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Falcons defense vs. Buccaneers offense: Who wins this matchup?

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It’s a different matchup from the first one of 2019.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

When Atlanta hosted the Bucs in November, they were riding on the coattails of two victories over the Saints and Panthers. Many people thought they would steamroll Tampa, but even with several Jameis Winston turnovers, the Falcons couldn’t stop them from winning 35-22.

It was an embarrassing loss and one this team would like to avenge. Can they do it? Let’s see how this matchup looks on paper.

In the trenches

Right now, Grady Jarrett may be one of the best defensive tackles playing not named Aaron Donald. He’s the anchor of this defense, but he has a tough matchup against the Bucs. Their interior OL has solidified with Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen being a particularly tough duo to battle in the middle. He’s going to need help from guys like Tyeler Davison and Jack Crawford to slow down these guys.

On the edges, Damar Dotson and Donovan Smith are a good duo for the Bucs. They aren’t a dominant pairing, but they’re more than capable of holding their own. Vic Beasley has come alive in recent weeks and now has eight sacks on the year (who saw that coming?). Adrian Clayborn has also had some success off the edge and in nickel sets but neither of these guys is a consistent enough pass rusher to keep Jameis Winston terrified for four quarters.

The Bucs offensive line is a good unit. They run the ball well and give Jameis enough time. As good as Atlanta’s defensive front has been of late, this is another tough matchup for them. Slight nod to Tampa here.

Advantage: Bucs

The skill positions

Make no mistake: Tampa is hurting. They’ve lost Mike Evans and Chris Godwin for the rest of 2019 and that hurts them offensively. Jameis Winston has been an absolute turnover machine this year. His 4,900 yards and 31 touchdowns look impressive, but his 28 interceptions (!!!) and 12 fumbles (holy cow) have made this a true Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde season. He’ll be tossing the ball to guys like Breshad Perriman and Justin Watson, who are both a clear downgrade from Evans and Godwin. Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard should be better than they are at tight end. Ronald Jones is having a decent year at RB, though.

For Atlanta, Desmond Trufant being out hasn’t hurt this secondary as much as many thought it would. Blidi Wreh-Wilson has played very well lately. Isaiah Oliver looks completely different than he did at the beginning of the year and Kendall Sheffield is growing as a rookie corner. Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee have played much better at safety in the second half as well. Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun are both playing well this year while De’Vondre Campbell has been hit or miss all season.

Honestly, this comes down to Winston. If we get the one that showed up against Detroit (4 TDs, 1 INT, 458 yards) we may be in for a long day. If the one that faced Houston shows up (1 TD, 4 INT) he may gift Atlanta the win. Without Evans and Godwin, I’m going to bet on the latter.

Advantage: Falcons

Overall

This is such a weird matchup. The Bucs OL should be able to get their ground game going and keep Winston upright, but god knows he may just throw the game away regardless. I like our corners against their downgraded receiver corps, but Atlanta has been a Jekyll and Hyde unit as well. Flip a coin on this matchup.

Advantage: Push