The Tampa Bay Buccaneers conclude their 2020 regular season on Sunday with the second half of an unusual double-dip with the Atlanta Falcons. The Buccaneers and Falcons met just two weeks ago in Atlanta, with the visitors staging a wild second-half comeback to win, 31-27. The rematch will be at Raymond James Stadium as the Bucs go for their first sweep in the series since 2015.
This is the first time that Tampa Bay will play the same opponent twice within the last three weeks of a season. The last time the Bucs played any opponent twice in a three-week span was against New Orleans in 2016. Tampa Bay won the first one at home in Week 14 but was unable to complete the sweep two weeks later at the Superdome.
There is more at stake for the Buccaneers than bragging rights with their division rivals from Georgia. Tampa Bay, which clinched a playoff spot with their Week 16 win at Detroit, would also lock up the fifth seed in the conference with another victory on Sunday. The Bucs are trying to win their fourth straight since coming out of their Week 13 bye, and if they can do so it will mark the longest winning streak to end a regular season in franchise history. That would certainly give the team a boost at it heads into its first postseasons since 2007 and seeks its first playoff win since Super Bowl XXXVII.
"Like BA was saying, we're playing this game to win," said safety Jordan Whitehead. "Just for players going into the playoffs, you want to keep that momentum going. We're on a streak, so we're going to go in this game and play hard. Nobody wants to lose, so that's the goal, just to win."
The Falcons currently hold last place in the NFC standings with a 4-11 record, in a season in which it dismissed Head Coach Dan Quinn and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff before the midway point. Atlanta has also lost four straight. However, all four of those games have been very close and three have come against teams about to enter the playoffs. The Buccaneers definitely do not expect an unmotivated opponent or an easy victory in Week 17.
Raheem Morris will serve as a head coach on a Raymond James Stadium sideline for the first time since 2011, when he finished his three-year stint at the Buccaneers' helm. The Falcons won four of their first six games after Morris took over for Quinn on an interim basis and have outscored their opponents, 247-209, in 10 games under Morris's direction.
The Bucs don't have to be convinced that the Falcons are a tough opponent. Atlanta took a 17-0 lead into halftime in Week Two and still led by 17 with less than four minutes to play in the third quarter. Matt Ryan threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns, which is something the Bucs have seen plenty of times in the past, and emerging star Calvin Ridley caught 10 passes for 163 yards and a score. The Buccaneers' offense came alive in the second half to put up 31 points but the Tampa Bay defense also turned up the heat on Ryan in the second half with three sacks and seven QB hits. Head Coach Bruce Arians hopes the Buccaneers can do that from the beginning of the game in the rematch in order to disrupt that Ryan-Ridley connection.
"We'll try to control Calvin Ridley a whole lot better than we did in that game, or like Kansas City tried to this past week" said Arians. "He's on fire right now, and if we don't get to Matt Ryan they're going to find him because he's playing at a really, really high level. We've got to get to Matt Ryan better than we did in the first half of the last game."
The last time the Buccaneers won 11 games it included a strong late-season run and a wild overtime win over the visiting Falcons in Week 16. That helped Tampa Bay get to 11 wins and take the NFC South title. The division crown is out of reach this year but the Falcons still figure prominently in the Buccaneers' efforts to head into the playoffs in as strong of a position as possible. The Bucs also notched December wins over Atlanta in their 2002 and 2007 playoff campaigns. Tampa Bay has already taken the first half of the season series this month and a sweep could propel them into the postseason with a full head of steam.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Atlanta Falcons (4-11) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5)
Sunday, January 3, 1:00 p.m. ET
Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 65,618…roughly 25% capacity will be in attendance)
TV Broadcast Team: TBA
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
The Buccaneers will be going for just their second sweep of Atlanta in the last dozen years when the Falcons visit Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. If they get it, they will also pull within one win of once again tying up an all-time series that has frequently seen the lead change hands. Overall, Atlanta still holds a 28-26 lead in that series, though the Buccaneers have outscored the Falcons, 1,201-1,162 in those 54 games.
As noted above, the most recent meeting came just two weeks ago. Tom Brady threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns in the second half to rally the Bucs to a 31-27 win. Mike Evans caught six passes for 110 yards and Antonio Brown scored his first touchdown as a Buccaneer on a 46-yard pass that produced the final game-winning points. Inside linebacker Devin White earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after sacking Matt Ryan three times in the second half.
The Buccaneers came close to taking both halves of the series last year, winning by a 35-22 score in Atlanta and taking a 22-16 lead into the fourth quarter in the Week 17 rematch in Tampa. However, Matt Ryan led a game-tying drive in the final three minutes of that contest, leading to Younghoe Koo's 33-yard field goal as time expired in regulation. The Buccaneers won the overtime coin toss but lost the game on the first play of the extra period, as Jameis Winston's last pass for Tampa Bay was picked off and returned 27 yards for a touchdown by Deion Jones.
At the time, he resulting split maintained the three-game lead that Atlanta had recently taken in the series, thanks to a four-game winning streak from 2016-18. The Falcons have fared relatively well in Tampa, forging a 14-14 split in those 28 meetings.
The Bucs' win in Atlanta in Week 12 last season was one of the team's best all-around efforts of the year, with 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 2018 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.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 17 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
- Raheem Morris, who is serving as the Falcons' interim head coach after the Week Six dismissal of Dan Quinn. Morris previously held the Buccaneers' head coaching job 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, and he was briefly named the defensive coordinator at the end of the 2009 season before his promotion to the corner office.
- Atlanta's coaching staff contains another former Tampa Bay head coach. 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.
- Falcons Tight Ends Coach Ben Steele was in Tampa from 2017-18, coaching the same position for the Bucs under Koetter. Steele joined the Falcons as an offensive assistant in 2019 but was promoted to tight ends coach after the retirement of Mike Mularkey, another former Buccaneer assistant.
- 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.
- Buccaneers cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross played 14 seasons in the NFL as a cornerback, including two with the Atlanta Falcons in 1994-95. In addition, Tampa Bay's defensive/special teams assistant Keith Tandy concluded his seven-year playing career as a safety with Atlanta in 2018.
- Atlanta tight end Luke Stocker was a fourth-round draft pick by the Buccaneers in 2011. Stocker's stint with the Buccaneers lasted through November of 2017 and included 80 games played, 56 starts and 52 receptions.
- Buccaneers running back Kenjon Barner played for the Falcons last year, serving as the team's primary kick returner.
- Falcons defensive end Steven Means entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick by the Buccaneers in 2013. He played 10 games for Tampa Bay as a rookie and one more in 2014.
- 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.
- Falcons Offensive Assistant Danny Breyer was a defensive assistant for the Buccaneers in 2017 and 2018.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
- 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
- Interim Head Coach Raheem Morris
- Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter
- Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich
- Special Teams Coordinator Bernie Parmalee
KEY 2020 ROSTER ADDITIONS
- DT Marlon Davidson (2nd-round draft pick)
- CB Darqueze Dennard (FA)
- DE Dante Fowler (UFA)
- RB Todd Gurley (FA)
- TE Hayden Hurst (T-BAL)
- C Matt Hennessy (3rd-round draft pick)
- P Sterlin Hofrichter (7th-round draft pick)
- G Justin McCray (FA)
- LB LaRoy Reynolds (UFA)
- CB A.J. Terrell (1st-round draft pick)
- WR Laquon Treadwell (UFA)
- LB Mykal Walker (4th-round draft pick)
ADDITIONAL 2020 CHANGES OF NOTE
· Though it is noted in the "Roster Additions" section above, it's worth further elaborating on the extremely dramatic change the Buccaneers made at the game's most important position. After five seasons, the team moved on from Jameis Winston, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, and filled the starting quarterback spot with the man many consider the G.O.A.T., former Patriot Tom Brady. Brady brings 20 years of experience and six Super Bowl championship rings to Tampa in one of the most notable free agent signings in NFL history. Brady's move to the Buccaneers also prompted former Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement and he was promptly traded to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round draft pick. Another former teammate of Brady's, albeit for just one game, arrived in late October when the Buccaneers signed WR Antonio Brown.
· Tampa Bay debuted new uniforms in Week One in New Orleans. The uniforms are largely inspired by the ones the team wore during its Super Bowl era and overall from 1997 through 2013. Some elements of the uniforms introduced in 2014 remain, such as the sharper, more detailed skull-and-crossed-swords logo and the larger flag on the helmet (though not as large as before). The uniforms debuting in 2020 also include an all-pewter version that is completely unique in team and NFL history and was worn for the first time in Denver in Week Three.
· The Buccaneers have two new additions to their coaching staff in 2020: Defensive/Special Teams Assistant Keith Tandy and Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach Cory Bichey. Tandy worked at the high school and college levels in 2019, the latter at his alma mater of West Virginia, but he begins his NFL coaching career with the same team that drafted him in 2012. Tandy spent six seasons in Tampa as a safety and special teams standout before finishing his playing career in Atlanta in 2018. Bichey comes to the Buccaneers from Mississippi State University, where he previously worked under current Buccaneers Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Anthony Piroli.
· The Buccaneers used their franchise tag during the 2020 offseason for the first time in eight years. That tag was employed to retain outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who went from a rotational reserve in Denver to the NFL's 2019 sack leader after signing with the Bucs as an unrestricted free agent. Barrett's 19.5 sacks in his first year with the Buccaneers broke Warren Sapp's single-season franchise record and made him one of the team's top priorities in the offseason. Barrett and the Bucs were unable to reach agreement on a long-term deal during the 2020 offseason, in part due to the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Barrett will play on the tag's one-year contract this fall.
· The Buccaneers lost one of their key defensive players in Week Five when third-year defensive lineman Vita Vea suffered a broken leg and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Vea recorded 2.0 sacks through the first five games and was a key member of the team's league-leading run defense.
· After the team got off to an 0-5 start, the Falcons chose to dismiss Head Coach Dan Quinn and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff. Quinn had served as the head coach since 2015 and left with a 43-42 record and two playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl loss at the end of the 2016 season. Dimitroff began his tenure as Atlanta's G.M. in 2008. Raheem Morris has taken over as the Falcons' interim head coach for the remainder of the 2020 season; the general manager position has remained vacant.
· The Falcons unveiled their first new set of uniforms since the 2003 season in May. The primary home uniform features a black jersey over black pants, but there are eight possible combinations the team can employ. There is also an alternate jersey with a gradient from black to red, and all of the jerseys feature a large "ATL" insignia over the player's number.
· The Falcons made a major change at the tight end position. Austin Hooper broke out with 146 catches over the 2018-19 seasons, which earned him a lucrative deal in free agency from Cleveland. Atlanta filled that gap by trading a second-round pick to Baltimore to get former first-round pick Hayden Hurst. Hurst is fourth on the team with 43 catches for 475 yards and three touchdowns.
· Atlanta also moved on from two of their long-term top contributors in running back Devonta Freeman and cornerback Desmond Trufant. The Falcons replaced Freeman, who is now with the Giants, by signing Todd Gurley after he was released by the Rams in a salary cap move. The Falcons used a first-round pick to draft Trufant's replacement in former Clemson standout A.J. Terrell.
· The Falcons decided to cut ties with 2017 first-round pick Takkarist McKinley in November. McKinley had 17.5 sacks in three-and-a-half seasons in Atlanta.
Last Fork in the Path – The Buccaneers have navigated the NFL's unique 2020 season and reached the first of their desired destinations: the playoffs. Tampa Bay knows it will be playing on the second weekend in January and that it will have a shot at securing the second championship in franchise history. However, they still don't know exactly what the path to that goal will be. What is certain is that if the Bucs beat the Falcons they will slot into the fifth spot in the conference standings, which will create an opening-round date with the winners of the NFC East. However, that doesn't currently provide much clarity because that East champ could still be Washington, Dallas or the N.Y. Giants. If the Buccaneers lose in Week 17 and the L.A. Rams beat Arizona, Tampa Bay will slide back to the six seed, which would result in a matchup with the third seed, or the NFC division winner with the third-best record. At the moment, that is Seattle, but the Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints could still finish in any order in the top three spots depending upon their Week 17 results. Arians says the Buccaneers are going into their own 1:00 p.m. game intent on playing for the win, but they will also have a long day of score-board watching ahead of them. The Bucs may not know their Round One destination until the final game of the regular season, Washington at Philadelphia with an 8:20 p.m. kickoff, is in the books.
Ronald Jones Return – Jones, the Buccaneers' leading rusher with 900 yards, has missed the last two games while on the reserve/COVID-19 list but was activated this week and returned to practice. In the last game in which he played before going on that list, Jones fractured his left pinkie finger and subsequently had surgery to have four pins inserted. If he can demonstrate during the week of practice that he can both catch the football and protect it when being hit, he should return to the lead role in the Buccaneers' backfield. That would be an encouraging development for a Buccaneers team about to enter the playoffs, especially given the very real chance that several cold-weather games are waiting ahead. Given the presence of Tom Brady and the wide array of pass-catching weapons he has at is his disposal, the Bucs have understandably been a pass-heavy team. Tampa Bay ranks third in passing yards but 28th in rushing yards and has thrown the ball on 63.6% of its plays, the third-highest percentage in the league. The Buccaneers obviously are going to continue to lean on such weapons as Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski, but Arians would like to find more balance in his offense and the Bucs may need a reliable ground game if they get caught in bad weather. Due to his recent inactivity, Jones has slipped from fifth in the NFL to 13th in rushing, but his average of 5.0 yards per carry remains in the top 10 and is a good sign that he can help the Buccaneers if he can get back on the field.
Record Chasers – Jones's chances of recording his first 1,000-yard season looked strong when he finished the 13th game with 900 yards. However, he now only has one more shot to get the last 100 yards he needs. It would be a significant milestone for Jones, but not a team record of any kind. However, some of his teammates do have a shot at single-season franchise records in Week 13. Most notably, Evans has already broken his own team record for touchdown catches with 13 and needs just one more to break James Wilder's record for total touchdowns, set back in 1984. Evans also needs just 40 receiving yards to be the first player in NFL history to open his season with seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Kicker Ryan Succop has 122 points on the season and if he were to hit double digits for the fourth time this season he would break Matt Bryant's scoring record of 131 points set in 2008. Tom Brady has already broken the team record with his 36 touchdown passes but also currently has the best single-season passer rating in franchise history, at 101.0. If he can keep it above 100.4 through Sunday's game he'll have the top spot. As a team, Tampa Bay needs to score just 11 points – 18.9 below it's per-game average this year – to break its single-season scoring record of 458 points, set just last year. And it's not a team record, but Brady is set to make his 299th career start on Sunday, which would be a new NFL record. He is currently tied with Brett Favre at 298.
Takeaways are Key Takeaway – The Buccaneers have not committed a single turnover in their last three games. Remarkably, that's the longest streak of giveaway-free games in franchise history. Overall, the Buccaneers have only turned it over 16 times this season (11 interceptions, five lost fumbles), which is tied for the fifth-fewest in the league. More to the point, it is drastically lower than the league-high 41 giveaways the Bucs committed in 2019 on their way to a 7-9 record. The New Orleans Saints have already won the division but Tampa Bay could still match the Saints' overall record with a win on Sunday and a loss by the Saints at Carolina. Controlling the turnover battle is a big reason that the Bucs have seriously closed the gap on the Saints this year. In 2019, Tampa Bay committed 33 more turnovers than New Orleans did. This year, the Bucs actually have one fewer giveaway than the Saints. On defense, Tampa Bay has been very good at taking the ball away since the arrival of Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles last year. The Bucs have 51 takeaways over the past two seasons, the fourth-most by any team in the NFL in that span. However, Tampa Bay has only forced four turnovers in its last five games combined. The Buccaneers have won the turnover battle lately mostly by not turning it over at all, but in the playoffs they will probably need a few more game-changing plays by their defense. A return to taking the ball away in Week 17 against the Falcons would be an encouraging boost before the postseason.
Playoff Gronk Emerging? – After one of his two touchdowns last Saturday in Detroit, tight end Rob Gronkowski added a comical lead-up to his usual hard spike celebration. Some thought he was doing a robot dance but he later clarified that he was channeling Frankenstein. Whether that was a RoboGronk or a Gronkenstein we witnessed in Detroit, what the Bucs would really like to see in January is Playoff Gronk. The former Patriot has appeared in 16 postseason games, which is basically one additional full season. In that extra "season," he has gaudy numbers: 81 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 5.1 receptions and 72.7 yards per game. The Buccaneers traded for the unretired Gronkowski in the spring after signing his good buddy Tom Brady, and have to be pleased with the results. Gronkowski's likely to surpass 600 yards by season's end – he has 43 catches for 594 yards so far – and that is probably about what the Bucs thought they would get out of the 10th-year player. But he appears to be moving more smoothly each week as the season has neared an end, and in his last six games he has racked up 271 yards and four touchdowns, averaging nearly 17 yards per catch. When Gronkowski starts making downfield plays like he did on several occasions in Detroit, that presents the opposing defense with a scary problem, as wideouts like Evans, Godwin, Brown and Scotty Miller are also deep threats that have to be accounted for. The Bucs and Gronkowski are going to the playoffs together; the Bucs hope they are about to meet Playoff Gronk.
1. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady vs. Falcons LB Deion Jones
We don't often include quarterbacks in the Key Matchups because it obviously takes a whole defense to defend a passer and he doesn't spend the whole afternoon battling the same guy, like an offensive tackle and an edge rusher might do. But in this case, if the Falcons are going to succeed in slowing down the red-hot Brady – 668 passing yards and six touchdowns in his last four quarters of play – they are almost certainly going to need Jones to be in the middle of that effort. Jones is a critical part of everything Atlanta will be trying to do on defense. He is second on the team with 94 tackles but has the most stops against the run. Jones, who had a sack of Brady in the Week 15 meeting, leads the Falcons in that category, too, with 4.5 sacks and he's tied for the team lead with nine QB hits. Jones will also be a player for Brady to watch in the passing game, too, as he is an excellent coverage linebacker with great speed. Jones has two interceptions this season and is tied for the team lead with six passes defensed. Of course, if you look at this from the other direction, Sunday's game should be a challenging one for Jones trying to defend against The G.O.A.T., who has now made the playoffs in every season in which he's played more than one game since 2003. Brady ranks fourth in the NFL with 36 touchdown passes, fifth with 4,234 passing yards and 10th with a passer rating of 101.0. What those numbers don't quite demonstrate is how Brady has taken his 2020 game to another level over the last six games as the Bucs have clawed towards the postseason. In those six contests, Brady has completed 66.8% of his passes, thrown 16 touchdowns against four interceptions and averaged 306.0 passing yards per game.
2. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Falcons CB A.J. Terrell
Yes, we highlighted Evans as a key matchup just last week and we usually like to spread the spotlight around from game to game. But Evans' prolific run to the end of the season is an even bigger story after his huge day in Detroit – indeed that showcased matchup with CB Amani Oruwariye proved critical – and how the rookie Terrell handles his rematch with the Bucs' star receiver could be critical to Sunday's outcome. Bruce Arians didn't hesitate to dial up a few extra throws in Evans' direction in Week 16 to help him chase his record seventh straight 1,000-yard season, and now that Evans only needs 40 more to hit that mark he's sure to be a frequent target again on Saturday. Of course, the Falcons know this and will surely focus on taking Evans out of the game as much as possible. Terrell wasn't able to do that in Week 15, as Evans caught six passes for 110 yards on just seven targets. Evans also managed to draw Terrell into both a pass-interference and a facemask penalty on the same play during a critical third-quarter stretch, resulting in another 28 yards that doesn't show up in Evans' line. The Bucs scored on a one-yard Leonard Fournette run three plays later to make it a three-point game. The Falcons drafted Terrell with the 16th-overall pick this past spring and were so impressed with his performance in training camp that they instantly installed him as the starting corner on the more difficult left side. Though he's had a few ups and downs that are essentially unavoidable for a rookie cornerback in the NFL, Terrell has played quite well overall. He wasn't able to help the Falcons slow Evans down two weeks ago but will get another chance on Sunday.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
· QB Tom Brady (not injury related) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP
· CB Carlton Davis (groin) – WEDS: LP; THURS: DNP
· S Mike Edwards (hip) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
· RB Leonard Fournette (abdomen) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
· TE Rob Gronkowski (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP
· RB Ronald Jones (finger) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP
· DL Jeremiah Ledbetter (calf) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
· DL Steve McLendon (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP
· OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
· G James Carpenter (groin) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
· DE John Cominsky (shoulder) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
· DT Marlon Davidson (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
· CB Darqueze Dennard (quadriceps) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
· DE Charles Harris (not injury related) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
· C Matt Hennessy (knee) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP
· WR Julio Jones (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
· C Alex Mack (concussion) – WEDS: LP; THURS: Placed on reserve/COVID-19 list.
· DE Steven Means (hand) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP
· LB Foye Oluokun (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
· WR Brandon Powell (foot) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP
· RB Ito Smith (rib) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
· TE Luke Stocker (elbow) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP
Partly cloudy, high of 68, low of 46, 50% chance of rain, 74% humidity, winds out of the NW at 5-10 mph.
Head referee: Alex Kemp (7 seasons, 3 as referee)
· Favorite: Buccaneers (-6.5)
· Over/Under: 50.5
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 122
Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 13
Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 4,234
Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 101.0
Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 900
Receptions: WR Mike Evans, 67
Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 960
Interceptions: CB Carlton Davis, 4
Sacks: OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, 9.5
Tackles: ILB Devin White, 140
Points Scored: K Younghoe Koo, 135
Touchdowns: RB Todd Gurley/WR Calvin Ridley, 9
Passing Yards: QB Matt Ryan, 4,316
Passer Rating: QB Matt Ryan, 93.0
Rushing Yards: RB Todd Gurley, 660
Receptions: WR Calvin Ridley, 82
Receiving Yards: WR Calvin Ridley, 1,322
Interceptions: CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 3
Sacks: LB Deion Jones, 4.5
Tackles: LB Foyesade Oluokun, 104
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: 5th (29.9 ppg)
Total Offense: 11th (377.3 ypg)
Passing Offense: 3rd (282.3 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 28th (95.0 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 13th (22.4)
Third-Down Pct.: 13th (42.8%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 2nd (3.59%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-6th (71.4%)
Scoring Defense: 7th (21.9 ppg)
Total Defense: 6th (323.3 ypg)
Passing Defense: 22nd (245.8 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 1st (77.5 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 5th (19.6)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 10th (39.3%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 6th (8.20%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 20th (63.0%)
Turnover Margin: t-5th (+7)
Scoring Offense: 18th (24.6 ppg)
Total Offense: 18th (367.3 ypg)
Passing Offense: 5th (273.7 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 29th (93.7 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: t-9th (22.7)
Third-Down Pct.: 11th (43.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 21st (6.85%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-26th (52.8%)
Scoring Defense: 19th (24.7 ppg)
Total Defense: 28th (392.6 ypg)
Passing Defense: 31st (287.1 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 7th (105.5 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 22nd (22.6)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 14th (40.2%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 25th (4.79%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 28th (66.7%)
Turnover Margin: t-9th (+4)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
· WR Mike Evans got his 12th and 13th touchdown catches in Week 16 at Detroit, allowing him to break his own team single-season record of 12 scoring receptions. He has also now equaled RB James Wilders' 1984 record of 13 total touchdowns, so one more score in Week 17 would give him sole possession of that standard.
· Evan's 181 receiving yards in Detroit pushed his season total to 960. If he gets 40 more against the Falcons in Week 17, he will become the first player in NFL history to begin his career with seven straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Evans and Randy Moss are the only two to start their careers with six such seasons.
· As a team, the Buccaneers have scored 448 points in 2020. The team's single-season record was set just last year at 458 points, so this year's squad needs just 11 points on Sunday to establish a new high-water mark.
· QB Tom Brady has at least two touchdown passes in each of the Buccaneers' last six games, which is tied for the longest such streak in franchise history. If he gets two more against Atlanta he'll have the record to himself.
· K Ryan Succop has 122 points scored on the season. The team record is 131, set by Matt Bryant in 2008. Succop needs 10 points Sunday to set a new record. He has reached 10 or more points scored in three games this season.
· Head Coach Bruce Arians on why the Bucs seem to be clicking down the stretch: "I think the big thing is protecting the football and taking it away. We're winning the turnover battle, we've eliminated a bunch of penalties and just playing good, disciplined ball. I think coming back against Minnesota gave us a bunch of confidence, and then obviously that second half in Atlanta when we got things clicking boiled over to Detroit. We're feeling pretty good. We know the challenge ahead of us in Atlanta right now, because these guys are playing really, really well."
· Running back Leonard Fournette on how he compares the 2020 Buccaneers to the Jacksonville Jaguars team he helped get to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie in 2017: "Similar. The talent is off the charts. This time around I'm not going against Tom Brady – he's on my team – so that's a good thing. Second of all, I just think a lot of guys on our team have been to the playoffs and we know what it takes. You have to lock in. Not saying it's not possible, but you have to be perfect in practices now. The little things usually you get by with during the season, you can't really do that. You have to run your routes at depth [and] block your guys. Everything is on the line. It's just doing everything right and helping out my guys in my room and also other players on the team just to get better as a whole. I know we're going to need everyone – all hands in – to go to the Super Bowl."
· Rookie running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who had a season high 15 carries and 62 yards in Detroit in Week 16, on how he has improved since the start of the season: "It's the mental part. I'd say when I first got out here during camp, I was kind of moving slow [and] trying to get a feel for everything – the tempo, the speed [and] how to practice like a pro. Now, we're in Week 17 [and] everything is slowing down for me. I'm understanding the playbook more, understanding the defenses and what I need to do."
· S Jordan Whitehead on the increased sense of urgency he's noticed in the team since it came back from its Week 13 bye: "Everybody's just picking up their game and it's carrying over into games. We've got to keep that up going into the playoffs. This is a big week for us, too. We're focused on the Falcons and we've really got to tune into what we do because we played them a couple weeks ago. It's a lot of stuff we have seen, [but] different gameplans from them. They're going to come back and attack us differently, obviously. It's a game – we have to get ready for it."
· Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich on if he has noticed a heightened sense of urgency in practice: "I attribute it to guys having awareness of the importance of the ballgame. We've got a lot of guys that have been around here that [have not] come close to the playoffs [and have not] smelled it or had the opportunity to play meaningful football in December. It was great to see these guys take the lead [and] have awareness of the situation that we're in because a lot of these guys that are in the locker room, that's all they've asked for is this opportunity to be in this position and to go out and win a football game that gets you in the playoffs. We had that opportunity last week [and] I think you saw it in our preparation. I think these guys prepare hard every week, so I don't think they did [anything] more, but it was a lot more energy in practice [and] a lot more awareness of the situation. I think it showcased itself on Saturday."