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What to know for Falcons - Buccaneers in Week 13

The Falcons will try to upset the current NFC South leader.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, it’s the Buccaneers again! How fun.

The last time these two teams met, Tampa Bay won handily. The time before that, Tampa Bay won handily. The time before that, Tampa Bay won narrowly. A team the Falcons merrily beat to a pulp many times over the past decade has begun to dominate Atlanta, and I really don’t like that. The hope is that the Falcons have a surprise or two up their sleeves and can wipe the grin off Tom Brady’s face, assuming his extensive plastic surgery will allow for that.

To do so, they’ll need to lift their passing game out of a three game funk, continue and accelerate their defensive improvement, run effectively again and avoid the kind of sloppy errors that have doomed them so many times this season. That’s a lot to ask for a game at home, where Atlanta has not won all season, and thus my expectations for this one are low.

Still, we’d love to see it and we’ll be watching it regardless, so let’s talk about what you should know for the upcoming matchup.

Falcons - Buccaneers comparison

Falcons - Buccaneers Comparison

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Surrendered
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Surrendered
Falcons 5-6 27 26 19 30 31 22 14 23 24 25
Buccaneers 8-3 1 3 1 23 16 8 20 1 3 17

This is a lopsided matchup. The Buccaneers have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL, while Atlanta has a solid but unspectacular pass defense not exactly buoyed by an elite pass rush. The Buccaneers have a stout run defense and are facing off against a Falcons team that has two good games on the ground all year. The Buccaneers excel at creating turnovers and Matt Ryan has tossed five interceptions in his last three games. You get the picture.

Atlanta’s best shot in this one is to take advantage of a depleted and less-than-perfect Buccaneers pass defense and triumph in a shootout, one they come out on top of thanks to a game defense that seems to be showing some real if modest improvement. I don’t have to tell you, given how shaky the Falcons have been and how good the Buccaneers are, that it’s going to require an awful lot of things to go right at once.

That hasn’t happened of late for the Falcons, to put it mildly. It seems unlikely Patterson will go over 100 yards on the ground against this caliber of run defense, and the Bucs aren’t going to let Kyle Pitts beat them. The defense also hasn’t faced an offense of this caliber since the Cowboys, and that went...poorly. The Bucs are, of course, even better at throwing the ball.

Thankfully they don’t play these games on paper, but I’m not sure playing it on the field is going to tilt anything in Atlanta’s favor.

How the Bucs have changed

When the Falcons last faced Tampa Bay back in Week 2, they were a pretty healthy team fresh off an opening win against the Cowboys, and the Bucs wound up winning 41-25.

They’re still one of the best teams in football—their 8-3 record tells you that at a glance—but things are a little more difficult than they were back then. Tampa Bay has actually lost two of its last four matchups, dropping matchups to the Saints and Washington Football Team and mixing in a seven point squeaker over the Colts and a blowout win over the Giants. The team has placed multiple corners on injured reserve, and key players like Ali Marpet, Antonio Brown, and Jason Pierre-Paul are dealing with ailments right now. The Bucs are still a great team the Falcons are going to struggle mightily to beat, but they look a little more vulnerable than they did the last time these two teams squared off.

What to know

This will be a difficult matchup, as I alluded to above. The Falcons are making strides in some areas and regressing mightily in others, and their inability to pass the ball effectively the past three weeks sets off a variety of loud and colorful alarm bells for this matchup. Without being able to sling it and put up points, it’s hard to imagine this team hanging on against even a dinged up Buccaneers team.

Turnovers will be key to the enterprise. The Bucs have been on a bit of a tear of late, turning the ball over eight times in the past four weeks, which includes six of Tom Brady’s nine interceptions this year. Whether that’s a sign of a 44-year-old quarterback wearing down a bit or more of a fluke remains to be seen, but Atlanta’s best shot in this one is limiting their own mistakes and taking advantage of any gifts Brady hands them.

The avoiding mistakes part is key because the flip side of the coin is this: Tampa Bay has forced eight turnovers over the past two weeks, and they’re much better positioned to take advantage of an errant Matt Ryan pass or a fumble than Atlanta is. It’s a bit simplistic to say this will hinge on who wins the turnover battle—again, the Falcons just aren’t as good as the Bucs—but if our team’s going to have any chance of winning they absolutely need to be careful with the football and punish mistakes.

But still, you need to know that this is a matchup best braced for. Don’t let the Falcons hurt you if they get stomped into the turf, because I don’t have to tell you that’s the likeliest outcome here. Let them delight you if they hang tough or pull off a frankly astonishing win, which would be their first one in Mercedes-Benz Stadium this year, and let them just be a Sunday annoyance if they lose the way this matchup indicates they’re going to.