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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 thatâ€™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 heâ€™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 wonâ€™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 Atlantaâ€™s top-ranked passing attack.
New coach Lovie Smith has his hands full. Plagued by injuries, heâ€™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. Heâ€™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. Atlantaâ€™s corners are weak.
Although I like Matt Ryan and what heâ€™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, thereâ€™s a lot on the line in that one loss can play a key role in a teamâ€™s ability to make the postseason. This game will rise and fall according to how well the Falcon defense plays. If the Bucâ€™s running game and their QB can exploit the holes in Atlantaâ€™s D, Tampa Bay wins. The Falcons are favored by 7.