Buccaneers - Falcons II: Big Darn Preview

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With the Falcons place in the playoffs sown up and another losing season settled for Tampa Bay - will either team care about this one?

Draft position schmaft position. You hear it throughout the Buccaneers fan base: "Let's go ahead and lose this last one so we can get a better pick."

Cleveland has had great picks for years, where has that gotten them?

No, for the Buccaneers, it's important to end on a positive note. Not that anything that happens Sunday will have an impact on the 2013 team. It won't.

But at the same time, you don't want to end the 2012 season - a season of great improvement on offense, a bit on defense and overall competitiveness of this franchise on a six game losing streak.

It feels like you lost whatever it was that you gained this season.

So rather than go out like dogs, like the 2011 squad did, losing 42-0 to the Falcons at half time of last season's finale - here's hoping this Buccaneer team wants to finish on a good note.

Series Record: Tied 19-19

Last Meeting: Falcons defeated the Bucs 24-23 on November 25th to begin the Bucs five game spiral.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Game vs. Atlanta Falcons Pass Defense

Oh the Josh Freeman debate has raged on this week, hasn't it? Between three articles here on Bucs Nation to the debates on messageboards, twitter and Facebook - Bucs fans are up in arms about the play of their quarterback the last few weeks.

For good reason, Freeman has been absolutely dreadful. Just 3 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in the last three ballgames while completing just 51% of his passes, the 24 year old fourth year quarterback from Kansas State has seemingly fallen apart.

No one needs a good game this week more than Freeman. It's ironic, since the Free-chise has already broken the franchise record for passing yardage and with a touchdown pass against Atlanta this week, could break the single season record for touchdown passes (he's currently tied with Brad Johnson at 26).

He could become the Buccaneers' first 4,000 yard passer. Yet, as we all know, it's not how you start but how you finished. Like the team as a whole, unraveling down the stretch doesn't breed confidence going forward but pulls out some ugly questions you might not want to answer.

The Falcons will be without safety William Moore (hamstring) and their 23rd ranked pass defense could allow for Freeman to put together a decent finale.

Freeman threw for 256 yds in the Week 12 loss to the Falcons. Vincent Jackson led the Bucs with 96 yds on 5 catches.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rushing Attack vs. Atlanta Falcons Rush Defense

As much as Josh Freeman has slumped during the Bucs late season collapse, Doug Martin and the Bucs offensive line should definitely shoulder some of the blame.

After lighting the NFL on fire the first 11 games of the season, Martin has had just one 100 yd rushing game and 3 touchdowns in his last five.

Meanwhile, except for a debacle of a performance against Cam Newton and the Panthers, the Falcons have gotten much better against the run since holding Martin to just 50 yds on 21 carries.

For the season, the Bucs rank 16th in the league rushing the ball (112.9 yds per game) while Atlanta is 20th against the run (121.8 ypg).

Advantage: Push

Atlanta Falcons Passing Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense

Ironically, the Bucs fortunes this season have been tied not to the offensive performance of Josh Freeman or Doug Martin - but the availability of CB Eric Wright. Wright missed the first Atlanta game and then began a four game suspension for using PEDs. With Wright in the lineup, the Bucs were 6-4. Without him, they're a woeful 0-5.

Wright is expected to be in the lineup for the season finale against the Falcons - but who from Atlanta will be there? Roddy White is questionable and it would be a surprise if he played in a meaningless game for the Falcons. How much will Matt Ryan and Julio Jones play before giving way to the likes of Luke McCown (did you know the former Buc was their backup? I didn't until I looked it up.)?

Still, Atlanta has one of the league's premiere passing attacks (5th overall) and even with Wright, the Bucs are dead last against the pass.

Advantage: Atlanta

Atlanta Falcons Running Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense

Once again, we have to wonder who the Bucs will be playing against defensively. Whomever it is, Tampa Bay must continue to do the job they did in Week 12. Tampa Bay held the Falcons rushing attack to 79 yds overall and 3.3 yds a carry.

That's par for the course for Atlanta this season, whose 28th ranked running game has been a disappointment.

Whether it's a product of their aggressiveness on defense or just the fact teams enjoy attacking the Bucs through the air, Tampa Bay continues to boast the number one run defense in the league.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Special Teams

Matt Bryant missed out on the Pro Bowl for the Atlanta Falcons, but veteran kicker has put together a superb season. Bryant nailed 32 of 37 thus far, including a long of 55 yds. Punter Matt Bosher has done a good job this season as well, averaging over 47 yds a punt.

Jacquizz Rodgers and Dominique Franks have been handling the kickoff and punt duties respectively. Rodgers ranks 9th in the league with his 26.7 average while Franks is not really wowing anyone with his 7.8 average

Tampa Bay counters with Connor Barth, whose had an inconsistent season but has recovered to make 25 of 30 field goals with a long of 57. Michael Koenen has had a bit of a disappointing year, averaging just 44.9 yds a punt.

The Bucs have had a number of returners for kickoffs this season. Currently both the kick and punt return duties have been handled by Roscoe Parrish. Parrish has done a decent job with punt returns, averaging 9.8 yds a return.

Advantage: Atlanta

By the Numbers

  • With 157 yds passing, Josh Freeman will be Tampa Bay's first 4,000 yd passer.
  • With one touchdown pass, Freeman will own the team records for single season passing yardage and touchdown passes this season.
  • Vincent Jackson needs 89 yds receiving to break Mark Carrier's franchise record for receiving yardage.
  • Mike Williams needs 69 yds receiving to reach 1,000 for the season, giving the Bucs two 1,000 yard receivers for the first time in franchise history.
  • If Freeman reaches 4,000 yds - it will be the first time in franchise history the Buccaneers had a 4,000 yard passer, 1,000 yd rusher and 1,000 yard receiver (and possibly two) in the same season.
  • On a more dubious note, the Bucs are closing in on the NFL record for passing yardage allowed in a season (4,796 yds allowed by the 2011 Green Bay Packers). They need to give up 252 yds on Sunday to set the new league record.
  • Entering Week 14, Tampa Bay was +11 in turnover ratio, one of the best in the league. They are now +4.
  • Atlanta has won seven of the last eight meetings with Tampa Bay and has won three straight at the Georgia Dome versus the Buccaneers.

Outlook


We talked about it already. This game is important for the Buccaneers. For the franchise's fans' psyche, for the confidence going into the off-season believing you're on the right track to simply just having something good to think about rather than six months of misery.

Atlanta's coaches and players are saying they are playing to win - and maybe they are. Certainly, their playoff failures make it imperative for them to end the season with some momentum. Still, reality says their goal is to make sure they get out of this game healthy.

So really, it's up to the Bucs. Are you going to mail this one in like you did last season or are you going to man up and try to give the NFC South champs something to think about heading into the off-season?

So perhaps my prediction this week is more hope that we'll see life signs from the Bucs that they do care about this last game, they want to finish on the positive note and they want to send the Falcons to the playoffs with an L.

I think they do it (with a little help from Atlanta pulling their guys in the second half).

Prediction: Tampa Bay 27, Atlanta 17
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