The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel to Atlanta in Week 18 to battle the Falcons in the 2022 regular-season finale. Neither team has anything left to play for in terms of standings, but both will want to conclude the year on a positive note. The Bucs took sole possession of the NFC South with a thrilling 30-24 comeback victory over the Panthers last weekend, but the club will strive to clean-up issues in the upcoming matchup. Tampa Bay Head Coach Todd Bowles vocalized that all starters – if healthy – should prepare to play against the divisional foe, rendering Sunday's meeting an opportunity to build momentum heading into the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Falcons, who have been eliminated from playoff contention, will look to further evaluate the roster, and develop young players. Atlanta defeated the Cardinals in Week 17 with a 21-yard walk off field goal by Younghoe Koo, capping off an impressive 12-play drive by Desmond Ridder. For the visiting team, the Buccaneers put up an impressive 478-yard performance against the Panthers, spurred by the downfield connection between Tom Brady and Mike Evans. Tampa Bay will look to maintain that level of success in Week 18, shattering any notion that Sunday's win was just an anomaly. How long vested veterans will play on Sunday remains to be seen but one thing is certain, the Bucs are hungry for their ninth victory of the 2022-23 slate.
Chris Lindstrom, the Falcons' anchor up front, is headed to his first Pro Bowl. He has established himself as one of the best interior offensive linemen in the NFL, and currently has an overall grade of 95.0 per Pro Football Focus – the highest for any guard in the league. Lindstrom is the centerpiece of a line that has blocked for the third-best rushing output in football. With athletic ability, Lindstrom excels at getting to the second level, paving the way for rushers via traps and pulls. With elite awareness, Lindstrom has the lateral mobility to neutralize pass rushers. On Sunday, Lindstrom will see a heavy dose of Bucs' Akiem Hicks. Against the Panthers, Hicks batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage and became a menace in the backfield, stuffing the run. With Vita Vea in-and-out of the lineup while recovering from a calf injury, Hicks has bolstered the unit. The former Bears' Pro Bowler has agility off the snap to push opposing offensive linemen. He showcases rare movement skills in space and is an explosive, hard-hitter, wrapping up ball carriers. This will be a marquee matchup to observe in Week 18 in the trenches.
Anthony Nelson moved into the starting lineup after Shaquil Barrett suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in Week Eight and after additional injuries to the position group, Nelson has played every defensive snap over the Bucs' previous three games. During that span, he has been a disruptive force. Nelson recorded a strip-sack on Sam Darnold in Week 17, marking his third straight game with at least 0.5 sacks and his second straight game recording a strip-sack. The fourth-year edge rusher has forced three fumbles in the last four weeks - most in the NFL over that stretch. On the year, Nelson has a career-high 5.5 sacks, tied for second-most on the team. With explosion out of his stance and a high-motor, Nelson has made a mark with timely plays. The former Iowa Hawkeye has become a threat against the run and pass, leveraging his length. Nelson has developed an array of counter moves and has learned to play with power. He has been a productive three-down player for the Buccaneers and will need another stellar performance off the quarterback's blind side in Week 18.
The Bucs will travel to Atlanta with the NFL's 32nd-ranked rushing attack, mostly indicative of the offense falling behind and being forced into a pass-centric system. Playing catch-up has not allowed Tampa Bay to dial up a preferred, balanced approach. The Falcons rank 24th in the league in stopping the run, so this week could provide opportunities for both Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White. The coaching staff has made it clear that in terms of touches out of the backfield during games, they will "ride the hot hand." This could be the preliminary debut to "playoff Lenny." Fournette leads the Bucs with 1,187 yards from scrimmage and is a threat in the passing game, as well. He creates with a rare blend of power and speed, which allows him to plough through tackle attempts. The LSU product is a violent finisher, punishing linebackers and safeties in run-support. On Sunday, he will face Falcons' Rashaan Evans. Evans currently leads the team with 154 tackles, adding physicality in the box. Additionally, he has accumulated 2.0 sacks off blitzes, so Fournette will likely meet Evans in pass protection one-on-one. Evans has quick diagnosis skills combined with sideline-to-sideline range. He works around trash when scraping and will likely be matched up with Fournette on multiple occasions.
The Bucs face a two-headed monster in both Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson on Sunday. The Falcons are pounding their way to an average of 159 yards on the ground per game, with both Patterson and Allgeier averaging at least 4.8 yards per carry. Allgeier, a power back, currently leads Atlanta with 900 yards on the ground. Patterson, the do-it-all weapon, is a shifty runner with suddenness in and out of his breaks. He is one of the league's most versatile playmakers and currently leads the team with eight touchdowns. The goal for the Bucs will be to maintain gaps and stop the run, forcing third-round pick Desmond Ridder to win through the air on Sunday. The Bucs' inside linebcaker corps, including Lavonte David, will play a critical role in countering the Falcons' run philosophy. David possesses excellent read-and-react skills, providing favorable down-and-distance situations with tackles near the line of scrimmage. David sets the tone, and he will play a pivotal part in run support in Week 18.
Against the Panthers in Week 17, Tom Brady threw for a season-high 423 yards and tossed three touchdowns, all of which came to Mike Evans on go routes down the field. Evans exploited Carolina's use of Cover 1, making defensive backs pay in single coverage. Prior to the divisional clash, the Bucs only had one touchdown pass allyear of 30-plus yards. Last weekend changed the tide as Brady went off, with Evans serving as the beneficiary. Evans became the offensive catalyst as the downfield passing attack came to life at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs will strive to build momentum heading into the playoffs, and another dominant outing for the dynamic tandem in Atlanta would boost confidence. In order to survive in the postseason, the Bucs will have to be more consistent offensively. Evans surpassed 1,000 yards receiving for the ninth-consecutive year and will strive for dominion once again in Week 18. The former A&M star has the strength to power through the jam and is able to box out defenders with his frame. Evans makes contested catches with outstanding high-point ability. He is essentially a cheat code on the back shoulder fade and will likely be the focal point on offense come Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.