The Atlanta Falcons opened as a six-point favorite over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Falcons’ opponent this coming Monday night. At 8-5, Atlanta sits in third place in the NFC South Division primed to lay claim to a wild card berth in the upcoming conference playoffs. That said, the Falcons cannot take the Bucs lightly. Read the full preview on the Atlanta vs Tampa Bay game by the Coach. See why the value pick is the Buccaneers come Monday night football.
Monday, Dec 18, 2017 – NFL Football Game Atlanta vs Tampa Bay
Atlanta has won its last two games with Tampa Bay, including a 34-20 victory earlier this season, but lost the three previous contests. With games against the Saints and Panthers to close the season, the Falcons can’t afford to lose a game that they should win. The Bucs will enter Monday night having dropped three straight games and have won only twice in their previous ten games. A win Monday gives Atlanta some momentum heading into the final two games and allows them to lose one and still make the postseason.
The Falcons are in an interesting position at 8-5. Currently, they hold the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs. Seattle, which lost to Jacksonville last Sunday, is also 8-5 but the Falcons hold the tiebreaker over the Seahawks. Atlanta beat Seattle 34-31 earlier this season. There are a number of scenarios that could play out where the Falcons wind up tied with other NFC teams also seeking the playoffs.
Besides Seattle, consider Detroit and Dallas, a pair of 7-6 teams. Both the Lions and Cowboys likely need to win each of their remaining three games in order to have a shot at the playoffs. But, both teams will also need some help. If Detroit, Dallas, and Atlanta wound up tied at the end of the regular season, the Falcons trump both teams. Atlanta beat Detroit and Dallas during the season.
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Beating Tampa Bay on Monday would put Atlanta in a position to go 5-1 in the NFC South, something they did last season. Wins over New Orleans and Carolina would potentially give Atlanta tiebreaker advantages over both teams further solidifying their spot in the postseason.
It all starts with the Bucs on Monday night. On paper, it’s a game that Atlanta should win. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is not having an MVP-like season like last year, but he is surely one of the league’s best. Wide receiver Julio Jones is tied for third in the NFL in receiving yards with 1,161. Tampa Bay contributed mightily to Jones’ total. He had 253 yards receiving on 12 receptions in the first meeting between the two teams. He caught two of three total touchdowns that day against the Bucs.
Don’t forget the running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The two combined for 33 carries and 123 yards in last week’s win over the Saints. For the season, Freeman has rushed for 680 yards and Coleman has 593. The offense isn’t nearly what it was a year ago, but the personnel is still adjusting to new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
What has really helped the Falcons stay alive in the postseason hunt is their defense. Atlanta is seventh in total defense holding opponents to 319.8 yards per game. More importantly, they are ninth in the NFL in scoring defense giving their opponents an average of 20.1 points per game. That does not look good for Tampa Bay, which has had its share of troubles on offense. In last week’s loss to Detroit, the Bucs turned the ball over five times. Quarterback Jameis Winston had three of those turnovers, two interceptions and a fumble.
The Bucs have been able to throw the ball consistently even when Winston missed a few games with injury. Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played in the previous loss to Atlanta, was able to be effective in the passing game, but the Bucs struggle badly in the running game. The Bucs average just 91.5 yards rushing per game, which is tied for 26th in the league. Teams that do not run the ball effectively have a hard time winning games. The Tampa Bay 4-9 record can attest to that.
Tampa Bay also has its troubles on defense. Against one of the best quarterback-wide receiver combinations in recent NFL history in Ryan-to-Jones, the Bucs will employ a pass defense that is dead last in the league. Tampa Bay gives up 276.1 yards passing per game. Part of the problem is the lack of a pass rush. The Bucs are last in the league in sacks with a total of 17. NFL sack leader Chandler Jones of Arizona has 14 by himself. Without a good pass rush, Tampa fails to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks who routinely pick them apart. In that first meeting with Atlanta, Ryan completed 26-of-35 passes for 317 yards. He did not throw an interception and he was not sacked.
The last time the two teams played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, site of Monday night’s game, Ryan went 25-for-34 for 344 yards and four touchdowns. The Bucs did sack Ryan twice, but the Falcons won the game 43-28. Pretty much all signs point to an Atlanta win, and the Falcons need to make sure it happens.
A Falcons victory on Monday night increases the team’s chance of making the postseason by leaps and bounds. As it stands currently, Atlanta has a 62 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason. Win Monday, and that number jumps to 85 percent. Then, a win in either of the two remaining games all but guarantees a wild card berth.
The bottom line for Atlanta is win out and you are in the playoffs. There is virtually no scenario where if the Falcons win their three remaining games that they would be left out of the NFC’s postseason. Those final two games are big ones though. They will have to play at New Orleans where the Saints are 5-1 this season. The season finale with Carolina will be at home but will not be easy. Atlanta’s only division loss thus far is to the Panthers and Carolina has won five of its last six games.