For the first time in about a month the Buccaneers will be going on the road, this time to a familiar opponent as they get the Atlanta Falcons for the first of two times in three games. Tampa Bay is coming off a statement win over the Minnesota Vikings at home that raised their playoff chances from 84% to 96% with the win. And they have an opportunity to clinch this weekend, should they win and something else very unlikely happen.
They need the team they just played to tie with the Chicago Bears this weekend.
But that's only to guarantee a postseason appearance. If the Bucs win this game against Atlanta and the Arizona Cardinals lose, the Bucs' chances will increase to about 99%. Postseason math, right? Turns out your high school stats teacher was right and that you were, in fact, going to use this later in life.
The Falcons will be hoping to spoil, or at least delay, the Buccaneers postseason aspirations. Atlanta currently owns a 4-9 record and has former Buccaneer Head Coach Raheem Morris in that same role on an interim basis after the team parted ways with Dan Quinn earlier this season. Under Morris, the Falcons have gone 4-4 and after winning three of those four in four games surrounding their bye week, Atlanta has now lost their last two. They'll be looking for some redemption and reasons why Morris should stick around as the teams head coach through the end of the season, which could cause problems for the Buccaneers.
Read on for how to watch the high-profile matchup, along with some key facts about the game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) vs. Atlanta Falcons (4-9)
All-time record: Falcons lead the all-time series 28-25
Road record: 14-14
Key Matchups (via Scott Smith)
1. Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin vs. Falcons CB A.J. Terrell
The Falcons took Terrell, the former Clemson star with the 16th-overall pick in April's draft, and while some critics thought that was too early the former Clemson star has delivered exactly what the team needed: A true number-one corner to replace Desmond Trufant. Terrell shined in training camp, standing up well to Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, and while he struggled in his NFL debut against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks he bounced right back in Week Two against the Cowboys' Amari Cooper and has been quite good since. In Week 13, he forced a critical late-game fumble that fueled Atlanta's comeback hopes against New Orleans. The Falcons have put Terrell right into the more difficult left corner spot, so he'll get some coverage duties on Godwin when the Bucs receiver is on the right side. So far this season, Godwin's snaps have been split almost exactly down the middle between the right and left sides, and while he's in the slot most often he also plays outside plenty, especially when the Bucs have just two receivers on the field. The Buccaneers ran more than they threw in the win over Minnesota and Godwin finished with a season-low two catches for 25 yards on three targets. However, he had been oft-targeted and prolific in Tampa Bay's three previous games and is now further removed from the finger injury that raised the level of difficulty for him for about a month. Godwin is the Buccaneers' best slot receiver and best at gaining yards after the catch so he is likely to see plenty of action on Sunday and will challenge a rookie cornerback for the second week in a row.
2. Falcons T Kaleb McGary vs. Buccaneers OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Recently, Pierre-Paul and fellow edge rusher Shaq Barrett have switched sides with Pierre-Paul now primarily lining up over the right tackle and Barrett taking on the left tackle. The results have been good, such as three combined sacks and a forced fumble from that pair in the win over Minnesota. McGary, a first-round pick in 2019, missed the Falcons' last game while attending to a personal matter and was replaced by fellow second-year player Matt Gono, so Pierre-Paul is going to have a sizeable edge in experience over his right tackle opponent whether McGary returns this week or not. McGary struggled through much of his rookie season but showed great improvement through the first half of the season, playing like the kind of lineman the Falcons thought they would get with a first-round pick. Atlanta's offensive line as a whole has produced middling results, with the Falcons ranking 20th in sacks-allowed-per-pass-play and 25th in rushing yards. Pierre-Paul has had success against tackles of all stripes this season, recording 9.5 sacks to lead the Buccaneers and rank seventh in the NFL. Both he and Shaq Barrett have gotten hot at the end of the season, just as they did last year, and Pierre-Paul's last four outings have produced 3.0 sacks, four QB hits, two interceptions (!) and a forced fumble. That latest forced fumble, on a strip-sack that essentially sealed the Minnesota win, was Pierre-Paul's fourth of the season.
3. Buccaneers G Ali Marpet vs. Falcons DT Grady Jarrett
Don't be fooled by Jarrett's unassuming basic stats – 47 tackles and 3.0 sacks – as he remains one of the most disruptive interior linemen in the league and the engine that drives the Falcons' defense. Possessed with boundless energy and competitiveness, the sixth-year player has long had more impressive quarterback hit numbers than sack totals, with 62 of the former and 20.5 of the latter over the last four seasons. At 6-0 and 305 pounds, Jarrett isn't huge for an interior lineman but he is very quick and strong and can barrel through a blocker or maneuver around him on a pass rush. In addition, he is tough to move in run defense and good at backside pursuit. Jarrett's Next Gen Stats "heat map" of pre-snap locations shows him moving all over the line between the hashes, so there will inevitably be some times when Marpet will have to try to keep him at bay. Fortunately, the Bucs' blocker is more than up to the task, as he continues to play at a Pro Bowl level after returning from a concussion two games ago. Marpet has a size advantage on Jarrett and can match his strength, and he also moves well and recognizes stunts and tricks. Marpet is part of a Buccaneers line that ranks third in sacks-allowed-per-pass-play and has only allowed three sacks of Tom Brady over the last four games.
4. Falcons WR Calvin Ridley vs. Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis
There could be any number of critical matchups on Sunday between the Falcons' pair of dangerous outside receivers and the Bucs' young cornerbacks. However, with the uncertainty surrounding the availability on Sunday of both Atlanta wideout Julio Jones and Tampa Bay cornerback Jamel Dean, the battle most likely to occur is between Ridley and Davis. Davis thus gets this 'Key Matchup' spotlight for a second week in a row after his impending battle with Vikings WR Adam Thielen was noted in Week 14. Davis helped hold Thielen to three catches for 39 yards, with a long of 15 and he also made one very important third-down pass break-up when covering Justin Jefferson. If the Falcons decide to let Jones rest his balky hamstring for a second straight game, Tampa Bay's coaching staff could choose to have Davis shadow Ridley, as they have with a couple other number-one receivers this year. Ridley is that for Atlanta right now, as he's emerged as a star number-one in his own right in his third year. The former Alabama star is among NFL leaders in deep-throw targets this year and has averaged 15.7 yards per grab while scoring eight touchdowns. He has already surpassed 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and he's coming off a pair of 100-yard games in which he was targeted a combined 22 times. Davis, who is tied for the NFL lead with 17 passes defensed this year, is a good size match for the 6-1 Ridley and has shown he can plaster in coverage on receivers who get in and out of their breaks quickly, as Ridley does.
Uniform Combination: White jersey, white pants, black socks
Watch on TV:
Sunday, December 12, 2020
Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Television Network: FOX
Broadcast Crew: Kevin Burkhardt (play by play), Daryl Johnston (color), Pam Oliver (reporter)
Watch on Mobile:
The stream is available through Yahoo Sports, the Buccaneers Official App and online at Buccaneers.com.
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*Please check local listings to confirm availability. Geographic and device restrictions apply. Local & primetime games only. Data charges may apply.
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Week 15 Games
Sunday, Dec. 20
- San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys (1 p.m. ET on CBS)
- Seattle Seahawks at Washington Football Team (1 p.m. ET on FOX)
- Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (1 p.m. ET on FOX)
- New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET on CBS)
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens (1 p.m. ET on CBS)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (1 p.m. ET on FOX)
- Detroit Lions at Tennessee Titans (1 p.m. ET on CBS)
- Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts (1 p.m. ET on CBS)
- Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals (4:05 p.m. ET on FOX)
- New York Jets at Los Angeles Rams (4:05 p.m. ET on FOX)
- Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints (4:25 p.m. ET on CBS)
- Cleveland Browns at New York Giants (8:20 p.m. ET NBC)