The Atlanta Falcons fell to the Washington Commanders in Week 6, and things don’t get any easier this week. Atlanta heads down to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a matchup that will decide first place in the NFC South—at least for one week. While neither of these teams have been juggernauts thus far, both are in prime position to challenge for the division title this season.
Here at The Falcoholic, we like to think we keep you incredibly well-informed on all things Falcons. We’re not nearly as diligent in covering the Bucs, so I’ve enlisted the help of Tampa Bay expert Evan Wanish. Evan is a writer over at Bucs Nation, SB Nation’s site covering all things Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I brought five questions to Evan on a variety of topics, including the surprisingly good start by Baker Mayfield, the state of the NFC South race, and a whole lot more.
1) The Bucs currently have the only winning record in the NFC South at 3-2, but the margin in the division remains razor-thin. How are you feeling about the Bucs chances to repeat as division champions in 2023? Is this team better than the 2022 version?
Evan Wanish: If you want me completely honest, it is tough say at this moment. I think the Bucs have started off better than a lot of the national media thought they would, but like you said this division is tight and there isn’t much separating Tampa, Atlanta and New Orleans. I expect the NFC South race to go into the last few weeks of the season and currently I do feel like the Bucs have a decent shot to three-peat as NFC South champs for the first time in franchise history.
2) Baker Mayfield has had a better-than-expected start to the season, but had a tough day against the Lions in Week 6. How confident are you in Baker’s ability to continue playing at a high level? Is there any concern that Week 6’s performance could be a sign of things to come?
EW: I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little bit concerned. The story on Baker Mayfield throughout his career has been injuries and inconsistent play. So far he has been exactly what the Bucs have needed, but that can take a turn quickly. The last time he had a tough game this year against Philly he was able to bounce back with an impressive performance in New Orleans. Hopefully he can do the same on Sunday or else it may be time to sound the alarm.
3) Much was made about the Bucs’ desire to improve the run game and offensive line, and the Bucs remain 32nd in yards per carry at just 3.0. How have the new pieces on the offensive line looked this season, and who is to blame for the continued ground game issues?
EW: The Bucs tackle tandem of Tristan Wirfs on the left and Luke Goedeke on the right have been fantastic for Tampa Bay so far, but the interior leaves a little room for improvement. Veteran Matt Feiler has struggled at times this season and center Robert Hainsey hasn’t been as effective as he was last year. Cody Mauch has been a bright spot, but he’s still trying to get adjusted to the NFL.
As far as who to blame, I think it’s a mix of three things. The offensive line not opening up running lanes, the running backs not making the most out of the situation, and the play calling. Rachaad White has had a disappointing start to the season but the play calling could also be a little less predictable at times and help out a run game that has really struggled.
4) Tampa Bay’s defense is once again carrying the load for this team. Are you confident in the defense’s ability to hold down Atlanta’s extremely inconsistent offense enough for the Bucs to get a victory on Sunday?
EW: I am pretty confident in the Bucs defense this week, especially at home. While they gave up a lot of yards last week to the Lions, they still held them to only 20 points. One thing Tampa’s defense will be looking to do this Sunday is create turnovers, which is something they failed to do against Detroit. I have faith in the Bucs defense to be able to put together a good performance on Sunday.
5) The Bucs are just 2.5-point home favorites according to DraftKings Sportsbook heading into Week 7. What’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
EW: Division games are always tough to predict and while I do think Atlanta is improved from where they were a year ago, I think the Bucs know how big this game is and rise to the occasion. Give me the Bucs covering the spread and winning 27-21.
Many thanks to Evan for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re in the mood for a Bucs perspective on things, follow Bucs Nation at @Bucs_Nation.
Looking for more Falcons-Bucs coverage? Check out our Dirty Birds & Brews game preview show.