The Atlanta Falcons will get back a couple key pieces from their defense, which faces the difficult task of slowing down Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Linebacker Deion Jones and defensive lineman Steven Means will return after missing at least the last couple weeks. Jones exited two weeks ago and missed all of last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Means has been on injured reserve for nearly a month and last played against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 7.
Despite missing last week entirely, Jones is still second for the Falcons with 90 tackles. Only fellow linebacker Foye Oluokun has more tackles for Atlanta this season.
Means has 19 tackles with no sacks, but he recovered a fumble and returned it 32 yards to the Saints 6-yard line to set up a touchdown in his last game.
Getting those two defenders back is great news for the Falcons, but they will still be without defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard. He also missed last week, but before that, he had started three of the previous four games.
In addition to Bullard, the Falcons included defensive linemen John Cominsky and Mike Pennel, linebacker James Vaughters, offensive lineman Josh Andrews and running back Wayne Gallman on their list of inactive players for Sunday's Week 13 matchup versus Tampa Bay.
For the Buccaneers, wide receiver Jaelon Darden, quarterback Kyle Trask, safety Jordan Whitehead, and defensive lineman Steven McLendon are inactive.
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Sunday's matchup is between the first and second place teams in the NFC South, but the Buccaneers hold a three-game lead over the Falcons in the division race. At 8-3, Tampa Bay trails the Arizona Cardinals for the top seed in the NFC by just one game.
At 5-6, the Falcons are tied for the last wild card spot in the NFC playoffs. Because of tiebreakers, the Falcons are ninth in the conference -- behind two teams for the final playoff berth.
Entering Sunday, the series between the Falcons and Buccaneers is tied at 28-28. But Tampa Bay has won four of the last five meetings, including three straight since Tom Brady signed with the Buccaneers.
In Week 2 on Sept. 19, the Buccaneers defeated the Falcons, 48-25, in Tampa Bay. Brady threw for 276 yards and five touchdowns.
Matt Ryan has never beaten Brady in six previous matchups including Super Bowl LI. Three of those losses were when Brady was with the Patriots, and the other three were against Tampa Bay.
Ryan fared better against the Buccaneers before Brady arrived. Even including the recent three losses, Ryan is 16-11 with 43 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in his career versus Tampa Bay.
Including Super Bowl LI, Brady is 9-0 in his career against the Falcons. In eight regular season matchups, he has averaged 313 passing yards per game with 22 touchdowns and only two interceptions.