Week 1 of the 2016 NFL Season kicks off this Sunday for the Buccaneers when they visit their NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons. The Bucs swept the series with the Falcons last year, and will look to continue pushing that momentum forward into this season. The game will mark homecomings for both HC Dirk Koetter (former Falcons OC) and DC Mike Smith (former Falcons HC), and the Bucs figure to be ready to “win one for Smitty.”
Buccaneers Offensive Keys to Victory
– Run the football. The Bucs should be looking to get Doug Martin going early and often. Tampa Bay totalled over 100 yards on the ground in both games with the Falcons last year, and will need to do the same in order to keep the ball out of the hands of the likes of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman. The running game has to be active to control possession and run the clock.
– Don’t turn the ball over. Limiting turnovers is important in every game, but it is incredibly important in this one. The Bucs can’t afford to hand the ball over to a potent Atlanta offense, so ball security will be big for Tampa Bay.
– Finish drives. Last year, the Bucs started off the season extremely weak in the red zone, and they will need to show an ability to finish their drives with touchdowns against a Falcons side who can put up big numbers in short order. Field goals aren’t likely to be enough on Sunday.
Buccaneers Defensive Keys to Victory
– Shut down the run. RB Devonta Freeman is coming off a big season in Atlanta, and is poised for an even bigger one this year. If he gets going early, it will open up the full bag of tricks for the Falcons in the passing game, and the Buccaneers don’t want to deal with that. The Bucs will need to stay disciplined in their gaps to avoid it.
– Pressure the Quarterback. This will be our first look at a revamped Tampa Bay pass rush, and hitting Matty Ice is in every defensive game plan against Atlanta. Ryan has looked like much less of a threat when he’s been hit over the years, and the Bucs need to keep the ball away from WR Julio Jones.
– Keep your composure. When you play in a place like Atlanta on opening day, it’s important to stay cool around the collar. The Falcons have the ability to put up big numbers quickly, and the Bucs will have to keep the “next play” mentality at least once during this game. Veteran leadership will be important to calm the troops.
Players to Watch
– DT Gerald McCoy will have a key match up against C Alex Mack (Pro Bowler) in this game. McCoy will be the first and most important indicator on both stopping the run, and getting pressure on the QB. Keep an eye on him.
– CB Brent Grimes will have his hands full with the larger WRs on Atlanta’s roster, as will all of the Bucs CBs. He also has a proclivity toward incredible plays, though. The fact that he’s played for the Falcons in the past gives a clue that he might come up with a big one in Atlanta on Sunday.
– QB Jameis Winston seems on the cusp of a breakout year, and that all starts now. Watch to see how his long ball has improved over the offseason. Bucs fans are also hoping to see fewer interceptions out of their second year QB. It will be interesting to see his development, to say the least.
Both teams look a little sloppy early. The Buccaneer pass rush looks good, but the defense struggles a bit against the run. Doug Martin starts fast, and has a big first half. The teams go into halftime tied, or nearly tied.
In the second half, the Bucs come out strong after fantastic adjustments on both sides of the ball. The Atlanta running game slows down, and the Bucs’ D begins to produce turnovers. Jameis Winston has a big game, and the Buccaneers win 31-23.