It’s nearly kickoff, which means it’s time for our usual Sunday bundle of anxieties and excitement. As is custom, I’ll choose one of each that will be occupying my mind over the next three or so hours, and I hope you’ll share yours.
Feel confident about keeping this one close
The Buccaneers offense is a mess. Perhaps they’ll get untracked against an Atlanta defense that bends in all four cardinal directions but doesn’t often break, but it seems unlikely that Tampa Bay will pour on the points the way they have in recent matchups. Tom Brady is older, sadder, and banged up, Cameron Brate is out, and at least four of their receivers are dealing with ailments. Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White have not been major factors on the ground, either, meaning this isn’t likely to get out of hand without several players returning to form.
The Falcons have also kept every single game this season close, as they haven’t won or lost a game by more than four points and currently have just a -1 point differential. This team is built differently than last year’s squad, and the year before that’s squad, and...well, you get it.
Worry about the defensive matchup
If the Buccaneers offense might falter, unfortunately, so might Atlanta’s. The Bucs have a top 10 defense this year by almost any metric you can think of, and while they’ll be without a couple of key pieces in Akiem Hicks and Logan Ryan, they’re still an extremely formidable unit loaded with talent. Atlanta will have their work cut out for them against their toughest matchup yet, considering they played a couple of soft fronts in a heavily injured Cleveland and so-so Seattle in the past couple of weeks.
The Falcons aren’t injury free, either. Kyle Pitts will miss this game, and while his lack of production has been annoying to those who love to watch him run through defenders, the bigger loss is the impact he has on defenses as the scariest weapon on the field. Without him, the Buccaneers will key on Drake London and dare Marcus Mariota to beat them other ways through the air, which he’ll hopefully be able to do. The ground game will have to move forward without Cordarrelle Patterson, who was placed on injured reserve earlier this week, and a line facing its stiffest test yet will be opening holes for Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley instead.
Atlanta’s offense is probably too good to be shut down, but after Mariota’s weak week against Cleveland and with the big step up in difficulty, I’m concerned they’ll have their first true week of struggles on offense.