Atlanta Falcons (5-3) vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)
8:25pm ET Thursday on the NFL Network
The Falcons rebounded from two ugly losses to barely squeak past the Green Bay Packers last week, 33-32, with Mohamed Sanu hauling in the game-winner from Matt Ryan in the final minute. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, suffered a heartbreaking 30-24 overtime loss against the Raiders, in a game Tampa led late in the 4th quarter. But while these teams go into tonight’s contest with their fortunes heading in opposite directions, it’s important to remember that the Falcons have yet to beat the Bucs during the Jameis Winston era.
Matt Ryan is having a beast of a season, currently leading the league in yards (2,636), TDs (19), and yards per completion (13.7), and would possibly lead in passer rating and QBR if not for Tom Brady having played just 4 games – why must Ryan be punished for Deflategate? He’s done it in part thanks to the play of Julio Jones, who is second in receiving yards at 859, but is almost as dangerous as a decoy, with the Falcons going 3-0 in games in which he catches 3 or fewer passes. Jones draws so much attention from opposing secondaries that while he’s caught 4 TDs, Ryan has found 9 other receivers a total of 15 times. Jones suffered a bone bruise against the Packers, which caused him to miss a few snaps, but he swears he’s good to go.
Unfortunately the Falcons have given up the second-most points in the NFL, 231, behind (ahead of?) only the Browns at 238. They’ve been on the field for the most plays (539), given up the most 1st downs (191), completions (227), and passing TDs. Maybe you’re beginning to see how it is that Winston is so successful against them…
In his career, Winston has a record of 9-14, with 3 of those wins coming against Atlanta, as he’s completed 64.8% of his passes for 685 yards and 6 TDs versus just 2 picks, while against the rest of the league it’s just 58% with 28 TDs and 22 INTs.
Winston may be without his lead rusher, Jacquizz Rodgers (who started the season at #3 on the depth chart), who suffered a sprained foot against Oakland. “I don’t think it’s probably good,” Tampa head coach Dirk Koetter said after the game. At 595 yards through 7 games, wide receiver Mike Evans is on track for his third straight 1,000-yard season and is tied for the league lead in TD receptions with 6, but he’s just one man.
The Bucs’ D ain’t much better than the Falcons', ranking 25th with 27 points per game, and while they don’t give up a ton of yards, they are susceptible to the pass, with a TD-to-INT ratio of 3.5, which is fourth-highest in the league, and 7.2 net yards per pass, good for sixth-highest.
This one is shaping up to be a good old fashioned shootout between a couple of gunslingers who don’t have much posse. While the Falcons have the softer defense, their offense is healthier and deadlier than Tampa’s, three-game win streak be damned.