By Max Luckan
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With virtually nothing to play for anymore, the Atlanta Falcons could technically rest their key starters against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this upcoming Sunday. However, the Falcons are playing the game to win, head coach Mike Smith said, so that’s not likely. The Falcons have already clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but they won’t be letting up against the Bucs this Sunday. That’s bad news for the Bucs, who have lost five games in a row, and have already lost to the Falcons earlier this season. This game will be a divisional battle, so it should be interesting, but the two teams are going in seemingly opposite directions.
The Falcons currently sit at 13-2 and they will have home field advantage all throughout the playoffs, meaning the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will go through Atlanta. They have nothing left to play for, but want to finish the regular season off strong so they have some momentum heading into the playoffs.
This season, the Falcons’ only two losses came at the hands of the New Orleans Saints and, surprisingly, the Carolina Panthers, both division rivals. Other than those two losses, the Falcons have been undefeated with big wins over the New York Giants and Denver Broncos.
Falcons on Offense
Obviously, the Falcons are one of the deadliest teams in the NFL on offense, and their 13-2 record is indicative of that. They have an extremely potent offense that’s ranked fifth in the NFL in passing, averaging 286.4 yards per game.
But the Falcons do many things well, and their running game is highly underrated. This season, Michael Turner has only carried the ball 216 times, but he has nine touchdowns on the ground. Atlanta has the ability to run the ball when necessary, but of course, they prefer to pass. And that’s understandable given that Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez are some of the best players at their respective positions. The Falcons will throw the ball deep, but they’ll also run the ball every once in a while.READ MORE: Anne Heche's Son Mourns His Mother
Falcons on Defense
It’s hard to talk about the Falcons’ defense without mentioning the linebackers, secondary, and front four. Basically, the Falcons do many things well on defense, much like on offense.
The secondary features Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel, who are both extremely aggressive and they can cause opposing quarterbacks to panic. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has played at a high level all season long, racking up 58 tackles and three sacks in only eight games. And of course, Jonathan Babineaux, John Abraham, and Kroy Biermann make up a lethal defensive line that can put pressure on quarterbacks. The Falcons have playmakers on defense that can make big plays when they count.
Falcons Players to Watch:
- Matt Ryan: Ryan has transformed into an elite quarterback. He can make all the throws and Roddy White and Julio Jones just make him that much better. Ryan is very accurate, which is something that worries the Bucs’ secondary.
- Tony Gonzalez: If teams manage to shut down White and Jones, which is unlikely, they still have to deal with Tony Gonzalez, who has a fantastic ability to get open down the middle of the field.
- Asante Samuel: Samuel’s style of play involves being very aggressive, and this often leads to many interceptions for opposing quarterbacks, who have to always know where Samuel is on the field.
Because it’s a divisional game, the matchup between the Falcons and Bucs will be physical and intriguing. But the fact that the all-time series is tied up 19-19 makes it even more interesting. Bucs coach Greg Schiano is 0-1 in his career against the Falcons, but will look to even that up this Sunday.
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.