What a difference a year makes!
Through 11 regular season games in 2008, the Falcons stood at 6-4, and the Buccaneers had a 7-3 record. Atlanta, with rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, and first-time head coach Mike Smith had surprised a lot of people around the league. The Buccaneers, with Jeff Garcia at the helm, was playing great football as well. The race for the NFC South, and the wild-card was a fierce one, with division rival, Carolina Panthers, making a strong push. It looked as if the Falcons would be the odd ones out because of their inexperience.
After losing a tough game to Denver in week 11 in 2008, the Falcons would go on to win five of their last six games. The Buccaneers went the other direction and won only two of their last six games, with one of their wins coming against the hapless Lions.
The Falcons, and Panthers were headed for the playoffs and the Buccaneers could only watch from home. As a result, some big changes happened in the Buccaneers organization.
Coming into this game, the Falcons are 5-5 and cannot afford to lose any games if they want a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. The Buccaneers, at 1-9, are tied with the St.Louis Rams and the Cleveland Browns for the worst record in the league. In recent weeks, they have showed hope under rookie quarterback Josh Freeman, and with the defense going back to the Tampa 2, there should be improvement on that side of the field as well. At this point in the season, the Buccaneers are evaluating what they have, and are playing for respect. For the Falcons, every game from here on out should be seen as a playoff game. At best, they only have one life to play with. If they finish the season at 4-2, they will not make the playoffs for what could be a franchise record two years in a row.
Why the Falcons will win the game: 1.The Buccaneers allow 168.9 rushing yards/game, good for last in the league. Both Michael Turner, and backup Jerious Norwood, are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Look for the Falcons running game to be successful regardless of who is playing. Jason Snelling should be a solid pickup for fantasy owners if Turner and Norwood are kept out of the game.
2. Opposing teams have scored an average of 29.4 points/game against the Buccaneers defense. The defense has gone thorugh a major overhaul from last season, and do not presently have a defensive coordinator. Look for Matt Ryan and company to light up the scoreboard.
3. The Falcons are 4-0 at home. The Buccaneers are 0-4 on the road. This stat speaks for itself.
Why the Buccaneers will win the game: 1. Of all the teams Matt Ryan has faced in his career, he has found the least success against the Buccaneers. In the two games against them last season, he had no touchdowns and four interceptions. He has a 41.1 career passer rating against the Buccaneers defense. I know that this Buccaneers defense has not performed well this season, but with the defense going back to the Tampa 2, and along with Matt Ryan slumping of late (except for Giants game), that might not bode well for the Falcons.
2. In the three games Josh Freeman has started, the team has averaged nearly 23 points/game. In that same three game stretch, the Falcons have allowed 26 points/game. If everything clicks for Freeman and the Falcons defense breaks down, look for the Buccaneers to sneak in a win against the Falcons and put their playoff hopes at stake.
Final Score: Falcons 31-Buccaneers 20.