Bosher is a solid punter. The Bucs counter with Chandler Catanzaro whose settled down after a slow start and Bryan Anger, who hasn’t been as dynamic as a punter this year. If active, Shaun Wilson has a little speed as a kickoff returner and Desean Jackson is as dangerous as ever as a punt returner. The Falcons’ Marvin Hall did pop a kickoff return for 53 yds, but his overall average is, well, average. They haven’t gotten much from Justin Hardy as a punt returner.
- If there’s one division opponent Jameis likes playing against, it’s the Atlanta Falcons. Winston is 3-2 vs. Atlanta, throwing for 1,245 yds, 12 TDs and just 2 ints for a QB rating of 110.
- Falcons have a slight edge in the series 25-24 and have won the last three meetings.
- In his past 10 vs. the Bucs, Matt Ryan has thrown for 2,905 pass yards(290.5 per game) with 20 TDs vs. 4 INTs for 109.8 rating.
- In 20 career starts vs. Tampa Bay, Ryan is 13-7.
- In 12 games vs. Tampa Bay, Julio Jones has caught 83 balls for 1,413 yds and 10 TDs.
- He’s never played in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but in previous trips to Atlanta, Jameis Winston is undefeated at 2-0.
I know I’ve been a homer all season, picking the Bucs in each game. I’m sticking with them this week against Atlanta. While both teams are damn near mirror images of one another, I think the Bucs, believe it or not, have a slight edge on the offensive side of the ball. In addition, the Bucs defense can at least contain the run, something the Falcons don’t do a very good job of. If the Bucs can get any semblance of a rushing attack against Atlanta, it will help limit Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’ opportunity to tear at the soft underbelly of the Bucs’ secondary.
Jameis has played well against Atlanta, particularly on the road, if he can be mistake-free, the Bucs should win this game.
Pick: Buccaneers 34, Falcons 24