On Thursday, September 18, 2014, at 8:25 p.m. E.T., the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2) play their first away game of the new season, as they visit the Atlanta Falcons (1-1). The Bucs two losses came against St. Louis and Carolina, neither of which had starting quarterbacks. The Falcons had an unexpected OT win against New Orleans (37-34) in their first game and an expected loss when they visited Cincinnati (10-24).
On paper, Tampa Bay offers a defense that is a little under average, a running game that’s in the top third of the league, and a passing attack led by QB Josh McCown that is 31st overall. The best news for McCown is that he’s going up against one of the worst Ds in the league.
McCown has tossed 2 TDs, thrown 3 INTs, and been sacked 4 times. His favorite targets thus far have been veteran wideout Vincent Jackson, who has 87 yards, and rookie receiver Mike Evans with 86 yards. The Bucs run a lot and will rely on third-year RB Bobby Rainey. RB Doug Martin is questionable for the game, and TE Seferian-Jenkins is out.
The Tampa Bay defense, like the offense, will have to prove that they can keep up with their opponents. It won’t help that DT Gerald McCoy is questionable and LB Foster is out. This is a very vulnerable group that will most likely have a tough time stopping Atlanta’s top-ranked passing attack.
New coach Lovie Smith has his hands full. Plagued by injuries, he’ll need some extra effort from everyone to stay in the game. Kicker Matt Bryant, with an 85% success rate overall and a 100% success rate in 2014, could be a difference-maker.
The Falcons bring a contender to the field on offense but field a less-than-effective squad on defense. The good news is their attack can put points up; the bad news is the D has a hard time stopping opponents from doing the same.
It has been a decent year for the Falcons thus far. QB Matt Ryan is having a good season, however, he is prone to mistakes. He’s tossed 3 INTs while hitting for 4 TDs. His favorite passing target is Julio Jones (14 REC, 204 REC, 1 TD, 1 FUML). This season, veteran Steven Jackson anchors the running game, posting 98 yards in 23 ATTs for an average of 4.3 YDS/CARRY. Jackson is also a solid receiver.
Atlanta is 26th against the run and 31st against the pass. This is a major problem going into this game, especially with Rainey starting to heat up at running back for Tampa Bay. Atlanta’s corners are weak.
Although I like Matt Ryan and what he’s able to do, the Falcon defense is very questionable. Home field will help to a degree and scoring early will too. But no half-time lead is safe in the NFL.
In this NFC South rivalry, there’s a lot on the line in that one loss can play a key role in a team’s ability to make the postseason. This game will rise and fall according to how well the Falcon defense plays. If the Buc’s running game and their QB can exploit the holes in Atlanta’s D, Tampa Bay wins. The Falcons are favored by 7.