(9-2, 7-4 ATS)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(7-4, 8-3 ATS)
Things are starting to get a little hairy for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who badly need to get back into the win column on Sunday afternoon. However, the Atlanta Falcons have the best record in the NFC and are tied for the best mark in the league, and they don’t want to give that up on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
The Falcons just find ways to win games. It’s not always pretty, especially with six wins this year by a TD or fewer, one of which came against these Bucs back in the first weekend of November. RB Michael Turner isn’t quite having the same type of year he had two seasons ago when he led the league in rushing, but he will be a 1,000 yard rusher on the year probably at some point in the first half. “The Burner” has rushed for 974 yards and six TDs. One man that has already gotten to his 1,000 yard mark this year is WR Roddy White. White has 84 receptions for 1,066 yards and seven TDs, and he is certainly going to be playing in the Pro Bowl this year. Still, this team wouldn’t go anywhere without third year QB Matt Ryan. “Matty Ice” has thrown for 2,715 yards and has a TD/INT ratio of 19/5, and he has taken every single passing snap this year. Defensively, there are still some holes, as this secondary is still allowing 252.9 yards per game, but giving up just 19.0 points per game is good enough for No. 7 in the league.
A loss in this one will just about end any hopes the Bucs have of winning the NFC South, and one would have to wonder whether or not a defeat would really put their playoff hopes in serious danger as well. QB Josh Freeman is doing his job in his second season, but it is clear that he doesn’t quite have the skills yet to do this by himself. Whereas Freeman struggled last year trying to take care of the football, he has done well this year, tossing just five INTs. Freeman has 2,261 yards and 15 scores on the campaign. WR Mike Williams has really become the top target for Freeman on the year. He has 45 catches for 701 yards and six TDs. TE Kellen Winslow is one of the best tight ends in the league as well, and he has 47 catches for 480 yards and a pair of scores. On the ground, the numbers don’t suggest that anything great is happening, but RB LeGarrette Blount is really on the verge of breaking out. Blount has 496 yards and four TDs this year, which isn’t bad for a man that really wasn’t given a shot out of the University of Oregon.
This has been a great season, but you just get the feeling that the Bucs have run out of gas. The Falcons are just on their way to some great things, and Ryan should be able to give his squad yet another big time win, probably once again by less than a touchdown.
NFL Free Pick: Atlanta Falcons -2