I apologize for the tardiness of this post, first of all. The campus internet picked a terrific time to shut itself down for almost twenty hours, and my attempts to build a rudimentary computer out of squirrel pelts and sticks proved useless. But I'm back now, and we can move on to this week's preview. Shall we?
The O: I could just hand this to the Falcons right now, but that would be pretty cruel. Last week the Dirty Birds finally put together an offense that worked, even if it wheezed and sputtered in between Norwood's brillaint run and Vick's pair of perfect passes. (That's called alliteration, folks.) The Bucs used to have Atlanta's number, with an athletic front seven that could keep up with Vick and stymie him in every facet of the game. This time around, it's not real likely. Look for Vick to throw to Jenkins and Crumpler over and over again, until Roddy White starts firing marine signal flares over his head in an attempt to get a pass heading this way. Look for that not to work. I fully expect the Falcons' passing game to post a pretty typical 150/200 yard performance with a couple TDs and a probable interception. The rushing game will once again by the key and the hopeful catalyst to the Falcons' attack. Norwood looks to pick up a few more carries, and against an aging and sometimes ineffective Bucs' D, that's probably going to be an immense difference maker. It should also make Dunn's appearances more fun, as well. If the Falcons can balance the offense out this week, there's virtually no way the Bucs' O can keep up.
Which brings us to the Bucs' O. They average only 254 total yards of offense a game, and only 93 on the ground behind a strangely ineffective Cadillac Williams. I haven't paid enough attention to know if this is more the fault of the O-line or Williams himself, but either way, it doesn't bode well for the Bucs on the ground. This likely means they'll be turning to Bruce Gradkowski, which isn't causing any Bucs' fans to jump up and down in delight. Now, I think Gradkowski can become at least a decent QB someday, but this team is not the one that's going to help him make that leap. He's still been far more impressive than Chris Simms, with 9 TDs and 9 INTs vs. Simms' 1 TD and 7 INTs, but Gradkowski can't put the game on his back and win it (and we all hope he doesn't learn to this week). If the Bucs are going to stand a chance of winning this game, they're going to have to free up the passing game by pounding the Caddy, and if he isn't going anywhere...neither is Tampa Bay. All this is a long winded way of saying that the Tampa Bay offense does not stack up to the Falcons'.
The Wing Edge: Atlanta. A team with explosive capability and considerable inconsistency > than a team with a consistently poor offense.
The D: The two teams stack up fairly closely in terms of statistics, which tells you how poorly both of them have done. The Bucs are slightly more effective against the pass and the Falcons are slightly better against the run, and Atlanta must press that advantage if they're going to keep that stupid cannon quiet. If Cadillac gets over 75 yards on the ground, somebody's not doing their job properly. The Falcons would like to force Gradkowski to throw, throw, and throw some more, in the hopes of either picking him off a couple times or planting him so hard he comes up with diamond ore between his teeth. Both would actually be ideal, but I don't want to be too greedy. The secondary should feature a bit more Jimmy Williams, which should provide some relief, the safeties must flash some coverage skills against a speedy receiving corps.
The Bucs' D will have to do the opposite, even though they'd probably rather not. If Vick has time to throw, that also means he has time to take off running, and that means a great deal of trouble. If they can pressure Vick consistently throughout the day, the running game will have to take over, and that means plenty of carries for a worn down Dunn. If Norwood breaks a couple big runs, then the whole strategy becomes moot, but I think that despite its effectiveness compared to the passing game, Dunn and Norwood have to be the ones to beat the Bucs. If Vick runs for a bunch of yards early and hucks a TD pass, you can probably pull a Gregg Easterbrook and write "game over" in your notebook. The Bucs always do plan well for the Falcons, but I question how well their personnel is going to hold up, and my answer is probably poorly.
The Wing Edge: Atlanta. The Bucs can clamp down and surprise me, but I'll be much more surprised if the Falcons can't shut down the one wheeled wagon that is the Tampa Bay offense.
The ST: Here's an area where Tampa Bay shines a little brighter. The Falcons trot out Morten Andersen, who used to fight actual buccaneers in Queen's Elizabeth's navy. He's putting along rather effectively now, as is Koenen, who looked quite a bit sharper to me last week and will hopefully continue to be this week.
The Bucs trot out Matt Bryant, whose 62 yard field goal earlier in the season showed us that he has a pair of cannonballs. His 78.6 kicking percentage does not reflect on how truly frightened I would be to have him attempting a kick with the game on the line, and hopefully we don't put him in that position. Bidwell's been around for a while, and is averaging a distinctly decent 42.6 yards per punt. Nothing to worry about. Still, the edge goes to Tampa Bay here.
The Wing Edge: Tampa Bay. Bryant scares the hell out of me.
Overall Wing Edge: Atlanta. It's going to take some transcendent play for the Bucs to win this game, and while I've grown to dread that, I doubt it's going to happen. The Falcons should put this one away by the 3rd quarter.
Prediction: Falcons win by a pair of scores.