The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got the showdown win over the Minnesota Vikings that they desperately needed in Week 14 and now continue their late-season playoff push with a trip to Atlanta for the first of two remaining games against the Falcons.
The Buccaneers and Falcons will meet at Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Sunday, December 20, with kickoff scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET. The two teams will also play in the final week of the regular season when the Falcons come to Tampa on January 3. While Atlanta is 4-9 and out of the playoff hunt, they will surely be motivated by their unique opportunity to block a long-time heated rival from making it to the postseason.
Atlanta has gone 4-4 since former Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris took over as its interim head coach following the firing of Dan Quinn, though they've lost their last two, including a last-second 20-17 decision against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday that turned on two late Matt Ryan interceptions. The Bucs and Falcons split their season series last year, with each team winning on the road, including Atlanta's 28-22 overtime win in the 2019 season finale at Raymond James Stadium.
The Buccaneers' 26-14 win over the Vikings significantly improved their standing in the NFC playoff hunt, as it improved their record to 8-5, keeping them in the sixth seed and putting them one game ahead of Arizona (7-6) and two ahead of both Minnesota (6-7) and Chicago (6-7). The Buccaneers' final three games are all against teams with losing records and they 'control their own destiny,' as is the popular saying. Still, there is a lot of work to be done and the Buccaneers don't expect any of their final three games to be easy, beginning with an Atlanta team that has put up some big offensive numbers this season.
"Winning in the NFL is tough," said quarterback Tom Brady, who had two touchdown passes and a 120.7passer rating in the win on Sunday. "I've been doing this for a long time – there's no easy games. Every one is a battle. … It was good to just get a win. It feels good. By the end of tonight, we'll move on and get ready for Atlanta and go there. It's going to be the biggest game of our season."
The Buccaneers obviously know quite well what the Falcons are capable of, starting with Ryan and his two dynamic receivers, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Ridley is coming off an eight-catch, 124-yard performance on Sunday against the Chargers, which has pushed him over 1,000 yards on the season for the first time in his three-year career. The Falcons came into the weekend ranked sixth in the NFL in passing yards and averaging 25.9 points per game.
The Buccaneers will start their week virtually, as personnel is not allowed in the team's headquarters on Monday and Tuesday, part of the NFL's ever-increasing attempts to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and get all of its games in. This is just another challenge that the Bucs will overcome to continue in their quest for their first playoff berth since 2007.
"This week is different [because] we can't meet Mondays and Tuesdays," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "We have another different way that we have to handle getting ready to play a ballgame. Whether it's virtual [or] however we get it done – we'll get it done and just make sure that we take care of tomorrow's business tomorrow."