The Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the division-rival Atlanta Falcons to close out the 2019 season, and while there are no playoff berths at stake the game is a battle for second place in the NFC South. The Buccaneers would take that spot and close out an extremely encouraging 6-2 second half to the campaign if they can complete the season sweep of the Falcons. A win would also allow the Buccaneers to avoid a losing record in Bruce Arians' first season as the head coach, which is something that remains important to the team.
"This team is not losers," said Arians after a narrow 23-20 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 16 snapped the Bucs' four-game winning streak. "We want to win this last game, get to 8-8 and build from there."
It was a 35-22 win at Atlanta in Week 12 that started the Bucs' winning streak and seemed to mark the turning point for a young secondary that has seen far better results in the second half of the season than the first. Second-year cornerback Carlton Davis had an interception and five passes defensed in that game and rookie cornerback Jamel Dean added five pass break-ups of their own. Those two plus rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting have helped the Buccaneers allow a combined opponent passer rating of just 67.3 since that game in Atlanta, the second-best mark in the league in that span.
Of course, even if the Buccaneers did fare well in that Week 12 trip to Atlanta, they are still facing a significant challenge in an offense led by quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta rides a three-game winning streak into Raymond James Stadium, a run that includes a very impressive win at San Francisco in Week 15. The Falcons have averaged 33 points per game in those three wins, with Ryan throwing for 825 yards, six touchdowns and only two interceptions and Jones has 23 catches for 268 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, running back Devonta Freeman broke out for 127 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in the Falcons' win over Jacksonville last Sunday, which makes the Atlanta offense more complex to defend.
The question is whether or not Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston can match that type of firepower without some of his key weapons at hand. Mike Evans and Scotty Miller are on injured reserve and Chris Godwin may also be unavailable, all due to recent hamstring injuries. The Buccaneers still put up 435 yards without those players last week against Houston but also finished with their lowest point total in five weeks. The Bucs will see if they can continue to get big contributions from Breshad Perriman, Justin Watson and a host of inexperienced newcomers.
As for those division standings, second place is another carrot for a young team with a new coach that wants to believe that the 2019 season, even without a postseason coda, is the start of something very good. The Falcons' win streak has improved their record to 6-9, which means a win in Tampa would have both them and the Buccaneers at 7-9 to finish the season. In that scenario, Atlanta would take second place thanks to a superior record against division opponents. The Bucs can avoid that by getting their first sweep of Atlanta since 2015. Here's what you need to know to prepare for the Bucs' 2019 season finale against perhaps the franchise's most heated rival:
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Atlanta Falcons (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8)
Sunday, December 29, 1:00 p.m. ET
Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 65,618)
Television: FOX (Local WTVT Channel 13)
TV Broadcast Team: Tim Brando (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst), Sara Walsh (sideline)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (sideline)
You won't want to miss the game live at Raymond James Stadium! Make sure to get your tickets before it's too late.
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
As recently as October of 2016 the Buccaneers had a two-game edge in the all-time series against the Falcons. A five-game run by their NFC South rivals flipped that, however, and Atlanta now leads the series, 27-25. Since the two teams were paired in the newly-created NFC South in 2002, the head-to-head matchup has been a back-and-forth mostly even affair, with Atlanta's current run giving them a 19-16 edge. After getting their first win in the still-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in late November, the Buccaneers will now try to improve upon their 14-13 all-time home record against their neighbors from one state up.
The Buccaneers' streak-breaking (Atlanta's five in a row in the series) and streak-beginning (their own four-game run in the season's second half) win in Week 12 was one of the team's best all-around efforts of the season, with Jameis Winston throwing for 313 yards and three touchdowns, the rushing attack providing 133 yards and the defense forcing two fumbles and mostly keeping Julio Jones in check. The Bucs had a 16-point lead early in the third quarter and never let it get below double digits the rest of the way.
Both of the games in 2019 went down to the wire, neither ending well for the Buccaneers. In Week Six in Atlanta, Tampa Bay rallied from a 15-point deficit to make it a 31-29 game with four minutes to play on Peyton Barber's five-yard touchdown catch. The Falcons then tacked on a field goal to make it a five-point game with just over a minute to play but Jameis Winston got the visitors back into scoring range with consecutive completions of 18, 18 and 19 yards to DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans and Adam Humphries. With seven seconds left and the ball at Atlanta's 21, the Bucs tried a tricky play in which Winston began to scramble up the middle and then suddenly attempted a lateral to Humphries. The ball ended up on the turf before Evans scooped it up and got a one-hopper off to Jackson, who appeared to have a path to the end zone pylon along the left sideline. However, Jackson couldn't haul it in and time expired on a 34-29 Falcons victory.
In the Week 17 rematch, at Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs gave up a 10-point halftime lead and fell behind by 11 in the fourth quarter before once again rallying, this time taking the lead with five minutes to play on a 19-yard Chris Godwin touchdown catch. That was too much time to leave Ryan, however, and he hit Jones on a pair of 16-yard passes to get the ball into field goal range. Matt Bryant won it as time expired with a 37-yarder.
· Atlanta's coaching staff contains two former Tampa Bay head coaches. Most recently, Dirk Koetter was at the Buccaneers' helm from 2016-18 after one season as Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator. Koetter now holds that latter title with the Falcons, returning to the same post in Atlanta he had from 2002-14. Atlanta's Assistant Head Coach Raheem Morris had the corner office at Buccaneers headquarters from 2009-11, the last three of his nine years on Tampa Bay's staff. Before graduating to head coach, Morris had also served as a defensive quality control coach on the 2002 Super Bowl staff, eventually moving on to coach the defensive backs.
· Falcons Tight Ends Coach Mike Mularkey is not a former Buccaneers head coach but he did get his NFL coaching career started in Tampa working with the same position for the Buccaneers under Sam Wyche from 1994-95. Mularkey later had head coaching stints with Buffalo, Jacksonville and Tennessee. Atlanta's staff includes another former tight ends coach for the Buccaneers in Offensive Assistant Ben Steele, who was in Tampa from 2017-18.
· Atlanta President and CEO Rich McKay was associated with the Buccaneers for decades before joining the Falcons in 2004, beginning when his father, the late John McKay, became Tampa Bay's first head coach in 1976. The younger McKay first joined the Bucs' staff as the vice president of football administration in 1992 and began serving as the general manager in 1994. He was a key architect in the construction of the Buccaneers team that won Super Bowl XXXVII.
· Warrick Dunn, who is now a Falcons Limited Partner, split his 12-year playing career as an NFL running back evenly between the Buccaneers and the Falcons. He and Marshall Faulk are the only two players in NFL history to record at least 7,500 yards from scrimmage with two different teams. Dunn joined the Buccaneers as a first-round draft pick in 1997 and stayed with the team for five seasons before signing with the Falcons in 2002. He later returned for a final season in Tampa in 2008.
· Tampa Bay's Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong held the same role with the Falcons for 11 years (2008-18). That was Armstrong's second stint in Atlanta as he also coached the Falcons' safeties from 1994-95 and took over as secondary coach in 1996.
· Defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who is in his second stint with the Falcons (also 2015-17), entered the league as a first-round draft pick of the Buccaneers in 2011 and played four seasons in Tampa.
· Atlanta tight end Luke Stocker was a member of the same draft class as Clayborn, coming to Tampa as a fourth-round pick in 2011. Stocker's stint with the Buccaneers lasted through November of 2017.
· Buccaneers Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich spent one of his nine seasons as an NFL quarterback in Atlanta, starting three games for the Falcons in 2007.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
· Tampa Bay:
· Head Coach Bruce Arians
· Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
· Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
· Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
· Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
· Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn
· Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter
· Assistant Head Coach Raheem Morris
· Special Teams Coordinator Ben Kotwica
KEY 2019 ROSTER ADDITIONS
· OLB Sam Acho (FA)
· OLB Shaq Barrett (UFA)
· CB Jamel Dean (3rd-round draft pick)
· S Mike Edwards (3rd-round draft pick)
· K Matt Gay (5th-round draft pick)
· CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (2nd-round draft pick)
· WR Breshad Perriman (UFA)
· P Bradley Pinion (UFA)
· DL Ndamukong Suh (UFA)
· LB Devin White (1st-round draft pick)
· P Ryan Allen (FA)
· DE Allen Bailey (FA)
· RB Kenjon Barner (UFA)
· G Jamon Brown (UFA)
· DE Adrian Clayborn (FA)
· DE John Cominsky (4th-round draft pick)
· K Younghoe Koo (FA)
· G Chris Lindstrom (1st-round draft pick)
· T Kaleb McGary (1st-round draft pick)
· CB Kendall Sheffield (4th-round draft pick)
· FB Keith Smith (FA)
· TE Luke Stocker (UFA)
ADDITIONAL 2019 CHANGES OF NOTE
· In January, Tampa Bay engineered one of the most significant changes a franchise could make in hiring a new head coach. That man is Bruce Arians, who needed just five years to become the winningest coach in Arizona Cardinals history and who has a history of helping quarterbacks excel. Arians assembled an extremely experienced coaching staff around him, almost all of whom he had worked with in the past.
· One of the coaches Arians brought on was Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, who served under him in the same capacity in Arizona in 2013 and 2014 before becoming the Jets' head coach. Bowles' arrival means the Buccaneers have technically switched to a base 3-4 defense, something the team hadn't identified with since 1990.
· Bowles' defense means certain players were redefined as outside linebackers, inside linebackers and defensive linemen. No matter the position designations, Tampa Bay's defense has assumed a more aggressive approach in terms of blitz frequency and variety and press-man coverage.
· Tampa Bay's offense was prolific in 2018 in terms of yards, especially in the passing attack, and most of its starters return for 2019, so one could have reasonably expected another strong season on that side of the ball. Indeed, the Buccaneers are third in the NFL in scoring through 14 weeks with 29.1 points per game, up from 24.8 in 2018.
· The Buccaneers released CB Vernon Hargreaves on December 12, parting ways with their 2016 first-round pick after three-and-a-half seasons. Tampa Bay's secondary is experiencing a youth movement, with six players from the last two drafts figuring prominently in the mix now.
· Atlanta chose to shake up its coaching staff during its Week Nine bye, though not by addition or subtraction. Instead, Assistant Head Coach Raheem Morris, who also had the title of passing game coordinator and had been tutoring the wide receivers, was reassigned to coach the defensive backs and is now involved in the defensive play-calling on game days. Assistant Special Teams Coach Bernie Parmalee, a former NFL running back, moved over into that meeting room, freeing Running Backs Coach Dave Brock to work with wide receivers.
· The Falcons also have a new special teams coordinator in 2019 after a three-team rotation at that position. Ben Kotwica, who had been in charge of the special teams for Washington, came to Atlanta and replaced Keith Armstrong, who joined Bruce Arians' first staff in Tampa. Nate Kaczor, who had been the Buccaneers' special teams coordinator under Dirk Koetter through 2018, completed the circle by heading to Washington to replace Kotwica.
· The Falcons pulled off two trades prior to this year's deadline. First, on September 30, Atlanta sent linebacker Duke Riley to Philadelphia in exchange for safety Johnathan Cyprien and a 2020 seventh-round pick. Cyprien later landed on injured reserve. Then, on October 22, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was sent to New England for a 2020 second-round pick.
· After 11 seasons, the Falcons have moved on from kicker Matt Bryant, though it happened in stages. The Falcons declined a 2019 contract option on Bryant in February and then wasn't re-signed when he became an unrestricted free agent in March. The Falcons went to camp with Giorgio Tavecchio as their kicker and later signed Blair Walsh, but then chose to re-sign Bryant on the eve of the regular season. After Bryant went nine of 14 on field goals through eight games the Falcons released him and signed Younghoe Koo.
The Weight of the Numbers – Just what will Jameis Winston's 2019 statistics look like at the end of the season, and how will they be interpreted as he and the team figure out how to move forward with his contract set to expire in March? Winston leads the NFL in passing yards and is close to the 12th 5,000-yard season in NFL history, and he's second to presumptive MVP Lamar Jackson in touchdown passes. He also leads the league in interceptions and has often done some of his best and worst work within minutes of each other. Winston has shown time and time again that he can rebound from bad plays to put up huge numbers, both within games and from week to week, so there's no reason to doubt that he could finish the season with another scintillating performance against the Falcons. There have also been several layers of difficulty added to Winston's efforts to keep the Bucs' passing game in high gear, first with hamstring injuries to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller, and then with the own injury to the thumb on his throwing hand. Arians made it clear when the first took the Buccaneers' head coaching job in January that he believed in Winston's potential, and he came into the 2019 campaign intending to judge the quarterback, still only 25 years old, based on what he saw this season and not on his past. Arians also recently said that he would wait until the end of the season to address the issue of how the team would choose to move forward with Winston. Now that time is growing close and Arians will soon have a full season of his own observations to apply to that enormous decision for the franchise. How much will one more performance by Winston affect that?
Secondary Confidence – The Buccaneers have big decisions looming not only at quarterback but along the defensive front, where a number of productive players are potential free agents in March. One area that is seeming more and more set every week, however, is the secondary, particularly a cornerback position that is loaded with youth and brimming with confidence. Since waiving Vernon Hargreaves in Week 11, the Bucs have given most of their corner snaps to second-year man Carlton Davis and rookies Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean. The results have been outstanding. After a Week 12 hiccup against the Saints, in which Dean barely played, the Buccaneers have had one of the best pass defenses in the league over a five-week span. Since Week 12, Tampa Bay has allowed the second-lowest passer rating (67.3), the third-lowest completion percentage (54.6%), the fourth-lowest yards per attempt (6.1) and second-lowest touchdown rate (0.8%). Davis and Dean are both in the league's top five in passes defensed and Murphy-Bunting is tied for the league lead in interceptions among rookies. The Buccaneers invested a large amount of second-day draft capital in the secondary in the last two years and for some time it wasn't clear if it was going to pay off. Now it looks as if the Bucs may have the makings of a very solid pass defense, and one that can grow together for years to come. That group had a superb day against Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins last weekend and now gets another chance to prove itself before the season ends with the big challenge of slowing down Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Will Shaq Get It? – One of those front-line defenders noted above who could become a free agent is outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who has simply been one of the best signings in all of free agency in 2019. All Barrett has done is tie the team's single-season sack record with 16.5 while ranking second in the NFL in that category and quarterback hits (32) and third in forced fumbles (six). Unfortunately, that great signing was just a one-year deal, but both Barrett and Arians have made it clear that they would very much like to still be working together in 2020 and beyond. That's a matter for the weeks to come, though. At hand is the more pressing question: Can Barrett claim the record for himself? He got off to an incredible start with nine sacks in the Bucs' first four games but was sitting at 11.5 with six games to go, making the target seem attainable but far from easy. Then Barrett got hot again, with a four-game sack streak that included a total of five QB takedowns, allowing him to catch Warren Sapp's 2000 mark with two games to go. However, the chase will go right down the wire, as Barrett saw his streak snapped last Saturday and he was held without a sack by the Texans. The visit from the Falcons is his last shot to stand alone in the Bucs' record book and he will certainly be at the center of attention in Week 17. The Falcons' protection of Ryan has been about league average, as they rank 15th with a sacks-allowed-per-pass-play rate of 6.95%, but a high volume of passes means that Atlanta quarterbacks have gone down 44 times overall, or about three times a game. The Bucs got Ryan down six times in Week 12 and then he absorbed an incredible nine more the following week against the Saints, but since then Atlanta's line has only allowed four sacks in three games.
What Would a Hotlanta Finish Mean? – For those who like to identify NFL head coaches who could be on the hot seat at season's end, Atlanta's Dan Quinn has been a common target in the season's second half, as noted fairly recently here and here and here. However, the Falcons have rallied from a 1-7 start with wins in five of their last nine, including the three most recent games. And that stretch includes one of the most impressive wins by any team this season, a 29-22 victory on the road over the 12-3 San Francisco 49ers in Week 15. Quinn is in his fifth season at the Falcons' helm and he had the team in the Super Bowl just three years ago. If Atlanta can beat the Bucs on Sunday for a season split with their division rivals, it would mean the team finished with at least seven wins in all five of Quinn's season, with a combined record of 43-37 in that span. How much motivation will the Falcons get from the potential of a decision on their coach's fate as they try to keep their hot streak going and finish with a 6-2 record in the second half and a second-place finish in the NFC South?
Will Youth Be Served? – The last couple games of a season with no remaining postseason hope can sometimes be used as a showcase for young and untested players who hope to get another shot the following season or are trying to carve out bigger roles. As noted above, the Buccaneers are also quite young on defense, particularly in the secondary, so there isn't necessarily a youth movement on hand. In addition, Arians continues to prioritize adding to the team's win total, and as such will likely make lineup decisions based on what gives his squad the best chance at victory. That said, some recent injuries and additions to the depth chart could lead to some new Bucs getting one last shot to impress in Week 17. Tampa Bay had no fewer than three players make their NFL debuts last Saturday in wide receivers Spencer Schnell and Cyril Grayson and tight end Codey McElroy, while wide receiver Ishmael Hyman played in just his second career game. Both McElroy and Hyman turned in big plays, 30 and 31-yard receptions, respectively, both of which led almost immediately to the Bucs' two touchdowns. Schnell got the punt return job. Grayson only got three snaps on offense but perhaps Tampa Bay will devise something to take advantage of his track-star speed in Week 17. Tight end Tanner Hudson could get some valuable playing time if he returns from the concussion protocol. Rookie safety Mike Edwards has seen a bump in his snap count in recent weeks and is getting a long look at strong safety. Rookie outside linebacker Anthony Nelson was finally cleared from his lingering hamstring injury last week and was active for the game but he did not play. It's highly unlikely that all or even a majority of these players will get their time in the spotlight in Week 17, but it's possible that one or two gets a shot to make a case for 2020.
1. Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis
Last weekend, Houston WR DeAndre Hopkins came to Raymond James Stadium red-hot, with a pair of 100-yard games in his immediate rear view mirror and four in his last eight outings. He left with just 23 yards on five catches, tying his season low. The main culprit, according to Arians: Davis, the Buccaneers' second-year corner who is showing signs of developing into a lock-down corner. Davis matched Hopkins' physical play and never let him get into the open field with room to run. That was a great tune-up for Davis for this week, because he'll have at least an equal if not greater challenge trying to slow down an even hotter Julio Jones. In just his last two games, Jones has racked up 23 catches for 300 yards and two touchdowns. Davis and the Bucs' secondary limited Jones to 68 yards in the Week 12 meeting in Atlanta but the veteran receiver has a history of strong performances against the Buccaneers. Jones is a particularly difficult challenge for any cornerback because he is so incredibly quick and sharp out of his breaks. Defensive backs worried about the Falcons' big-play receiver suddenly dashing by them to get behind the defense often find that he instead makes an instant cut outside and creates separation that wasn't there a moment ago. Like all the Bucs' young defensive backs, however, Davis has had a strong run to the end of the season in part because that group has made a point of studying extra game tape and working to recognize their opponents' tendencies. Having played Jones just over a month ago should help Davis in his preparation as well.
2. Buccaneers G Ali Marpet vs. Falcons DT Grady Jarrett
Last week, Jarrett found out that he had made his first Pro Bowl roster, and it's a pretty good bet that Buccaneers players and coaches cast ballots his way during their portion of the voting. The Bucs are well aware of what a non-stop wreaker of havoc Jarrett can be over the course of 60 minutes. Seemingly possessed of an endless well of energy and competitiveness, Jarrett gets into opposing backfields frequently, and he ranks second on the Atlanta defense with 6.5 sacks and first with 15 quarterback hits. He's an instinctive defender who can change directions quickly, allowing him to pick up sacks in pursuit when plays break down and to have an impact on the running game even when the opposition doesn't choose to run right in his direction. It might not be too long before Marpet makes his own breakthrough into Pro Bowl recognition as he's a top competitor on a line that has helped produce the third-highest yardage and point totals in the NFL this season. Though Jameis Winston has had persistent interception issues he has mostly had good time to throw in recent weeks as the Bucs have averaged 422 gross passing yards per game over the past three weeks. Marpet is strong and competitive and he and center Ryan Jensen set a physical tone in the middle of the Bucs' front wall. In the Week 12, Marpet helped the Bucs hold Jarrett to just two tackle assists and no hits on the quarterback.
3. Falcons TE Austin Hooper/RB Devonta Freeman vs. Buccaneers S Mike Edwards
In that last Bucs-Falcons meeting in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Tampa Bay's defense held Atlanta to 337 yards and 22 points; in four games since, the Falcons have averaged 404.3 yards and 27.8 points per outing. One reason for the surge is the return of both Hooper or Freeman, neither of whom played in that Week 12 game due to injuries. Hooper was having a breakout campaign before a knee injury caused him to miss three games, and since his return he's caught 12 passes for 134 yards in three games, all Atlanta victories. Freeman also missed some time in the season's second half with a foot injury, and while the first half of his season wasn't as productive as many had expected he seems to be hitting his stride in the last month since returning. That's especially true in the passing game, as he had seven catches for 94 yards and a touchdown last week. One of the defenders who should be heavily involved in slowing down tight ends and running backs in the passing attack on Sunday is rookie safety Mike Edwards, who has a bigger role after the loss of Jordan Whitehead to injured reserve. Edwards played roughly two-thirds of the Houston game at strong safety and recorded four tackles and a pass defensed. One of those stops came against TE Darren Fells and his pass break-up was on a pass intended for RB Ronald Jones. Edwards is a defender the Buccaneers' coaches feel comfortable deploying all over the formation, and he has also seen time in the slot this season, indicating his coverage skills. The return of Hooper and Freeman makes the Falcons' more difficult to defend than they were five weeks ago but Edwards and the rest of the Bucs' young secondary have been playing quite well in the time since that last meeting.
4. Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston vs. Falcons S Damontae Kazee
Winston's unusual 2019 trend is inescapable and almost inexplicable: He's thrown an interception on the Bucs' first series of the game six times this year, including the last three in a row. Winston was picked off four times in the Bucs' 23-20 loss to Houston, by four different Texan defenders, one of them returned for a touchdown. He has also been one of the NFL's most prolific passers all seasons in yards and touchdowns and he's made Tampa Bay's aerial game one of the most dangerous in terms of big plays downfield. Obviously, Winston and the Bucs' coaches are doing all they can to radically reduce the turnovers, but when that doesn't occur it can turn a game into a walk on a tight rope, as it did in that loss to the Texans and wins over Indianapolis, Arizona and Atlanta. The Falcons' defense will surely come into Raymond James Stadium on Sunday hoping to counter Winston's big plays with ones of their own, and the most likely defender to do so would have been the team's leading interceptor, veteran CB Desmond Trufant. However, Trufant landed on injured reserve with a broken arm two weeks ago, which makes Kazee the team's leading interceptor with three. That's no fluke; Kazee tied for the NFL lead last year with seven picks in his first season as a regular starter. Kazee was also a ballhawk in college at San Diego State, with another seven interceptions in his final year. A true centerfielder with good awareness and instincts, Kazee picked off a pass in last year's season finale against Tampa Bay, which proved to be the turning point in Atlanta's rally for a 34-32 victory.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
· DL Beau Allen (ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· G Alex Cappa (elbow) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· CB Carlton Davis (ankle) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· T Demar Dotson (not injury related) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· K Matt Gay (back) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· DL William Gholston (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Chris Godwin (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· TE Tanner Hudson (concussion) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· C Ryan Jensen (elbow) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (not injury related) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
· T Donovan Smith (ankle/knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· DL Ndamukong Suh (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
· QB Jameis Winston (right thumb/knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
· S Ricardo Allen (shoulder/knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· DE Allen Bailey (hand) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
· RB Kenjon Barner (shoulder/hip) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· G Jamon Brown (illness) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· LB De'Vondre Campbell (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: Off the report.
· DE Adrian Clayborn (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· TE Jaeden Graham (knee) – WEDS: FP; THURS: Off the report.
· WR Julio Jones (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· C Alex Mack (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: Off the report.
· WR Brandon Powell (wrist) – WEDS: NL; THURS: LP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
Mostly cloudy, high of 81, low of 70, 20% chance of rain, 85% humidity, winds out of the SE at 10 mph.
Head referee: Carl Cheffers (20 seasons, 12 as referee)
· Favorite: Buccaneers (-1.5)
· Over/Under: 47.5
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Points Scored: K Matt Gay, 122
Touchdowns: WR Chris Godwin, 9
Passing Yards: QB Jameis Winston, 4,908
Passer Rating: QB Jameis Winston, 84.6
Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 618
Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 86
Receiving Yards: WR Chris Godwin, 1,333
Interceptions: CB Sean Murphy-Bunting, 3
Sacks: OLB Shaq Barrett, 16.5
Tackles: LB Lavonte David, 115
Points Scored: K Younghoe Koo, 68
Touchdowns: WR Calvin Ridley, 7
Passing Yards: QB Matt Ryan, 4,153
Passer Rating: QB Matt Ryan, 92.9
Rushing Yards: Devonta Freeman, 598
Receptions: WR Julio Jones, 92
Receiving Yards: WR Julio Jones, 1,316
Interceptions: CB Desmond Trufant, 4
Sacks: OLB Vic Beasley, 8.0
Tackles: LB De'Vondre Campbell, 126
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: 3rd (29.1 ppg)
Total Offense: 3rd (402.5 ypg)
Passing Offense: 1st (310.1 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 25th (92.3 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 4th (22.6)
Third-Down Pct.: 10th (42.6%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 20th (7.59%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 5th (65.4%)
Scoring Defense: 30th (28.1 ppg)
Total Defense: 15th (350.1 ypg)
Passing Defense: 30th (276.8 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 1st (73.3 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 17th (20.6)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 5th (34.4%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 24th (6.20%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 16th (58.9%)
Turnover Margin: t-27th (-11)
Scoring Offense: 13th (23.5 ppg)
Total Offense: 5th (380.1 ypg)
Passing Offense: 3rd (295.2 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 30th (84.9 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 3rd (23.7)
Third-Down Pct.: 12th (42.3%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 15th (6.95%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-5th (66.0%)
Scoring Defense: 22nd (25.1 ppg)
Total Defense: 19th (357.6 ypg)
Passing Defense: 23rd (248.3 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 15th (109.3 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 20th (21.1)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: t-22nd (41.1%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 29th (5.27%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 20th (58.8%)
Turnover Margin: 26th (-7)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
· OLB Shaquil Barrett has 16.5 sacks, which is tied for the most in a single season in Buccaneers history. If Barrett has a hand in a sack in Week 17 he will break his tie with Warren Sapp's total of 16.5 in 2000.
· Barrett also has six forced fumbles and the Buccaneers' single-season record is seven, first set by Wally Chambers in 1979 and later matched by Broderick Thomas in 1991 and Stylez G. White in 2007.
· Lavonte David has surpassed 100 tackles in a season for the seventh time in his eight years in the NFL. In total he has 999 career tackles, needing just one more to become the fourth player in team history to eclipse 1,000. The first three were Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and Hardy Nickerson.
· Jameis Winston needs just 92 more passing yards to have the first 5,000-yard season in franchise history. He would become just the eighth player in NFL history to reach that mark in a single season; it would be the 12th such season overall, as Drew Brees has done it five times.
· K Matt Gay has scored 122 points this season, a new record for Buccaneer rookies. It's also the fifth-most by any player in team history and he could jump all the way to the top spot with 10 points on Sunday. The team record of 131 points was set by Matt Bryant in 2008.
· Head Coach Bruce Arians on wanting to end the year with a win: "For us, 8-8 tastes a whole lot better than 7-9. Any time you can spend the offseason remembering when you won, it's a lot different to come to work every day – as a player and a coach."
· QB Jameis Winston on working with a rotating cast of receivers after the injuries to Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin: "It's all trust, and make no mistake, it doesn't matter who's out there. We're going to go out there and we're going to trust them and we're going to let it fly. We're going to be more open to the flow of the game. Our defense has been playing really good right now, so we have to take care of our positions."
· Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich on why WR Breshad Perriman is finding so much late-season success: "It goes back to he was the third wide receiver with two guys that are in the top three in yards, the top three in catches. He's been open the whole time. It's not like he's just now getting open. It's just when he's open, Mike [Evans] and Chris [Godwin] might be open too, so the ball went that way as opposed to coming his way. What I liked about him – he's a veteran guy that understands football. Never wavered. He does the same thing pregame. He does these drills that show up on Sundays, dragging the toe [and] the catches that he makes – I've watched him make [those] catches before practice every day. We felt comfortable with having him as our three. We knew how good he was."
· Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles on the importance of ILB Lavonte David in the Bucs' defense: "He's one of my favorite players. I think he's a complete football player. He plays the run very well. He plays the pass very well. He can blitz. He can play zone. He can play man. He's very intelligent – he has a lot of football savvy and he understands the game, and that's priceless. I think Devin [White] has learned a lot from him in that aspect of the game and the team in general on defense he's one of the leaders over there and I can't say enough about him."
· Arians on CB Carlton Davis's strong work against Houston WR DeAndre Hopkins and how he's been able to reduce his early-season penalties without changing his overall style of play: "Pretty much it was Carlton Davis. There was not a lot of double teaming going on, there was some but Carlton just had a heck of a ball game. Carlton is a very physical player, so [he and Hopkins] were just beating the crap out of each other. As a DB you have to know what you're getting away with – how are they going to call this game? Each game is different. We talked way back in September about getting his hands off down the field, and he's done a heck of a job improving that part."