If the Tampa Bay Buccaneer win on Sunday, they will move to a first place tie with the Atlanta Falcons as both teams will sit at 6-7 on the season and 3-1 in the division. If they lose, their odds to make the postseason become minimal at best.
Both teams still have games remaining against the Panthers and Saints while the Bucs still have to take on the Packers and Jaguars while the Falcons get the Colts and Bears. Essentially, there is no room for error for the Bucs - and that makes the ugly 16-13 loss to the Falcons earlier in the season that much worse.
The Bucs forced three red zone turnovers - two by Desmond Ridder- in the first game but still came up short as Younghoe Koo hit a game winning field goal as time expired. Now, they have an uphill battle to try and secure the top spot in the South - and manage to hang on to it for another month.
The Falcons have one of the better defenses that the Bucs have faced or will face in 2023 - top ten in receiving yards and top ten in points allowed. So, the Bucs have their work cut out for them in this one if they’re going to get some revenge for earlier this season. One weak spot the Falcons defense has is against the tight end. The Falcons are 25th in the NFL in defending the tight end - so Cade Otton needs to be a big part of the game plan. In the first meeting, Otton finished the first game with five receptions for 43 yards.
Mike Evans is the wheel that keeps the machine moving and he needs 102.4 yards per game to surpass his career high of receiving yards in a season. With the Falcons’ secondary beat up, that’s not out of the realm of possibility.
On the flip side, this Bucs defense allowed 156 rushing yards to Atlanta in the first meeting - and that was with Bijan Robinson sitting on the sideline for the majority of the game and only having one carry. Now, it appears as though the Bucs will get Lavonte David, SirVocea Dennis, and K.J. Britt back this week which helps immensely - but the concern shifts to the defensive line where VIta Vea has been held out of practice all week with a toe injury. If Vea can’t go, one of their best run stuffers is going to be in street clothes on the bench and the Bucs’ job gets a lot harder.
Say what you will about rookie Calijah Kancey - and he’s been fantastic - but Vea is the guy that opens things up for all the players around him. Kancey, YaYa Diaby, Lavonte, Devin White, Antoine Winfield Jr. - so many of their opportunities are because of the attention Vea commands when he’s on the field. If he can’t go, that’s arguably more devastating than not having David the last two weeks.
The Falcons and Bucs are all tied up 30-30 in the all time series with the Falcons having won two in a row now. The Bucs had won the previous five before that and they look to win their first game in Atlanta since December 5, 2021. The Falcons are 15-13 all time at home against Tampa Bay.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Buccaneers are 1.5-point road underdogs with an over/under of 41. The Bucs have failed to cover the spread in five straight December games while five of their last six against NFC opponents have hit the under. Meanwhile, the Falcons are riding a four game NFC South winning streak.
The Bucs and Falcons kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The game will be broadcast on CBS with Spero Dedes and Adam Archuleta on the call.