Bucs haven't won at home, host Falcons in prime time
The NFC is so wide open that a Thursday night meeting between Atlanta and Tampa Bay could wind up having some significance when the playoff races conclude.
Neither team has been particularly consistent. Had the Falcons not held off Green Bay on Sunday, they would have been in a freefall similar to last season, when they went from 6-1 to 8-8.
''When you come through in those, for sure it gives you something,'' coach Dan Quinn says. ''To get the job done (Sunday) was significant.''
The Buccaneers, meanwhile, can't win at home, dropping all three matchups. One of their three wins came in Atlanta to open the schedule.
Tampa would be most tempted to throw on offense because Atlanta is ranked only 27th against the pass. Now that their top three running backs - Doug Martin, Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers - are hobbled, the Bucs might not have a choice.
The challenge isn't just physical, either.
''It's very difficult physically and it's very difficult mentally, too, because they didn't get a chance to process the last game,'' says Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith, the Falcons' former coach.
''We haven't even talked to them about the last game, haven't talked one word about the last ballgame. We've moved on to the next one because that's the challenge that we have.''
The Falcons (No. 6 in AP Pro32) are 2 1-2 point favorites over the Bucs (No. 25). They will respond better to the challenge.
KNOCKOUT LEAGUE TIP
Denver did the deed last Sunday, though it wasn't easy. How can we not go with DALLAS this week?
No. 2 Dallas (minus 7) at No. 32 Cleveland
Searching really hard for Browns' first victory. This isn't it.
BEST BET: COWBOYS, 27-16
No. 23 Carolina (minus 3) at No. 26 Los Angeles
Despite their win over Cardinals, don't see Panthers as favorite here.
UPSET SPECIAL: RAMS, 20-17
No. 11 Pittsburgh (plus 2 1-2) at No. 24 Baltimore
This would have been upset special if we knew more about Big Ben's availability. Still ...
No. 3 Denver (pick-em) at No. 7 Oakland
Are Raiders ready for changing of the guard in AFC West? Not quite.
No. 10 Philadelphia (plus 2 1-2) at No. 14 New York Giants
Late-game collapse at Dallas could plague Eagles for a while.
No. 30 Jacksonville (plus 8) at No. 4 Kansas City
Can't believe the Jags will be horrible once again. As for a win against Alex Smith-less Chiefs - nope.
No. 16 Buffalo (plus 7) at No. 5 Seattle, Monday night
Bills need LeSean McCoy on the field to compete.
No. 17 Detroit (plus 6) at No. 8 Minnesota
Both teams come off road duds. Take the hosts.
No. 28 New York Jets (plus 4) at No. 21 (tie) Miami
This game will not be decided by outstanding QB play.
No. 21 (tie) New Orleans (minus 2) at No. 31 San Francisco
Niners aren't ready to beat anybody right now.
No. 27 Indianapolis (plus 7) at No. 9 Green Bay
Packers are SO banged-up, but still the better side.
No. 19 Tennessee (plus 4 1-2) at No. 20 San Diego
Even though they can't finish, Chargers are solid enough.
Last Week: Against spread (7-6). Straight up: (9-3-1)
Season Totals: Against spread (54-60-4). Straight up: (67-50-2)
Best Bet: 4-4 against spread, 5-3 straight up.
Upset special: 5-3 against spread, 5-3 straight up
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL