At 8-5, the Buccaneers currently have a 96% chance to make the postseason. Read that again and revel in it, because it's true. They could technically make that 100% as soon as this weekend should they win in Atlanta… and the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings tie.
That isn't likely but there are multiple scenarios that could result in a 99% chance as long as the Bucs beat the Falcons. And while Atlanta is sitting at 4-9 with no chance of making the postseason, that doesn't mean they don't want to play spoiler, or at least, delayer, to the Bucs' playoff aspirations. Divisional matchups are always a toss-up no matter what each respective team's situation is – so the Buccaneers can't overlook the Falcons going into their house. Luckily, none of these guys are, staring with cornerback Carlton Davis.
1. CB Carlton Davis
Davis is once again going to be put to the test this week as the Bucs defense will have to contend not only with Julio Jones but also Calvin Ridley. This isn't Davis' first rodeo with either and he knows exactly what he's getting himself into.
"He's just an all-around good receiver," Davis said of Atlanta's Jones. "He can run past you, he can out-quick you, he can out-physical you [and] he attacks the ball. He's like every different kind of receiver put into one, and that's what makes him hard [to defend]. He can beat you in so many different ways. You have to be on your p's and q's for sure."
Davis currently leads the team in passes defensed with a whopping 17 on the year. That's just two shy of his league-leading 19 that he finished with last season. With the health of Jamel Dean in question, and the team's unwillingness to push the young corner with a postseason in sight, it will up to Davis to lead the way for the young secondary as they go into familiar enemy territory.
2. TE Rob Gronkowski
This guy has been steadily getting his sea legs back underneath him as the season has worn on. After taking a year off of football and having to get adjusted to an entirely new offense for the first time in his career, it only made sense. But as of late, he seems to be making more and more 'vintage Gronk' plays that make you wonder if that's maybe not so vintage anymore.
Gronkowski has 507 yards this season, along with five receiving touchdowns. The latter ranks him in the top 10 among all tight ends this season. He ranks sixth among tight ends for receiving yards after contact this year with an even 80. His 13.3 yards per reception rank third among qualified tight ends, behind only Kansas City's Travis Kelce and Miami's Mike Gesicki. He's heating up just in time to close out the regular season on a strong note and may have an opportunity against an Atlanta defense that ranks 30th against the pass.
3. QB Tom Brady
Realistically yes, Brady is a guy to watch every week but now he happens to be playing his second-straight team that he's never lost to. He had a perfect 5-0 record against the Minnesota Vikings that improved to 6-0 after last weekend. He now goes into Atlanta toting a 6-0 record against the team – if you include Super Bowl LI, that is. Heh.
In those six games against Atlanta, Brady has a 110.7 passer rating, throwing for 1,908 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Falcons will have two opportunities in the next three weeks to spoil Brady's perfect record but this is also when Brady is even more focused given the postseason on the horizon.
View historical photos from previous Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers matchups.
4. OLB Shaq Barrett
There has been a lot of talk about Barrett and his edge-rushing counterpart Jason Pierre-Paul lately – and for good reason. Barrett had two of the Bucs' six sacks against the Vikings in Week 14 and he currently leads the league in quarterback pressures. He's also leading an overall unit that ranks second in the league with 11.9 pressures per game on average. It's feasible that both he and Pierre-Paul will end the 2020 regular season with double-digit sacks. The last time the Bucs had two players with more than 10 sacks each was all the way back in 2000, when Warren Sapp had 16.5 and Marcus Jones had 13.0.
"What I like about Shaq – from playing with him last year and this year – is he's not a selfish player," said Pierre-Paul on Friday. "He'll take those risks that I'll drop. Other times I'll be like, 'I'll drop and you take the rush.' [We're] just playing off each other and having fun. We have a lot of fun playing this game together, especially at our position. There's really nothing [negative] you can say about Shaq. He's a good player [and] I'm glad he's on my team and playing on the opposite side of me."
He went so far as to call them a "great duo," and I'd have to say, JPP. I agree. Maybe change this to watch both of these players as they look to attack an Atlanta offense that has given up 33.0 sacks this year, tying them for 22nd in the league in that category.
5. ILB Lavonte David
All I have to say is that I really hope you voted for Lavonte David for the Pro Bowl this year.