This is a game that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should win.
Which, of course, makes it all the more important, at least from an eye-test perspective. The Buccaneers shouldn't have an issue handling the Falcons (twice) or Detroit Lions over their next three games if they truly belong in the playoff contender conversation.
Entering Atlanta as 6-point road favorites, Tampa Bay is tasked with facing an explosive, but inconsistent, Falcons offense, and an Atlanta defense that has taken steps forward with Raheem Morris serving as interim head coach. But at the end of the day, Atlanta fired its defensive-minded head coach in Dan Quinn after five games as the unit was terribly lackluster, and that remains true of its pass defense especially.
Zach Goodall: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27, Atlanta Falcons 17
With Ronald Jones II most likely not suiting up as he sits on the COVID-19 list, Tampa Bay might need to go pass-heavy on Atlanta. Some good news: The Falcons rank No. 30 league-wide in passing defense, 20th in interceptions forced, and 19th in sacks. Tom Brady and Co. should be just fine, and are probably in for a big day while looking to build off of last Sunday's victory over Minnesota.
Now, Atlanta does own an explosive passing offense, one that ranks No. 6 in the league in yards per game. However, Julio Jones is sidelined for Atlanta while Tampa Bay returns Jamel Dean, making this matchup even more lopsided.
The Falcons have played admirably under interim - and former Bucs - head coach Raheem Morris, going 4-4 after opening the season 0-5. They have officially been eliminated from the playoffs, however, meaning this is a game Tampa Bay should win comfortably as a team trending towards the postseason. I've got them doing just that.
Jason Beede: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27, Atlanta Falcons 24
While I think the Bucs will win in Atlanta on Sunday, I do feel like this game will be closer than most people think. The Falcons will be without star receiver Julio Jones, but Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan still has a number of targets including Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage.
Tampa Bay struggled on offense early against the Minnesota Vikings last week, so I think they'll get off to a faster start. Additionally, I think tight end Rob Gronkowski is due for another big game after catching a touchdown last Sunday and going for over 100 receiving yards three weeks ago vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. He seems to be in a nice groove and will only continue to be more comfortable in Tampa Bay's system.
The Falcons only have four wins this season, but they've lost five games by five points or less, including their past two games against the Los Angeles Chargers and the New Orleans Saints. And as we know, division games tend to be really competitive.
Despite this, I have quarterback Tom Brady finding a way to lead the Buccaneers to a win late in the game, 27-24 over Ryan and the Falcons.
Donavon Keiser: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Atlanta Falcons 20
Tom Brady should torch one of the worst secondaries in the entire NFL, putting up numbers with all of his wide receivers that are now healthy. Ronald Jones II is still on the COVID-19 list, so expect a heavy dosage of the passing game.
On the other side, Atlanta is missing Julio Jones in an already struggling offense. The Bucs should lock down Todd Gurley, as they have consistently limited every running back they have faced.
With Tampa sitting at 8-5, it will be a perfect time to string out a run of three straight wins heading into the wild card. The Buccaneers should cruise to a win with the defense and offense both clicking on all cylinders in Atlanta.
Riley Auman: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35, Atlanta Falcons 21
The Buccaneers will need Tom Brady to step up on Sunday with Ronald Jones II out on the COVID-19 list, but playing one of the worst pass defenses in football will give them a chance to get out ahead early.
The Falcons are always a threat with Matt Ryan under center, however, and Calvin Ridley has played like one of the best receivers in football this season despite the fact that Julio Jones has been hampered by a lingering hamstring injury. With that being said, the Buccaneers have shut down far better backs than Todd Gurley (averaging a measly 3.6 yards a carry this year) and will look to force Ryan to make plays coming off of a rough performance against the Chargers last week.
The Buccaneers will be looking to build momentum heading into the postseason by unloading the passing game, and I have a feeling Mike Evans is in for a big game against a secondary that has struggled to make plays on the ball this year. Now is as good a time as any to start a winning streak as they aim for the strategic position the top wild card slot in the NFC offers.