The NFL season gets underway in full force this weekend. A matchup of NFC South teams opens the slate as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to face the Atlanta Falcons Sunday afternoon. The game kicks off at 1:00 pm ET from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia. The game is televised on FOX. The current line has Atlanta favored by 2.5 points in this contest with the over/under set at 47.5 points.
Tampa Bay finished last season with a 6-10 record and in the basement of the NFC South. The Buccaneers missed the playoffs for the eighth straight year. Atlanta closed 2015 with an 8-8 record, finishing third in the NFC South and missed the playoffs for the third straight year. This marks the 46th time the two division rivals have met in the regular season. Tampa Bay has a slim 23-22 advantage in the series. The Buccaneers swept the series last season, winning 23-20 in Atlanta November 1, 2015 and 23-19 in Tampa on December 6, 2015.
Early Lean on Atlanta -2.5
The Buccaneers are still a young team that is working on their identity. Tampa Bay fired Lovie Smith after last season and elevated Dirk Koetter to head coach. The Buccaneers finished 5th in the league in total offense last season with a total of 6,014 yards of offense. Tampa Bay didn’t cash in enough of those drives as they were 20th in scoring offense with 21.4 points per game. The Buccaneers were 17th in the league in passing offense and 5th in rushing offense last year. Tampa Bay needs to cut down on turnovers: they committed 28 last season. While the Bucs were 10th in total defense, they finished 26th in scoring defense by allowing 26.1 points a game.
Jameis Winston runs the offense and looks to take the next step after starting out of the gate as a rookie. He completed 58.3 percent of his throws for 4,042 yards with 22 touchdown passes against 15 interceptions. Winston added 213 yards and six scores on the ground. Doug Martin returned to Pro Bowl form after racking up 1,402 rushing yards and six scores on 288 carries. Charles Sims proved a solid secondary option with 107 carries for 529 yards while adding 51 receptions for 561 yards and four touchdowns. Mike Evans (74 grabs, 1206 yards, 3 TD) is the go-to receiver while veteran Vincent Jackson (33 catches, 543 yards, three TD) tries to bounce back from a tough season. The team added Cecil Shorts as a third receiver. The kicking game falls to rookie Roberto Aguayo, the most accurate kicker in NCAA history.
Atlanta started hot last season and then fizzled out late. A 5-0 start was long forgotten as the Falcons dropped six straight and seven of eight between weeks 6 and 14. Atlanta couldn’t make clutch plays in close games: they dropped three games by three points, one by one point and another by four. The Falcons were similar to Tampa Bay offensively: they were 7th in total yards but finished 21st in points per game with 21.2 per contest. Atlanta committed 30 turnovers and finished -7 in the takeaway/giveaway ratio. The Falcons were in the middle of the pack defensively, ranking 16th in yards allowed and 14th in points (21.6) per contest.
Matt Ryan is back again under center for the Falcons, trying to lead the team to that elusive Lombardi Trophy. He completed 66.3 percent of his throws for 4,591 yards with 21 touchdowns and 16 picks. Devonta Freeman was a revelation, running for 1,056 yards plus 11 scores while adding 73 catches for 578 yards and three touchdowns. Tevin Coleman chipped in 392 yards and a score on the ground. The passing game is all about Julio Jones. He reeled in 136 passes for 1,871 yards and eight scores. Jacob Tamme was solid at tight end, catching 59 balls for 657 yards and a score. Finding a capable secondary receiver with Roddy White departed will help. Justin Hardy (21 catches) may get first opportunity. Matt Bryant (26/26 XP, 14/18 FG) is back again at age 41 in the kicking game.
Tampa has plenty of young talent but they still lack the killer instinct that comes with experience. The Bucs were 3-5 on the road last season. Atlanta focuses a lot on Ryan to Jones and why not? If it works, go with it. This one likely goes down to the wire and the Falcons’ experience makes the difference. That’s why the -2.5 is nice because a late field goal breaking a tie gives the Falcons the cover. To get an idea of who else we like in NFL Week 1, click here!
Atlanta is 4-1 ATS in their last five in September. Tampa Bay is 2-8 ATS in their last 10 in week 1 and 0-4 ATS in their last four overall.
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