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

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Can Atlanta keep Ryan upright this time?

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

The last time the Falcons faced the Bucs, Matt Ryan was sacked six times and fumbled twice in a loss that reset fan expectations for the second half of the season. Since then, though, the Falcons offensive line has bounced back.

They’ve played well against the 49ers and Jaguars — who both have stout defensive fronts. They’ll need to keep that trend going against Tampa if they’re going to have a chance to win.

In the trenches

The Atlanta offensive line has been a terrible unit for most of 2019. That said, it looks like the recent return of Chris Lindstrom has helped stabilize things a bit. He and fellow rookie Kaleb McGary look much more comfortable on the right side of the line and both have played well in recent weeks. That may also be contributing to the improved play out of Alex Mack, who was playing well below his normal standard for much of the season. Jake Matthews has been the best of this group, but the sad rotation at left guard next to him has continued with the subpar play of Wes Schweitzer in recent weeks.

The Bucs have some QB eaters on their defensive front. Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul all caused havoc in Atlanta several weeks ago. Vita Vea and William Gholston can clog up the middle and could very well shut down any running game Atlanta hopes to establish.

As good as Atlanta has been in recent weeks, this is a matchup that brings me unease. I’m hoping for the best, but this matchup still feels like a bad one for the Falcons.

Advantage: Bucs

The skill positions

Matt Ryan has been much better in recent weeks, which is ironic because he’s been down a weapon with Calvin Ridley out for the year. Of course, targeting Julio Jones more frequently is never a bad thing, as the star receiver has been reminding us that he’s one of the best, even if ridiculously stupid NFL lists decide to leave him off mindlessly. Austin Hooper has been excellent this year and could be a favorite target in this game due to the poor situation at safety and linebacker for the Bucs. Devonta Freeman may not get much done on the ground, but he could be a receiving factor again like he was against the Jags.

The Bucs corners go from good (Carlton Davis) to OK (Sean Murphy-Bunting) to good (Jamel Dean). That said, it seems unlikely that any of these guys will be able to stop Julio by themselves. They’ll get help from Andrew Adams and Mike Edwards at safety — a pairing that is ho-hum at best. At linebacker, Lavonte David is an absolute stud but is alone in the middle. Devin White is not particularly good and could be someone Matt Ryan looks to pick on if he gets the time to.

The Falcons really need one of Christian Blake or Russell Gage to step up in this game. Julio is likely going to be doubled frequently, though that seems like it still may not stop him completely. Hooper and Freeman could see some favorable matchups, though, so don’t be surprised if either of them goes off for a big game. Even without Ridley, I like the matchup for the Falcons here.

Advantage: Falcons

Overall

This is simple. Keep Matt Ryan clean and you should be able to score points. If you don’t, you’re likely looking at a 6-10 record. How will it play out? Honestly, it really could go either way at this point. Good luck picking a clear winner here.

Advantage: Push