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Buccaneers - Falcons Preview: Predict The Game

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face the Atlanta Falcons in the final game of the 2012 season. The question on every Bucs fan's mind right now is not "will the Bucs beat the Falcons?" but "can they keep it close?" or "will they show some kind of effort?"

That's how miserable these final two months have been. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been blown out by nearly every team they've faced - from vastly superior teams (Dallas) to some of the worst teams in the league (Jacksonville). They've looked like they've stopped caring. They certainly don't play with discipline or within the structure of the defense or the offense.

So the question is: can the Bucs change that against the Atlanta Falcons, a team they managed to beat in a close game early in the season? Can the Bucs re-capture that quality of play against a division rival?

I'm going to go ahead and say "no, they won't" - but there's always a chance they will. The key to stopping the Falcons is relatively simple: stop Michael Turner. The veteran running back has not been overly efficient this season, but the Falcons offense struggles when it can't lean on Turner to be its basis. The last time the two teams met, Michael Turner managed just 1.82 yards per carry, and stopping Turner was a big factor in stopping the Falcons.

Of course, the Bucs haven't exactly managed to stop many running backs since then, as gap integrity and tackling skills have quickly eroded as the year progressed. If the Bucs can't stop Michael Turner, the Falcons will be able to pick their spots to pass the ball - and Turner, White, Jones and Gonzalez could all have big days.

If that happens, the Bucs need to find a way to rack up points - something they haven't been able to do in weeks, either. But Brent Grimes' injury may make that a little easier on them. Grimes has intercepted more Josh Freeman passes than any other cornerback, but if he doesn't play the Bucs can be about as comfortable as they can be moving the ball through the air.

There is one final ray of hope for the Bucs: the Falcons could rest their players, depending on the result of an earlier game. If the Detroit Lions beat the Green Bay Packers, the Falcons will have nothing to play for. If those Lions lose, the Falcons could earn the fifth seed by beating the Bucs, avoiding the Saints in the playoffs along the way.

Ultimately, though, the Bucs are likely to lose their tenth consecutive game. A 28-14 loss sounds likely. What do you think, Bucs Natoin?