The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) will try to run their intra-division record to 2-1 on Sunday when they face the Atlanta Falcons (6-1) at the Georgia Dome. Here are a few individual matchups that could play a key role in determining the outcome of this showdown between NFC South rivals:
RB Doug Martin vs. RB Devonta Freeman
The NFL's leading rusher against the NFL's third-leading rusher. Freeman is coming off of NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors for November and has 621 rushing yards, 931 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns, all tops in the league. Martin is on a hot streak of his own with three-straight 100+-yard rushing games and 329 total yards over his last two outings. Establishing an effective, explosive run game – and keeping the Falcons from doing the same – is a key to coming out of the Georgia Dome with a win.
WR Mike Evans vs. CB Desmond Trufant
Mike Evans was targeted 12 times last week, hauling in eight catches for an NFL-leading 164 yards and one touchdown. Targets and receptions could climb even higher if WR Vincent Jackson (who has not participated in practice this week) cannot go on Sunday. Evans will need another monster game to help the Buccaneers' offense maintain its rhythm. He'll likely have to do that seeing a lot of Trufant, whose 12-tackle, zero-interception stat line is very deceptive thanks to opponents' aversion to throwing the ball in his direction. Pro Football Focus has given him their fifth-highest grade of all NFL cornerbacks so far.
WR Donteea Dye vs. CB Robert Alford
Dye caught his first-ever NFL pass and scored his first NFL touchdown last week in Washington. With Jackson questionable and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins also an unknown factor heading into the weekend, Dye could see a vastly expanded role. He could line up across from Alford, who leads the Falcons with two interceptions, one of them going all the way back for a touchdown.
DE Jacquies Smith vs. T Jake Matthews
Smith added sack number five and forced fumble number three last week in Washington, setting up Howard Jones' touchdown return. The Bucs need him to be disruptive again this week to control the line of scrimmage and get the defense off the field. The Falcons have allowed 14 sacks this season (two per game), but just one of them has been attributed to left tackle Matthews, according to PFF. Smith can still be a disruptive force, as Matthews has allowed 12 QB hurries this season.
LB Lavonte David vs. QB Matt Ryan
The Falcons had put up 21+ points in each game this season until last week's narrow 10-7 win over the Tennessee Titans. One of the keys to the Titans' defense limiting the Falcons' offensive output was keeping Matt Ryan uncomfortable (one QB hit, 13 pressures), which in turn created takeaways (two interceptions). Lavonte David has one sack on the season and could be a game-changer if he can get to Ryan on blitzes. David is also looking for his first interception of the season after coming very close a number of times.
CB Johnthan Banks vs. WR Julio Jones
The Buccaneers have been rotating starting cornerbacks to start the season, so whether it is Alterraun Verner, Mike Jenkins or Banks lining up across from Jones, they face the tough task of going up against one of the league's premier receivers. Jones is tied for second in the NFL in receptions (58), second in yards (730), and tied for sixth in touchdowns (5). While the Bucs' defense is allowing the fifth-fewest passing yards per game this year (219.5), they have given up the second-most touchdowns (15).