The Buccaneers (8-3) took care of business last week on the road and now they head back out to take on the Atlanta Falcons (5-6) in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Tampa Bay has a big opportunity in front of it. A win over the Falcons would be the first step in clinching the NFC South, which would be the Bucs' first division title since the 2007 season. A win would also keep them just one game out of the race for the NFC's top playoff seed.
A divisional matchup on the road in December is never easy, however. Especially against a team that's fighting for a playoff berth. The Bucs have to be ready to go and avoid their typical road performances or else they could find themselves in trouble this week.
- All-time series: The series is tied, 28-28, after the Bucs evened it up in Week 2.
- Longest win streak: Tampa Bay won six games in a row from 1997-1993.
- Largest margin of victory: The Falcons’ 56-14 beatdown of the Bucs still lingers in the minds of many.
- 2021 offensive and defensive rankings: The Bucs average the third-most yards per game on offense (1st pass, 23rd run) and the eighth-ranked defense (20th pass, 1st run). Tampa Bay averages 31.5 points per game on offense (1st) and has allowed 23.0 points per game on defense (t-15th). The Falcons currently own the NFL's 27th-ranked offense (19th pass, 30th run) and the 22nd-ranked defense (14th pass, 23rd run). They average 18.1 points per game (t-27th) on offense, while allowing 27.5 points per game on defense (31st).
What To Watch For
- How the Bucs perform after a week of controversy: The whole fake COVID card-thing has dominated recent headlines and it’s easy to wonder whether or not it will have an impact on how the Bucs perform in this game. But what really makes the situation significant is starting safety Jordan Whitehead has a “serious” calf injury and will miss at least this game. Mike Edwards, the No. 3 safety, is the other Buc suspended alongside Antonio Brown, which means the Bucs have just one of three safeties healthy. Make no mistake: The suspensions will leave their mark on this game.
- The Rob Gronkowski Effect: Boy, talk about a return. Gronk has been on fire since he returned in Week 11 against the Giants. His 13 receptions and 194 receiving yards have been the backbone of the passing game and he's helped the offense out through his blocking, as well. Gronk scored two touchdowns against the Falcons back in Week 2, but the Falcons have tightened up against the tight end position since. Per Sports Info Solutions, the Falcons have allowed an average of 3.9 receptions and 39 yards to tight ends since Week 7. They haven't allowed more than 49 yards in a single game nor have they let up a touchdown to the position during that span. It'll be interesting to see which trend continues this week.
- Confidence from the Week 2 matchup: The Falcons were down, 28-25, to the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium in the fourth quarter back in Week 2. And this was when the Bucs were a lot healthier, too. Atlanta is going to come into this matchup with the mindset that it can hang with Tampa Bay and if it doesn't make mistakes, then it could certainly pull the upset. When you combine that with the Bucs' poor play on the road and the fact that the Falcons are fighting for their playoff lives, then it's easy to see why this game could be much closer than the spread anticipates.
- The Cordarrelle Patterson Effect: It's pretty wild to see how much Patterson has evolved this year. He's one of the most productive players in the NFL and his production comes from all over the field. Running back, wide receiver, tight end, safety - you name it, he's played it in 2021. He scored two touchdowns and had 69 total yards back in Week 2 - will he have an even better game in Week 13?
- How will the Bucs secondary perform: You've got Carlton Davis III coming back from his quad injury, Sean Murphy-Bunting is still working his way back from his Week 1 injury, and Jamel Dean is banged up coming into this game. Then, Whitehead is out with a calf injury and Edwards is suspended. Question marks still remain throughout the Bucs secondary and I'm sure the Falcons are aware of this and will test the Bucs secondary as often as they can. How the unit responds will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- QB Tom Brady: It’s December, so that means it’s time for Brady to really start stepping up. The Bucs really need him right now.
- RB Leonard Fournette: How will he follow up his four-touchdown performance in Week 12?
- TE Rob Gronkowski: Gronk's back and in a big way. He's been a major part of the passing attack over the last two weeks and will be needed against a Falcons defense that's been pretty good at defending tight ends since Week 7.
- CB Carlton Davis III: The Bucs have activated CDIII from injured reserve and he's questionable heading into this game. The Bucs really need him due to Dean's questionable health and the problems at safety.
- DB Ross Cockrell: He'll see some snaps at safety this week, where he played well during training camp. Cockrell is a heady player, so don't be surprised if he makes a play or two in the back end.
- S Antoine Winfield Jr.: Arguably the team's best defensive player, Winfield Jr.'s playmaking ability will come in handy -and will be needed- this week.
- QB Matt Ryan: The veteran quarterback's play has been down recently, but he had his squad in the thick of it back in Week 2. Ryan can still burn a defense when he has the chance, so the Bucs can't take him lightly in this one.
- RB Cordarrelle Patterson: This is easily one of the best stories of the year. Patterson has developed into a legit, all-around weapon that must be accounted for on every play.
- TE Kyle Pitts: Pitts had five catches for 73 yards against the Bucs back in Week 2 and then went on a nice six-game run a few weeks later, but has since dropped off over the last 2-3 weeks. The Bucs are still having problems defending tight ends, so Pitts should have a nice bounce-back game this week.
- DL Grady Jarrett: He's not having his usual type of year, but Jarrett is still one of the league's better defensive linemen and can take over a game against any opponent.
- LB Deion Jones: Jones is of the Devin White mold: fast, athletic, and instinctual. He typically plays well against the Bucs and is always good for at least one big play against them.
- CB A.J. Terrell: The second-year corner held AB to just one catch for 17 yards back in Week 2 and will now see the likes of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. How will he hold up against them?
- The Bucs will sweep the Falcons in back-to-back seasons for the first time since joining the NFC South (2002) with a win on Sunday.
- Tom Brady has never lost to the Falcons. He's 9-0 against them in both the regular season and in the postseason. A win on Sunday would move him to 10-0 all-time.
- Brady needs one touchdown pass to surpass Trent Dilfer (70) for the fifth-most passing touchdowns in team history.
- Shaquil Barrett owns the NFL's most strip-sacks (11) since joining the Bucs in 2019.
*Stats provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Communications Department
This is a game the Bucs should win, but don't be surprised if it's closer than it appears on paper.
For starters, it's a division game. Anything can happen in these games. Just look at the Texans and Titans a couple of weeks ago. Or Vikings-Packers. Anything can happen when two teams that are familiar with each other face off.
The Bucs are still questionable road warriors, as well. Sure, they beat the Colts in Indianapolis a week ago, but they were aided by five Colts turnovers that usually don't happen. It's hard to say Tampa Bay wins that game without those turnovers.
Tampa Bay can't rely on that formula this week. It's the better team and it needs to play like it or else Atlanta could easily play the role of spoiler.
But this is where Brady comes in. It's December and he knows this is the time of the year for your best football to come out. He'll have the team ready and the Bucs will avoid the upset, thus earning a 9-3 record heading into Week 14.
Stay tuned to AllBucs for further coverage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and other NFL news and analysis. Follow along on social media at @SIBuccaneers on Twitter and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sports Illustrated on Facebook.