The Atlanta Falcons got walloped by the Cincinnati Bengals, and the team is going to want to put that loss behind them with a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Easier said than done, given that the Bucs are a division rival and a quality football team, but the Falcons could lucked into better timing with this game.
Injuries will play a major role. Gerald McCoy just fractured his hand, and if he's playing at all, he'll be somewhat limited by whatever contraption he'll need to wear on his hand. Mike Evans exited the game late. Doug Martin is dealing with a nagging injury that kept him out of Sunday's game against the Rams. DE Michael Johnson, TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, MLB Mason Foster, S Dashon Goldson...not all of these guys will miss the game, but the Buccaneers are banged up. If McCoy can't go, the Falcons' much-maligned offensive line gets a big-time breather.
More to the point,Tampa Bay is still figuring out a cohesive identity while dealing with those injuries. Bucs Nation had some criticism for Lovie Smith's inherent conservative nature after Sunday's loss, and Josh McCown is a clearly limited quarterback regardless of what he did last year in Chicago. The Falcons would seem to be just the salve this Bucs offense needs, given their defensive struggles, but despite their quality weapons, I can't see McCown, this line and this scheme hanging a ton of points on Atlanta.
Add together the Falcons' relative health with the fact that this game is at the Georgia Dome where the Falcons are borderline dominant most years and this is a should-win and perhaps a must-win for these Falcons. They're unlikely to find themselves facing such a depleted, struggling Tampa Bay squad later in the year, and a win here buries a division rival and keeps the Falcons in the race for the NFC South crown. It's early yet, but every one of those divisional wins are going to be necessary if this team is even going to dream about sniffing the playoffs.
Just hope that everyone who is expected to have a limited practice today will be ready to go for the game on Thursday night. I'm not predicting a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination, but after the Bengals game, it's nice just to have some favorable matchups.
What say you?
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