Even though these teams are on opposite ends of the playoff picture, the game is just as important to both teams. Atlanta is trying to hold off a surging San Francisco 49ers club, while the Bucs are trying to get off the playoff bubble and into a wildcard spot.
The Bucs have been playing some really solid football lately for their new head coach Greg Schiano, thanks to the play of rookie running back Doug Martin. Meanwhile, the Falcons lost a close one to the New Orleans Saints and struggled to put away an offensively awful Arizona Cardinals club. All of this means Atlanta is once again on upset alert, but hey, what’s new? Atlanta has been on upset alert since beating the Kansas City Chiefs in week one.
The Falcons are a good team but have shown themselves to be vulnerable to their divisional opponents. They only beat the Carolina Panthers by two points at home and lost a close one on the road to New Orleans. Throw in the fact that no matter how bad Tampa Bay has been the past few seasons they always play Atlanta tough and you’ve got another nail-biter brewing in the NFC South.
Tampa Bay has one of the best rushing attacks in the league behind Martin and they are the best in the NFL at stopping the run; they allow on average 81.8 yards per game. This could spell disaster since Atlanta ranks near the bottom in the league in rushing and stuffing the run. The Bucs are also capable of putting up just as many points as Atlanta and Josh Freeman is quietly putting together a really good season, averaging 369.3 yards through the air; that’s good enough for 10th in the NFL and three spots behind Matt Ryan. Needless to say, this could be a shootout and Atlanta could hear that annoying cannon go off in Tampa Bay than they would like to.
The positive for Atlanta is that Tampa is terrible at defending the pass. The Bucs rank 32nd i.e. dead last in the league against the pass. They allow over 300 yards a game through the air and Ryan is one of the best passers in the league. Not to mention he also has a few guys to throw it too as well, in Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez.
Atlanta probably will not get much out of its running game except draining the clock but should definitely look to use Jacquizz Rodgers the same way they have the last few weeks to make up for the lack of production in that department.
The other positive is that if this game is close down the stretch, Atlanta should have the poise to pull it out given they play tight games all the time. Tampa Bay is getting better and they definitely are a threat but they are still fairly young and do not have nearly the experience of the Atlanta Falcons, which should be enough to help them “rise up” over the Bucs.