The NFC South doesn’t slow down. With the difference in talent between teams getting slimmer, every game counts. The Bucs are looking to stop their two-game skid in which they’ve lost by a combined eight points. The Falcons look to remain relevant by taking advantage of an easy stretch in their schedule, one in which they play Tampa Bay, Minnesota and the Giants. Here’s the kicker though-neither team is very good.
The proof is in the pudding.
Josh McCown has completed just under 68 percent of his passes, but is averaging 181 yards per game.
No Falcons running back has over 100 yards rushing.
No Bucs receiver has more than 100 yards.
Atlanta is allowing 317 passing yards a game, the second-worst mark in the league.
Only one Tampa receiver (with more than two catches) is averaging more than 10 yards a reception.
The Falcons have surrendered an average of 154.5 yards rushing per game.
Doug Martin has nine carries for nine yards.
Atlanta has yet to record a sack.
Tampa Bay’s defense has just had three sacks and one turnover through two games.
Now each team does have its strengths. Matt Ryan has been pretty good despite throwing three picks. He currently is the centerpiece of the league’s most prolific passing attack. The Falcons lead the NFL with 328.5 passing yards per game.
The Buccaneers have been effective running the football; where Doug Martin has struggled, Bobby Rainey has been a revelation. Rainey was decent in limited action for the Bucs last year, rushing for 532 yards and five touchdowns after the Browns cut the third-year vet following six games. Last week, the “understudy” to Martin exploded for 144 yards rushing and 30 yards receiving in a loss to the Rams. With Martin likely out tonight, look for Rainey to get plenty of touches against a defense that can’t stop the run.
If Tampa can effectively control the clock they stand a chance in this game. While they’re no great shakes on defense, the one weakness Matt Ryan has shown has been to force an occasional throw. Sure it was just one game, but Cincy was able to pick the former third overall pick three times in their 24-10 win last week. Ryan had similar issues last year when he was without a ground game and his star target in Julio Jones for most of the season. If the Buccaneers can jump out to an early lead and eat up chunks of clock they may be able to bait Ryan into a few more poor decisions.
The favored Falcons were once considered invincible at home. Entering last season Matt Ryan had a 34-7 record at home. 2013 did some damage to that record, dropping Ryan to 37-12 but with an opening-week win over the nemesis Saints in the Georgia Dome, could things be getting back to normal in 2014?
If Atlanta wants to win this game they have to get off the field. If Ryan doesn’t have to play catch up, he’ll be able to operate comfortably against a defense that will likely be missing one of its best players in Gerald McCoy. McCoy, who has one of Tampa Bay’s three sacks and one of their six tackles for loss, is the rock along the defensive line. Look for Atlanta to serve a solid helping of Steven Jackson through the middle in effort to make the Bucs respect the run and open up the play action.
Defensively the Falcons have to show something. They’ve been utterly listless through the first two games, allowing the most yards in the NFL. Without any pass rush, Josh McCown will be able to move the ball up-field in chunks to his towering receiving duo of Vincent Jackson and the full-go Mike Evans. I would expect Atlanta to be aggressive in their play-calling to try and compensate. Whether those rushers make it home will be a deciding factor in this contest.
Prediction: Falcons 27 Buccaneers 23
This will be closer than some may expect. Division games tend to lean that way. Still, it’s hard to bet against the talented trio of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White. That won’t be enough to carry them all the way this season, but it should tonight. While the Falcons will have a few gaffes defensively and struggle slowing down Bobby Rainey, the Buccaneers will likewise have their hands full without Gerald McCoy in the lineup. Even though I feel it won’t mean much come playoff time, this game figures to provide some legitimate entertainment.