The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicked off the entire 2021 NFL season with a 31-29 victory over the visiting Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night, and will now be rewarded with a weekend of rest before heading into Week Two. The Buccaneers will be staying home the following weekend, too, as the Atlanta Falcons come to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, September 19 for the first NFC South matchup of the year.
The Buccaneers will be able to do a little 'TV scouting' this Sunday when those Falcons take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Atlanta for their season opener. Whether Atlanta heads to Tampa next week with a record of 1-0 or 0-1, the intra-division game will be intense, as Bucs-Falcons matchups usually are. It will also be a chance for the Falcons, who are looking to bounce back into playoff contention under new Head Coach Arthur Smith, to test themselves early against the defending Super Bowl champions.
Like the Buccaneers' Week One opponents, the Falcons feature a lot of offensive firepower, particularly in the passing game. Long-time Bucs-killer Julio Jones was traded to Tennessee but Atlanta chose to put off a changing of the guard at quarterback as Matt Ryan begins his 14th season with the team. He still has his top target from last year, rising star wideout Calvin Ridley, as well as Russell Gage (72 catches in 2020) and a new weapon in rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. Considered one of the best prospects ever at his position, Pitts could replace Jones' production and add a whole new dimension to the Falcons' offense.
Atlanta's defense was the league's worst against the pass last season, allowing 293.6 yards per game. Unsurprisingly, Smith and his new staff completely overhauled the secondary, signing three new starters as unrestricted free agents – cornerback Fabian Moreau and safeties Duron Harmon and Erik Harris – and drafting defensive backs in the second, fourth and fifth round. The primary holdover is cornerback A.J. Terrell, who impressed in the second half of last season after being drafted in the first round in 2020.
If the Falcons' secondary makes a quick turnaround Atlanta could have a strong defense in 2021. They have stars at the other two levels in defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones and a new coordinator in Dean Pees. Smith lured Pees out of a short retirement, reuniting with the Titans' coordinator of 2018-19. Pees also coordinated some very strong defenses in Baltimore from 2012-17.
The Buccaneers swept the Falcons in 2020, both games coming during a team-record eight-game winning streak that culminated in Super Bowl LV. That streak now sits at nine after the Bucs' nail-biting win over Dallas on Thursday night. To get to 10 Tampa Bay will have to hold off an always-feisty division rival and signal that they are the team to beat in the NFC South in 2021.