The NFL's three-game Thanksgiving slate gave us all kinds of fantasy points on a high-scoring holiday. The six teams put up a staggering 202 points, which translated into a lot of fantasy scoring for you and your competitors, and that in turn makes setting your Sunday lineup that much more important. Nearly every big name in fantasy football enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast of points, and you can expect that to continue at many NFL venues on Sunday. All signs point to the Buccaneers vs. Falcons matchup being one of those productive affairs.
So far this year, both teams have shown us just what a high-powered NFL offense looks like. The Bucs have been red-hot since their bye week, surprisingly leading the league in a number of categories in that time frame. Since Week Six, the Buccaneers are second in the NFL is points per game and first in offensive touchdowns, yards per game and yards per touch. Much of that has been the result of big plays both on the ground and through the air. The Bucs lead the NFL in runs of more than 10 yards and are second in passing plays of more than 25 yards. It's not surprising, then, that they are first in the NFL in plays from scrimmage of more than 40 yards.
The Falcons are no offensive slouches themselves, obviously. The wide receiver duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White lead the league in fantasy points per game. The two of them combine for 21.2 fantasy points per game. Throw in the third highest-scoring tight end in the NFL and you have a set of receiving triplets that you can expect to put up a combined 31 fantasy points each week. The Falcons are third in the NFL all season long in completion percentage and fourth in passing yards per game.
With all this offensive firepower on the field, a shootout at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday would come as no surprise. Simply put, the answer to whom from this matchup should make your starting lineup is: Yes.
1. All Receivers, All Day
Both offenses will be busy, so, let's get right to it. Each team is chock full of pass-catchers that should be making fantasy starts all around your league this week.
We'll start with an Atlanta offense that will be facing the extremes the Buccaneer defense has been producing this year. The Buccaneers continue to defend their league-low yards per game against the run, while their 312 yards per game allowed through the air is the highest mark in the NFL.
Falcon QB Matt Ryan is coming off one of the worst fantasy weeks of his career after posting five interceptions and just two fantasy points last week. Against a Buccaneer defense that ranks 28th against opposing quarterbacks, Ryan should be expected to rebound and perform again like the top seven fantasy QB he is. The Bucs will look to continue the trend of Falcon turnovers, however. With 15 interceptions so far this season, the Buccaneers are third in the NFL in that category. The Bucs' defense is one of only six in the league that is averaging two takeaways a game.
Ryan will be throwing primarily to his big three: White, Jones and ageless TE Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez has the lowest fantasy points per game total of the three, but it's a pretty impressive 9.8 points per game. There are only 15 wide receivers in the NFL that have a higher average, and two of those are White and Jones. Of Matt Ryan's 268 completions this season, those three have caught 177.
Julio Jones is the biggest question mark of the three as he was limited in practice throughout the week due to an ankle injury that helped hold him to three catches for 33 yards in the last game. It is possible that he sees decreased time on the field for a second week in a row. In his absence in the last game, Roddy White gained 123 yards on eight receptions.
The Buccaneers answer all of that with QB Josh Freeman and company. Freeman led the Bucs to an overtime win last week while racking up 21 fantasy points. His lowest fantasy total since Week Five was a 16-pointer against the San Diego Chargers. Atlanta ranks ninth against opposing quarterbacks, which might raise some red flags for some. However, three of the last four quarterbacks the Falcons have faced have scored 15 or more fantasy points. Also, Freeman could very well get a lot of help from Doug Martin and the running game.
That's because the Falcons are giving up 130 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs and Doug Martin just become the third RB this season to pass the 1,000-yard mark. If Martin can get things started early against the Falcons' run defense, it could be forced to stack eight in the box to slow him down. That will leave Freeman with a killer play-action game and one-on-one matchups on the outside.
Freeman and his receivers, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, lead the NFL in plays of 40 yards, which could result in some big numbers. Vincent Jackson has quietly put up the third most fantasy points at the WR position. The tandem also ranks first and third in yards per reception.
And, just to round out the offensive fireworks we should be shortly seeing, let's look past the must-starts and dig a bit deeper for some sleepers. Buccaneer tight end Dallas Clark is showing some signs of life in recent weeks. Clark has scored in each of the last two games and put up his best numbers last week against Carolina. The Panther defense was the toughest that the Bucs have faced since the bye, and Dallas Clark saw 11 targets in the game. Facing an even better pass defense, Freeman could again opt to dump a number of passes Clark's way. Of course, his fantasy value shoots up if fellow Buccaneer tight ends Luke Stocker and Nate Bynum would break the habit of scoring at the goal line.
For the Falcons, RB Jacquizz Rodgers is someone to consider for an open flex spot. All year he has been acting as RB Michael Turner's number two, taking pressure off the usual workhorse back. Rodgers' presence is most felt in the passing game and Ryan often looks to him in the flat and lets Rodgers do the work with his feet. In six of the last eight games, Rodgers has four or more catches and is bound to break one soon. With the Buccaneers' up-and-down pass defense and strong run defense, the short passing game to Rodgers could essentially become the Falcons way to rush the football.
2. Down the Stretch
There's not much more you can say about this matchup besides "Sit back and enjoy the points." So instead let's take a look forward at what your Buccaneer fantasy stars might produce down the stretch.
The Buccaneers have seen a lot of fantasy football success over the past five weeks. The team has won four straight in that stretch, QB Josh Freeman has put himself in the top 10 at his position, RB Doug Martin has proven to be one of the best backs in the league, and the receiving corps continues to put up numbers week after week.
In fantasy, predicting a player's level of success often lies in analyzing the matchup. And with the fantasy football playoffs looming, it is a good idea to take a glimpse ahead and check out the remaining strength of schedule for your fantasy players.
The playoffs for most fantasy leagues will begin in Week 14. To get a feel for how the Buccaneers have been performing, let's compare their past five opponents – against whom they performed particularly well – with the teams they will face to wind down the season.
In the last five weeks, the Buccaneers have faced some favorable defensive matchups. The table below shows each defense's ranking in fantasy points allowed to that particular position.
As you can see, Carolina against wide receivers was the only one of their opposing defenses that was in the top ten in any category. Only three were in the top 12 at defending a position. Combine this with the fact that the Buccaneer offense looks like they can go toe-to-toe with any opponent, and you have a recipe for success when it comes to putting up some big fantasy scores. Which is, of course, what has happened.
Luckily for fantasy owners with a Buccaneer on the roster, the rest of the season is hardly a gauntlet, either. The average gets a bit tougher at each position, but is hardly unbearable.
Both Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers' wide receiver tandem will be facing some harder matchups as the average fantasy toughness gains about four spots. Doug Martin owners seem to be sitting pretty with an average ranking just a couple spots higher than his previous five games.
With the fantasy football playoffs knocking on the door, the schedule suggests that the Buccaneers are a team you will want to keep represented on your roster . Josh Freeman will see a test to open this stretch and close it again against Atlanta, but when you're fighting through the first rounds of the playoffs in Week 14-16, the schedule is certainly favorable; most leagues don't play in Week 17, anyway. And Doug Martin will close the year strong, facing four straight opponents who are firmly in the bottom half in points allowed to running backs.
While the Buccaneers themselves will be looking to make their own run in the NFC playoff race, you should be confident that they are going to be putting on a heck of a show for you in the fantasy playoffs as well.