Game Scout: Atlanta Falcons (6-9) At Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9)
SERIES HISTORY: 51st regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series, 26-24. Atlanta swept the series in 2017 and won earlier this year at home 34-29 in the first start of the season by Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Buccaneers and Falcons know each other well. These games are typically high-scoring because both teams want to attack vertically. Tampa Bay's offense has not been as effective in the red zone as of late, and it was an interception in the end zone in their first meeting that doomed quarterback Jameis Winston and the Bucs.
Last week, Winston did a good job of taking what the Dallas Cowboys defense gave him. He checked the ball down 13 times, which was among the most in his career. Expect the Falcons to play a lot of two-deep zone and keep the ball in front of them. Defensively, the Buccaneers have played much better of late, although not against the run. Quarterback Matt Ryan will face a better pass rush than the one he remembered earlier this season led by Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib.
Atlanta would like to be more balanced by running the football, but it is uncertain if running back Tevin Coleman will be able to play this week because of a groin injury. Unless backup Brian Hill can come up with another 100-yard game like he did against Carolina, it may be up to Ryan and his talented group of receivers to carry the day against Tampa Bay's defense. Last week, Ryan threw touchdowns to each of his three wide receivers (Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley). That may be bad news for the Bucs, who rank 29th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: G Wes Schweitzer (back)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
--DOUBTFUL: WR DeSean Jackson (Achilles), DE Carl Nassib (shoulder)
--QUESTIONABLE: LB Devante Bond (illness), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee, shoulder)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Buccaneers S Andrew Adams. Look for Jones to challenge the Bucs deep. He's averaged 119.8 yards and 7.1 receptions in 13 games vs. the Bucs, with 10 catches for 144 yards in their first meeting this season. Adams will likely be called on to help in coverage. He has a team-high three interceptions plus seven passes defensed.
--Falcons DT Grady Jarrett vs. Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston. Jarrett is one of three players with a team-leading six sacks and he's recorded 14 QB hits. Winston threw for 336 yards last week in a loss at Dallas in one of his better games. But the Bucs have had trouble protecting him; Winston has been sacked 26 times this season, 12 of them over the last four weeks. Jarrett was injured and did not play against the Bucs in October.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bucs TE Cameron Brate. His numbers are down this season and it's clear his role has diminished thanks to the emergence of second-year tight end O.J. Howard, who went on injured reserve Nov. 21, as well as a bevy of wide receiver options that make it difficult to spread the ball around. Head coach Dirk Koetter said Brate has been dealing with an undisclosed injury since the beginning of the season.
FAST FACTS: FALCONS QB MATT RYAN passed for 239 yards with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 126.9 rating in Week 16. In his past 5 vs. TB, has completed 126 of 180 (70 pct.) for 1,562 yards (312.4 per game) with 11 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 116.9 rating. ... RB TEVIN COLEMAN has career highs in rush yards (755) & scrimmage yards (1,022) this season. In his past 3 vs. TB, has 255 scrimmage yards (85 per game) & 3 TDs (2 rush, 1 rec.). ... RB BRIAN HILL rushed 8 times for career-high 115 yards (14.4 avg.) in Week 16. ... WR JULIO JONES leads NFL with 1,539 rec. yards & ties for 7th with 104 receptions this season. Has 3 career seasons with 100+ catches & 1,500+ rec. yards. ... Rookie WR CALVIN RIDLEY had team-high 90 rec. yards & TD last week. Leads NFL rookies with 789 rec. yards & 9 TD catches. ... LB DEION JONES led team with 14 tackles & had FF last week. ... CB BRIAN POOLE had INT in Week 16. Aims for his 3rd in row with INT. ... BUCCANEERS QB JAMEIS WINSTON completed 34 of 48 (70.8 pct.) for 336 yards with 1 TD vs. 0 INTs for 97.2 rating in Week 16. In his past 3 at home, has 774 pass yards (258 per game) with 6 TDs vs. 1 INT for 100.1 rating. Has 1,236 pass yards (309 per game) with 14 TDs vs. 3 INTs for 120.4 rating in his past 4 meetings. ... RB PEYTON BARBER has career highs in rush yards (805) & rush TDs (5) this season. Had 106 scrimmage yards (82 rush, 24 rec.) & TD catch in last meeting. Has 3 TDs (2 rush, 1 rec.) in his past 3 vs. Atl. ... RB JACQUIZZ RODGERS had 7 receptions for 55 yards & rush TD in Week 16. ... WR MIKE EVANS had 6 receptions for 90 yards & TD last week. Ranks 3rd in NFL with 1,418 rec. yards & 1st averaging 17.7 yards per catch (min. 50 receptions) this season. Has 5 TD catches in his past 6 vs. Atl. ... WR ADAM HUMPHRIES tied career-high with 10 receptions for 79 yards last week. ... DE JASON PIERRE-PAUL leads TB with 11.5 sacks this season. ... Rookie DT VITA VEA had sack in Week 16. ... LB LAVONTE DAVID has 10+ tackles in 3 of his past 4.
PREDICTION: Injuries in the backfield could leave the Falcons totally reliant on the pass, which may not be a bad thing against Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers get a break after playing three strong defenses in a row.
OUR PICK: Buccaneers, 30-27