The Atlanta Falcons (2-2) will take a trip to Florida to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) in Raymond James Stadium at 1 p.m. EST. This is a battle between the top-two teams in the NFC South, and the winner will have sole possession of first place in the division.
The Buccaneers coming off a 41-31 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, will look to finally get back in the win column after suffering two straight losses.
The Bucs offense, led by Tom Brady, has been a shell of its former self to start the season. Statistically, in terms of total offensive yards, the Bucs are ranked in the bottom 10 teams. As a unit they average 317 yards of total offense; 251.8 passing yards per game and 65.3 rushing yards per game.
Tom Brady has played competently so far completing 68.4% of his passes for 1,058 yards and 6 touchdowns with a QBR of 56.3. Running Back Leonard Fournette hasn’t been anything special this year, rushing the ball 60 times for 224 yards with an average of 3.7 yards per carry.
The receiving core has been the bright spot for the Bucs offense. Mike Evans continues to be one of the NFL’s top receivers, totaling 16 catches for 235 yards and three touchdowns. New acquisition and former Falcon Russell Gage has also been very good for the Bucs so far, totaling 21 catches for 152 yards and one touchdown. Chris Godwin, who has only played in two games this year due to a hamstring injury, has been reliable as always, totaling 10 catches for 94 yards.
Julio Jones has been a disappointment for the Buccaneers to this point. He has just one catch for seven yards since Week 1.
Defensively, the Bucs are stacked at every position. This Tampa Bay defense is the main reason the Bucs have been able to win games. Statistically they rank as a top 8 defense when it comes to total yards given up. As a unit they allow 321 yards per game; 214.3 passing yards and 106.8 rushing yards.
The Falcons coming off a 23-20 win against the Cleveland Browns, will look to continue their win streak and claim the top spot in the NFC South.
Offensively, the Falcons have been very impressive through the first quarter of the season. Quarterback Marcus Mariota continues to play just good enough to keep his starting job, completing 58.2% of his passes for 779 yards and three touchdowns for a QBR of 49.6.
The rushing attack, who will be without Cordarrelle Patterson for the next month, has been one of the bright spots for this Falcons offense. As a unit, the backfield has totaled 672 rushing yards and averages 168 rushing yards per game.
Receiver Drake London, who was very quiet last week, has played very well to start the season, hauling in 18 catches for 231 yards and two touchdowns. Kyle Pitts continues to not be involved in the offense, totaling only 10 catches for 150 yards.
The offensive line has been another bright spot for the Falcons, Football Outsiders has the Falcons offensive line ranked as a top 3 unit overall.
Defensively, the Falcons haven’t been amazing. However, during the past two weeks this defense has reminded me a lot of the 2016 defense; bend but don’t break. As a unit they ranked bottom 10 in total yards against them. The Falcons are giving up 386.3 yards per game; 260 passing yards per game and 126.3 rushing yards per game.
They have been able to generate turnovers pretty well, totaling four interceptions and three fumble recoveries. The pass rush has been pretty solid as well, totaling eight sacks.
The Falcons, who have been underdogs in every game played so far, come into this game a 10-point underdog according to My Bookie.
Offensively, the Falcons will be without running back Cordarrelle Patterson due to a knee injury that landed him on the IR. It’ll be interesting to see how the Falcons approach this game from an offensive standpoint. The backfield will now consist of Tyler Allgeier, Caleb Huntley, and Avery Williams.
Allgeier and Huntley were very good last week after Patterson went down, collectively rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown. Hopefully they’ll be able to replicate their strong performance.
London, coming off a quiet two-catch performance, will look to bounce back and continue his strong season. London will have his work cutout for him this week as he’s going up against one of the best secondaries in the league. London will see matchups of Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis, and Sean Murphy Bunting. Hopefully London will use last week’s performance as motivation as he will need it against this deep and talented secondary.
I hate that I have to continue to say that Kyle Pitts needs to be involved in this offense. This week, Pitts will see matchups of Devin White, Lavonte David, Antoine Winfield, and Mike Edwards. Hopefully Mariota will look his way and he can have more than one catch. Pitts has been out this week of practice with a lingering hamstring problem placing more of the receiving burden on London.
The offensive line is facing their toughest opponent so far this season. The Bucs front seven is one of, if not the best, units in the league. They’ll be going up against Shaq Barrett, Vita Vea, and Akiem Hicks. A matchup to look out for this week is Chris Lindstrom vs. Vea. Lindstrom, who was PFF’s number one ranked player last week, will look to continue his amazing season up against one of the top defensive lineman.
It’ll be very interesting to see how the Falcons offense plays against this Bucs defense. Will they try to continue their strong rushing attack even with the absence of Cordarrelle Patterson? Or will they put the ball in Mariota’s hands and try to throw the ball?
Defensively, the Falcons will have their work cut out for them this week.
A.J. Terrell, Casey Hayward, and Dee Alford will look to slow down the deep and talented Bucs receiving core. Terrell, coming off his best game of the season where he only allowed one catch against Amari Cooper, will look to replicate that performance against Mike Evans. Casey Hayward and Dee Alford will also see matchups with Mike Evans but will mostly see matchups against Chris Godwin and Russell Gage.
Grady Jarrett and company will have their hands full again this week as the Bucs offensive line is one of the league’s best. The pass rush has been miles better than last season with eight sacks. Last week they were able to create pressure against the Browns line, which gives me hope they will be able to do it against the Bucs.
Jarrett and rookie-edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie have been very solid to start the season and will need another strong performance if the Falcons want any chance to create pressure.
Running back Leonard Fournette, who hasn’t been able to get much going in the rushing game, will be incorporated in both the rushing and passing game this week. Fournette should be able to have a solid game, as the Falcons defense is one of the worst against the run.
Defensively, the Bucs will have a relatively favorable matchup this week. With Patterson out, they now only have to worry about London and possibly Pitts when it comes to pass catchers.
The Bucs secondary will have to be on their A game this week however, as the Falcons have proved they can move the ball down the field. It’ll be interesting to see how the Bucs lineup against the Falcons, with the absence of Patterson will they drop everyone back and try to stop the pass? Or will they still anticipate the run and load the box?
This game will be a lot closer than what the people and the odds are saying. There are tough matchups on both sides of the ball for both teams. The absence of Patterson will hurt the Falcons but they still should be able to run the ball.
Divisional games are always close and this week will be a continuation of that. Will the Falcons be able to continue their strong rushing attack? Will Tom Brady and the receiving core be able to continue their strong start?
Who will claim first place in the NFC South?
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 31 Falcons 27