The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4) get back to divisional play on Thursday night, seeking to go to 3-0 in NFC South play with a second win over the first-place Atlanta Falcons (5-3). Here are a few individual matchups that could play a key role in determining the outcome of this primetime Week Nine contest:
QB Jameis Winston vs. LB Vic Beasley
Winston has done a great job protecting the football as of late; the team has just one turnover in the last three games after committing 11 through the first four. Winston will need to continue to be vigilant in the pocket and mindful of where Beasley is on the field. He is tied for third in the NFL with 7.5 sacks and his three forced fumbles have all come from quarterbacks.
WR Mike Evans vs. CB Desmond Trufant**
Mike Evans had five receptions for 99 yards in the first meeting between these teams. One of his catches was a spectacular 45-yard grab as he was covered by CBs Trufant and Robert Alford. Trufant had five tackles and an interception in Week One. Evans has averaged 85 yards per game and posted six touchdowns this season.
Buccaneers RBs vs. S Keanu Neal
Rookie Peyton Barber has 91 rushing yards and a touchdown this season. Antone Smith could see also his workload increase against Atlanta, his former team. He has made the most of his limited chances so far, averaging nine yards per touch. Neal is second on the Falcons in tackles with 49 and has forced three fumbles this season.
CB Brent Grimes vs. WR Julio Jones
Jones has been the star of the Atlanta offense that leads the league in yards and points per game. He is averaging 107.4 yards per game and 20 yards per catch. In Week One, the Bucs defense held Jones to four catches for 66 yards and a score. Whether it is Grimes or CB Vernon Hargreaves primarily tasked with Jones, they'll have their hands full.
DE Robert Ayers vs. QB Matt Ryan**
Lining up at multiple positions on the D-line, Ayers will play an important role in keeping Ryan uncomfortable. That task is easier said than done as Ryan is second in the league in passer rating and leads the NFL in yards and touchdowns. Ayers and DT Gerald McCoy each had a sack in the season opener.
LB Kwon Alexander vs. RB Devonta Freeman
Alexander has a history of monster games against the Falcons. In the two meetings last season, he had 21 total tackles, a sack, an interception and two forced fumbles. In the Week One win, he had 17 tackles and a sack. He'll look for another big day roaming the middle and limiting the run game of Freeman and company.