There is nothing left to gain in terms of the standings, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will strive to finish out the 2022 season on a positive note, hoping to ride a three-game win streak into the playoffs. The Bucs will head to Atlanta in Week 18 to take on the Falcons in the regular-season finale at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Head Coach Todd Bowles stressed during the week that he plans to start the regulars – if healthy – in order to build momentum and fine-tune problem areas. Tampa Bay is coming off a thrilling 30-24 comeback victory over the Panthers, in which the team revitalized its downfield attack featuring Mike Evans. Meanwhile, the Falcons defeated the Cardinals, 20-19, on a 21-yard walk off field goal by Younghoe Koo. Atlanta has relied on its robust rushing attack spearheaded by versatile weapon Cordarrelle Patterson and fifth-rounder Tyler Allgeier. In Week 18, the Bucs will strive to prove that the offensive success that materialized against the Panthers can be maintained. After a week of preparation, here is what the divisional matchup comes down to:
4 Stats that Matter
- Stout play by the Bucs' defense in 2022 has positioned the team to rally from behind with Tom Brady late-game theatrics. Brady has 13 passing touchdowns in the fourth quarter in 2022 (tied for most in the NFL).
- Desmond Ridder is 1-2 as a starter for the Falcons (0 passing touchdowns, 0 interceptions). He had a career-high 90.1 passer rating in Week 17 (first career win and game-winning drive).
- The Falcons have the third best rushing offense in the NFL, compiling 2,544 total net rushing yards this season on 524 total carries. Atlanta is averaging 159.0 average rush yards per game, led by Patterson and Tyler.
- Atlanta has not been able to get home with its pass rush in 2022, accumulating the second-fewest sacks in the league with 21 (-148 yards). Only the Bears have fewer with 20.
3 Lineup Notes
- Five players were ruled out for the Buccaneers on Friday including Carlton Davis III (shoulder), Carl Nassib (pectoral), Logan Ryan (knee), Donovan Smith (foot) and Vita Vea (calf). All were non-participants in practice during the week except for Nassib, who participated in a limited fashion.
- Three players were listed as questionable for Tampa Bay: Jamel Dean (toe), Mike Edwards (hamstring/hip) and Julio Jones (knee/illness). Dean upgraded to full participation on Friday after being limited on Wednesday and Thursday. Additionally, Jones upgraded to limited participation on Friday after being a non-participant on Wednesday/Thursday.
- For the Falcons, Elijah Wilkinson was ruled out of Sunday's game against Tampa Bay, head coach Arthur Smith announced on Friday. Wilkinson has been dealing with a calf injury the past two weeks, and Matt Hennessy is expected to start in his place for a second straight game at left guard. Wilkinson was the only player listed on the team's injury report with a game status.
2 Challenges Presented by the Falcons
The Falcons' offense is predicated on getting their playmakers the ball in space, benefiting their personnel's run-after-contact ability. Arthur Smith's offensive attack relies on the run game with inside zone, outside zone and screens to set up quarterback rollouts and play-action fakes in an RPO-based assault. With the athleticism of their offensive line featuring Chris Lindstrom, the Falcons are ranked third in the NFL with an average of 159.0 rushing yards per game. With Patterson's suddenness in and out of breaks, combined with Allgeier's power style that eludes tacklers, Atlanta has created a dynamic tandem in the backfield. With an elite catch radius and the ability to exploit soft spots in zones, first-round wideout Drake London has elevated the club's passing attack. London has a team-high 66 receptions for 746 yards and four touchdowns. When opponents allocate resources to Atlanta's run game, which creates favorable pass looks, London takes advantage. For the Bucs, maintaining gaps and forcing the Falcons to become one-dimensional is the key.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Falcons rank 29th in yards allowed (370.9) and 23rd in points allowed. Overall, Dean Pees' unit has made significant strides in recent weeks. The Falcons' defense allowed nearly 25 points per game over the course of the first 11 games of the season and has given up a decreased 19 per meeting over the last five matchups. Edge rusher Grady Jarrett sets the tone, leading the team in sacks with 6.0. Inside linebacker Rashaan Evans commands the middle, racking up 154 tackles in 2022, fifth in the NFL. Third-year cornerback A.J. Terrell has established himself as one of the best shutdown corners in the league, staying in the hip pocket of the league's top-tier receivers. After reaching new heights through the air against the Panthers in Week 17, the Bucs will look to continue the trend in Atlanta.
1 Key Thought from Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
On potentially resting starters:
"It's not like it's a preseason game…I'll let Todd [Bowles] handle that, really. Whoever is out there is going to play. I still think we've got things to work on, things we can get better at, really. That's how I really see it – I don't have to think of that. That's Todd – he'll think and tell us what he needs to tell us, however he wants, from that standpoint. From my mindset, it's [about] going out, preparing, and trying to play as good of football as possible."