Two teams will try to keep up their strong finish to the season despite being out of the playoff race in Week 17 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play host to the Atlanta Falcons. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 29 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Fans in Atlanta, Tampa, and everywhere in between can watch the game on Fox.
Current betting odds have the Buccaneers favored by 1.5 points at home with an over/under of 47.5 points. Be sure to check out all of the Week 17 NFL odds.
For the second straight season, Atlanta’s season was over by the end of October. The Falcons were 1-7 heading into their bye week, continuing a disappointing stretch for the franchise that dates back to their Super Bowl collapse against the Patriots a few years ago. However, Dan Quinn has weathered the storm with his team playing better during the second half of the season. The Falcons have won five of their last seven games, including three in a row. Atlanta’s strong finish to the season could be enough to secure Quinn’s job for another season, especially if they can win on Sunday and finish the season a somewhat respectable 7-9.
It’s been a similar story for the Bucs, who were in decent position at 2-2 through the first month before losing four in a row to take them out of the playoff picture. However, Bruce Arians has been able to turn things around during the second half of the season. Tampa has won five of their last seven games, giving them a chance to secure a .500 record and second place in the NFC South if they can get a win in Week 17. Of course, serious questions still loom for the Buccaneers this offseason, especially after a turnover-laden loss to the Texans last weekend.
When these two teams met last month, the Buccaneers won in Atlanta 35-22. That win snapped a five-game winning streak the Falcons had over the Bucs. Tampa will now look to secure their first home win over the Falcons since 2015. A Bucs win would also bring them within one game of tying the all-time series with their NFC South rivals.
To be honest, I could go either way in this game against the spread. I think Atlanta has been a little better late in the year. On the other hand, the Bucs are at home and have been wildly unpredictable this season. However, both of these teams have plenty of offensive talent and questionable defensive prowess. With the over/under a little less than I thought it would be, this is a heavy lean toward the over.
Offensively, the Buccaneers are almost always capable of scoring a high number of points. Jameis Winston might be seriously flawed in terms of ball security with 28 interceptions this season. But he’s able to make up for it. Winston has nearly 5,000 yards passing this year and has thrown 31 touchdown passes. Even with both Chris Godwin and Mike Evans out due to injury, Winston is difficult to slow down. Plus, his propensity for throwing interceptions opens up the possibility of defensive touchdowns, helping add to the overall point total.
The bottom line is that the Bucs are third in the NFL in points scored this season, averaging 29 points per game. They’ve also scored at least 30 points in five of their last eight games. That means the Bucs on their own could get far more than halfway to 47.5 points. This week, it should help that they’ll be facing an Atlanta defense that concedes 25 points per game. The Falcons have only held their opponent to under 20 points on three occasions this season, so I don’t seem them slowing down Winston and the Tampa Bay offense, even if they create a few takeaways.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta offense has also been difficult to hold in check this year, despite the team’s disappointing record. The tandem of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones is still one of the best in the league, and that’s been on full display in recent weeks. Even the Atlanta rushing attack has started to come alive in recent weeks. Devonta Freeman is finally healthy and has found the end zone in two of the last three weeks. Brian Hill is also becoming an intriguing complementary back who’s capable of picking up big chunks of yardage.
In fairness, the Falcons may not get their running game going this week against the Tampa defense, which is one of the best rush defenses in the league. But the Tampa Bay secondary should make up for it. The Bucs have struggled on the back end all season, so I don’t have high hopes for them being able to contain Jones. Tight end Austin Hooper is also someone who could give the Tampa secondary trouble, helping the Falcons match or exceed their average of 23.5 points per game.
To be honest, the most surprising thing that could happen in Week 17 would be this game turning into a defensive slugfest. Neither team has proven that they can stop quality offenses while both have explosive potential on offense. I expect both teams to surpass the 20-point plateau and possible 30 points as well. That makes me confident in taking the over on 47.5 points.