IT’S DIRTY BIRD TIME!
It’s late in the season and that means it’s time for some NFC South rivalry games. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are headed to “Hot-lanta” for a meeting with “Matty Ice” and his Falcons. This game doesn’t quite have the fanfare that it typically does. The Falcons have struggled this year and sit at 5-6 for the season. And they’re not even as good as that record indicates. In fact, “Hot-lanta” is a hot mess right now. They didn’t re-sign Todd Gurley in the off-season. They traded Julio Jones, leaving Calvin Ridley as their #1 receiver. Then they lost Ridley to some kind of “mental breakdown“. The only positive thing that’s happened with the Falcons since last year was drafting the tight end, Kyle Pitts, out of Florida, who’s turned out to be the real deal.
The Bucs are coming off of a HUGE win in Indianapolis over the red hot Colts. The Falcons are coming off of a 21-14 win themselves against a bad Jaguars team in Jacksonville. This isn’t the “big-time showdown” that it’s typically been in the past, but it’s still a big game. It’s an NFC South game. It means something, especially to the Bucs who have a 3-game lead over the Falcons for the division. When they last met in Week 2, the Bucs won easily 48-25 at Raymond James Stadium. They’ll be going for the sweep on Sunday, so let’s take a look at this Falcons team to see what the Bucs are up against.
Atlanta’s offense is still being led by Matt Ryan, but the weapons that he’s had in the past are gone. No Julio Jones. No Calvin Ridley. No Todd Gurley. They do have a couple of new faces like Cordarrelle Patterson and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, but Matt Ryan isn’t what he used to be, and the offense is struggling. They are 27th in the league in total yards and points per game, averaging 225 passing yards (19th) and just 85 rushing yards (30th) per game. They are one of the worst teams in the league in turnover differential with a -7 deficit, turning the ball over 18 times while causing just 11 of them. Ryan has thrown for 18 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. They depend heavily on their new additions to move the football. Pitts is their leading receiver with 661 yards, but he only has 1 touchdown. Patterson has turned into their workhorse. Not only does he lead the team in rushing with 411 yards and 4 touchdowns, but he’s their second-leading receiver with 500 yards and 5 touchdowns. The key for the Bucs will definitely be keeping those two guys under wraps. They do that, and this should be an easy win for Tampa Bay.
Atlanta’s defense isn’t much better than their offense. They are 22nd in the league in total yards allowed at 362 yards, and 31st in points allowed giving up nearly 28 points per game. They have allowed 25 or more points in 7 of their 11 games this season. They are 14th in passing defense, giving up just 237 yards per game through the air, so the Bucs may come out running the ball in this game. They are 23rd in rushing defense, allowing 125 yards per game on the ground. Add in the fact that they are missing one of their best defensive tackles in Jonathan Bullard, and it could mean a BIG day for Leonard Fournette; and/or Ronald Jones. I see the Bucs pounding the rock early to open things up for the passing game. No matter what, this Falcon defense is probably in for a long afternoon.
WHO’S IN & WHO’S OUT
The Bucs just can’t seem to get back to full strength. Every time someone comes back from an injury, someone else pops up with a new injury. It looks like they might have all of their original starting corners back for the first time since Week 2 with Carlton Davis coming back off of IR and Jamel Dean listed as “questionable“. Bruce Arians says that Dean will be a “game-time decision,” but I think he’ll play. Ali Marpet and Devin White are also listed as “questionable,” but both of them have been practicing all week, so I expect them to play as well.
That’s the good news
The bad news is that Jordan Whitehead has been officially ruled “out” with a calf injury, and Mike Edwards has been suspended for 3 games because of some stupid COVID-19 policy violation. That leaves them short at safety. It looks like Andrew Adams will start alongside Antoine Winfield Jr., and Ross Cockrell will likely fill in as backup safety. Jaelon Darden and Antonio Brown are also out on suspension for the next 3 games for the same COVID-19 policy violation as well. The Bucs have activated Breshad Perriman from the practice squad to the active roster for this game to help out with receiver depth.
Atlanta comes into this game pretty healthy, with Jonathan Bullard being their only player officially ruled “out” at this point.
Donovan Smith vs. Dante Fowler Jr.
Donny makes my list once again, and for good reason. He will be matched up quite a bit with one of the Falcons’ best defensive players. Smith has been having a Pro Bowl type season, but he has had issues with speed rushers in the past. Let’s see if he can keep Fowler off of Brady’s backside.
Devin White vs. Kyle Pitts
This should be fun to watch. Former Florida Gator versus former LSU Tiger. Speed and power versus speed and power. Elite athlete versus elite athlete. I can’t wait for these two to get matched up.
Lavonte David vs. Cordarrelle Patterson
The Bucs will have to keep Patterson from getting yards in this game. He just had his first and only 100-yard game last week against Jacksonville, but he’s a dual-threat out of the backfield that David needs to keep tabs on.
Vita Vea vs. Chris Lindstrom
This should be a matchup that Vita can take advantage of. Lindstrom is a good player, but he’s only in his third year. Vita is a force for even the most seasoned vet to handle, so it will be interesting to see if Lindstrom can hold his own against him.
Carlton Davis vs. Whoever
Davis is coming back off of IR where he’s been since Week 4 of this season. I don’t know if the coaching staff will limit his snaps in this game to ease him back or not, but keep an eye on whoever he is covering when he is in there.
The Falcons aren’t very good. They have either been blown out or barely won in almost every one of their games this season. They got beat 32-6 by the Eagles and 25-0 by the Patriots, both at home, so there doesn’t seem to be much of a home-field advantage in that ugly new stadium. The offense only has two real threats, and the defense doesn’t scare anyone. Matt Ryan just isn’t the same player, and the Falcons just aren’t the same team.
The Bucs seem to have that Super Bowl-bound swag back after that win last week against the Colts. If that’s the case, Atlanta is in trouble. It’s been hard to figure out which Buccaneers team will show up to play each week this season, but hopefully, that’s a thing of the past. The Bucs have scored the second-most points in the league behind the Cowboys, and the Falcons have allowed the second-most points in the league behind the Jets. That’s not a good combination for Atlanta. I don’t think this one is going to be close.
SCORE: BUCS 41 FALCONS 16
Every game counts in the NFL, but this is December football. Every game has weight. Every win puts you closer to home-field advantage in the playoffs. Every loss puts that further away. If you’re “in the hunt,” you can’t afford losses. The Bucs are undefeated at home this season, so they are gunning for that home-field in the playoffs. They are sitting in the third playoff spot right now behind the 9-2 Cardinals and the 9-3 Packers, so a win helps them keep pace with Green Bay, who’s on their bye week. They need this one. They need everyone. They need all of them. But they can’t win them all if they don’t win this one. The run starts on Sunday.
Until then, as always; GO BUCS!!!