-On paper, this shouldn't be as tough of a matchup for the Buccaneers as last week in Indianapolis looked and ended up being. The Falcons rank 26th in total offense and are putting up an average of just 18.1 points per game. Quarterback Tom Brady is 9-0 against them in the regular and postseason and averages a 114.2 passer rating when he plays Atlanta. He's also armed with wide receiver Mike Evans, who always seems to find success against the Falcons. He averages 81.2 receiving yards per game and owns a 15.4 yards per reception average. But, at the end of the day, Atlanta is still a division opponent. And that makes the matchup tough no matter how the teams are faring leading up to it.
"Division [teams] tend to know each other well," said Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich. "You know each other well. You play each other twice a year. Because you're within the division, there's more scouting of the teams in the division, especially in the offseason and all of those things. You learn the team well and you learn the personnel well. It's always tough within the division because you play each other so much that guys tend to know what you're doing. There won't be any secrets out there. Just whoever plays the best football wins the game normally when you get within the division."
"I think just winning against a division opponent is tough," continued Brady. "When you play division opponents on the road, it's a challenging game. We've got four division games coming up. We didn't do so [well] the last division game on the road, so we've got to take care of business. It's a good team and a very competitive team [with] a lot of good players. So, it's going to be a big challenge and hopefully we can go meet it."
Don't think for one second Brady ever forgets about a loss. The last road game against a division opponent was of course Week Eight in New Orleans where the Bucs suffered a 36-27 loss right before their bye week. Unfortunately, they surrendered another loss coming out of the bye week but stopped the skid on Monday Night Football against the Giants. Now, the Bucs are on a two-game win streak and are looking to take the confidence they got from a hard-fought battle against the Colts into Atlanta.
-The thing is, the Falcons also have a lot to play for and are trending upward as of late. First-round and top-five pick Kyle Pitts has come on strong for them, ingratiating himself solidly into the offense now 13 weeks into the season.
"He is a wide receiver, he is a tight end, he is fast, he is versatile, he has a lot of speed, and he has a lot of flexibility as far as his moves – getting on the line, he can be a wideout or a tight end," said Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles. "That creates match-up problems in how they use him. We knew he was going to be a great player when we played him the first time and now he is coming into his own. He is one of the most exciting players to watch right now."
And while Pitts is a new addition to the Atlanta offense, the guy throwing him the ball is one that is very familiar to the Buccaneers and their defense. And if the Bucs' defense is familiar with him, quarterback Matt Ryan is even more familiar with them, having played the Bucs 27 times in his career. He's 16-11 in that span and has an average quarterback rating of 94.8 against Tampa Bay. That being said, he's suffered three-straight losses and has lost four of the last five he has played against the Bucs. Tampa Bay doesn't want to 'buck' that trend, either.
"I respect him a hell of a lot," Bowles said of Ryan. "I hope he has a bad game (laughs). That is my expectation, but he is a great quarterback. We've had some battles over the past couple of years. I have the utmost respect for Matt. He is one of the true professionals left in this ballgame. He is a class act. He still leads his team with a lot of vigor and energy, and he has always been a tough matchup for us. He can light you up, so we've got to be on our p's and q's."
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