Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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5 Bucs to Watch Against Atlanta

Here are five players to keep an eye on as the Bucs take on the Falcons for the first time this season in Atlanta on Sunday.

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1. WR Mike Evans

One more time. I'm going to list him one more time because Evans is for real this time about to make NFL history. He's seven receiving yards away from reaching 1,000 on the season, and while a 1,000-yard season is nothing to snuff at in itself, especially through just 11 games, it will give Evans his sixth-consecutive such season to start his career. It's significant because only one other player in NFL history has done the same – Hall of Famer Randy Moss. Seven measly yards.

In 10 games against the Falcons in his career, Evans has 856 receiving yards, meaning an 85.6 yard per game average. That's well beyond those aforementioned seven yards needed, so this very much should be the game he finally breaks the 1,000-yard plane against the league's 26th-ranked passing defense.

Evans has the second-most receiving yards of any receiver in the league this season with 993. He's also tied with teammate Chris Godwin and Dallas' Amari Cooper for the second-most receiving touchdowns in the league with seven. Evans eclipsed 1,500 yards last season and is on pace to do it again this year, too.

2. QB Jameis Winston

Winston is from Bessemer, Alabama, which isn't too far from where he'll be playing in Atlanta when the Bucs take on the Falcons. He's gone so far as saying Atlanta has a 'home game' feel and says he should have over 80 family members in attendance this weekend. That feeling translates into some extra juice, too.

Winston's numbers are pretty great in the Peach State. He's thrown for 853 yards and nine touchdowns in three games on the road against the Falcons. His last game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium yielded a 115.4 passer rating as he completed 30 of 41 pass attempts for 395 yards and four touchdowns against two interceptions.

In fact, Winston just does well against Atlanta period, home or away. He has a cumulative passer rating of 112.7 when playing the Falcons and completes nearly 68% of his passes. That's by far his best against any divisional opponent and is about seven percent higher than his overall average. A performance consistent with his tendencies against the Falcons would give the Bucs a shot to play spoiler to a three-game win streak for Atlanta and get back on the right track themselves.

3. RB Peyton Barber

Winston isn't the only one who feels those homecoming vibes in Atlanta. Barber is from Alpharetta, a suburb of Atlanta, and will surely be playing in front of family and friends this weekend, too. Barber had two good games against Atlanta last season. Against the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Barber had 82 yards on 13 carries for a 6.31 average. He also caught a six-yard pass for a Bucs touchdown amid a furious rally that put Tampa Bay within two points in the fourth quarter.

Barber got his first receiving touchdown of the 2019 season last game against the Saints and perhaps can be productive again for the Bucs as they take on their other division rivals.

4. CB Jamel Dean

The Bucs had a very specific plan to try and stop the high-powered Saints offense. It included favoring more zone coverage over man for the Tampa Bay secondary. As a result, rookie cornerback Jamel Dean didn't see much of the field on defense. Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles had this to say this past week:

"He could've played last week," Bowles said. "We had some packages. The game didn't dictate those to go, but it's my job to play him more and he will play more with Vernon [Hargreaves] gone and [Mike] Edwards playing some nickel. Dean is not a nickel guy. With Carlton [Davis] and [Sean Murphy-]Bunting outside, we played Edwards more inside, but we definitely will get him some more time."

Because of that more time, he definitely makes the list as players to watch this week. Dean was thrust into action when Carlton Davis suffered a last-minute injury during pregame in Seattle. Dean's performance was pretty up and down that first game but then he bounced back big at home against Arizona, where he had four passes defensed and graded out as one of the best cornerbacks in the league, according to PFF. He'll now be part of the unit tasked with containing the league's third-best passing offense on the hands of guys like Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. We'll see how the Bucs end up working him in on Sunday.

5. K Matt Gay

Kickers rarely ever make this list but there needs to be more attention on the great season that rookie kicker Matt Gay is having. He leads the NFL with 12 field goals made of 40 yards or more. His success rate on such kicks is 85.7%, good for the second-best mark in the league behind only Baltimore's Justin Tucker. His four kicks of over 50 yards are tied for the third-most in the NFL and his 85 total points for Tampa Bay rank fifth. His 87% overall success rate on field goals is also in the top 10.

Oh, and he's only missed two extra points all season and they were both in Week 3. He's been perfect since.

The Bucs have a kicker, people. That's worth noticing.

View some of the top photos from the Buccaneers' Week 12 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.

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