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What to know ahead of the Falcons - Buccaneers matchup in Week 2

It’s not going to be easy.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Last week, I wrote that beating a game Eagles team would be a nice confidence booster for a fanbase that needed it, and I had hope they’d manage just that. This week, having watched that game play out, it is evident that the Falcons might have all the wrong kinds of surprises for us in 2021.

On paper, this matchup against the Buccaneers is the closest thing to a guaranteed loss the Falcons have on the schedule, even if their Week 1 performance was so grim that every week looks a bit tougher than it did in August. Tampa Bay is coming off a Super Bowl win, returned most of its championship roster, and is fresh off a hard-fought win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football...which gives them extra time to rest. Atlanta, meanwhile, is reeling after a 32-6 loss, with Arthur Smith talking about letting the team down and the importance of figuring things out very, very quickly. One team looked good, if a bit sloppy, while the other looked both terrible and sloppy.

This is one of those games where going in with the lowest possible hopes will ensure that anything good that happens is a nice surprise. Given that the beatdown the Falcons just suffered was a deeply unpleasant surprise, we might as well steel ourselves better for what’s ahead, starting with a closer look at the Buccaneers.

2021 comparison

Falcons vs. Buccaneers

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 0-1 31 26 31 14 24 27 17 31 25 1
Buccaneers 1-0 10 7 3 30 21 30 31 4 11 32

This is stark, though not super meaningful. The Buccaneers defense is too good to look this bad statistically for very long, though Dak Prescott’s success as a passer points to a way forward for Atlanta if they can plan cleverly and keep Matt Ryan on his feet. Running against this front feels like a nightmarish proposition, but then, it didn’t seem fun against the Eagles either, and the Falcons were good at that for a bit.

I don’t think I have to tell you that this Bucs passing game really is that good, with weapons upon weapons and an offensive line good enough to let Tom Brady sit back and sling it. The rushing attack is fine and capable of superlative efforts when Leonard Fournette or Ronald Jones get really hot, and that’s a concern for a Falcons run defense that looked awfully suspect against Philadelphia. The good news is that Brady is not going to take off and cause problems with his legs the way Jalen Hurts did.

Defensively, Tampa Bay has quality defenders at every level but are very strong up front, with Vita Vea showing his ability to absolutely destroy an offensive line against a Cowboys team with a much better one. It would be fair to suggest that the Falcons have to be better across the board to stand much of a chance here, and some of Tampa Bay’s weak rankings are not indicative of what they are capable of doing to ill-prepared football teams.

The good news is that it truly has been just one week, and for the Falcons, it was just about the worst week imaginable. I don’t expect Atlanta to look this bad all year long, but the Bucs are a daunting challenge.

How the Buccaneers have changed in 2021

Very little. Why would they?

Tampa Bay was the beneficiary of the best injury luck in the NFL in 2020, but they were good enough that it didn’t matter. After muddling through some rough weeks and nearly falling thanks to Tom Brady’s pick-happy play in the playoffs, the Bucs stymied the Chiefs in the Super Bowl and won their second Lombardi, which was gross.

They set about using their cap space to re-sign veterans and keep the band together, snapping up veteran back Giovani Bernard and adding depth in free agency. The draft was the place where they zeroed in on adding difference-makers, with pass rusher Joe Tryon looking like he could be a real asset in the early going. The rest of the draft class seems unlikely to contribute significantly in 2021—only two rookies played beyond Tryon on Thursday night, and chiefly on special teams—but when you have a big-time window right now that’s a logical enough way to handle things. The team’s second round selection of Kyle Trask does not seem likely to give them a successor to Tom Brady, but hey, I suppose you gotta try.

Tampa Bay’s 2021 fortunes are almost entirely dependent on whether their championship-caliber roster can stay anywhere near as healthy as it did a year ago, starting with an aging Brady. Brady’s fought Father Time to a standstill for a very long time, but he’s been a little more prone to interceptions and has dealt with significant injuries, even if he’s just been content to play through them. They’ll be good enough to be a contender no matter what, but the only thing that’s going to prevent them from making it at least to the NFC Conference Championship game is health, and the Falcons are not catching them late enough in the season for that to be a factor at all.

What to know for Sunday

The game against the Eagles was one game. I have to practice what I so often preach and not freak out over Week 1, but as I think we’ve all said at some point this week, that loss was so ugly that it makes it hard to have much faith in this team prevailing over Tampa Bay on the road. That was a dicey proposition well before they soiled the sheets against Philadelphia.

Here are the stakes in a nutshell: Lose and you’re way behind in the division and 0-2, a mark very few teams come back from. Get blown out after talking about preparation and you’re casting a sideways glance at Arthur Smith, who has plenty of runway in Atlanta but isn’t going to win over this fanbase if his team bombs two weeks in a row to start his tenure with the Falcons. Win and all is not forgiven—those three hours of our lives in Week 1 aren’t coming back!—but you’ve got an early signature victory and Smith will have shown he’s a man of his word when it comes to coaxing improvement out of this team. Hell, keep it close and it’ll at least be a sign that things are moving in the right direction, even if it’s going to be hard to get pumped up about 0-2.

To beat Tampa Bay, Atlanta will have to travel, drastically improve the performance of an offensive line that saw Matt Ryan pressured on over 40% of his dropbacks, slow down what should be and is a much better offense than Philadelphia’s, and kickstart an anemic passing game that didn’t do a ton even when Ryan wasn’t being annihilated. All of that seems like a tall order because it is, but the Falcons will hopefully at last give Tampa Bay a good game and start evincing some early progress. Regardless of your expectations for 2021, it’d be nice to enjoy our Sundays.