Buccaneers game day is approaching, and it’s time for the PewterReport.com staff to offer up its weekly game predictions. Let us know what you think in the article comments section and add your prediction, too.
WHEN: January 2, 2021 KICKOFF: 1:00 p.m. ET WHERE: Raymond James Stadium TV: FOX BROADCAST CREW: TBA RADIO: 98 ROCK 97.9 FM PLAY-BY-PLAY: Gene Deckerhoff ANALYST: Dave Moore SIDLINE: T.J. Rives SPANISH RADIO: 96.1 FM PLAY-BY-PLAY: Carlos Bohorquez ANALYST: Martin Gramatica
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Scott Reynolds: Bucs Have More To Play For Than The Falcons
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The Buccaneers have the chance to finish 11-5 and keep the No. 5 seed with a win over the Falcons on Sunday, so there is a lot to play for from Tampa Bay’s perspective. The Bucs won’t rest their starters to try to win this game and play the winner of the NFC “Least” division – Washington, Dallas or the New York Giants. Winning 11 games is the stated goal of the team, and they’re gunning for it.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: SA TodayU
The Bucs are motivated to see Mike Evans make NFL history by reaching 1,000 receiving yards for the seventh season in a row, as he needs just 40 yards to achieve that milestone. Running back Ronald Jones II returns from the COVID-19 list and is 100 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season, and pass rushers Jason Pierre-Paul (9.5 sacks), Devin White (nine sacks) and Shaquil Barrett (eight sacks) are all close to double-digit sack seasons, so there are a lot of Buccaneers that have a lot of individual goals to play for on Sunday. This game is going to come down to who wants it more, and that is clearly Tampa Bay.
The problem is that Atlanta is a pesky team that plays hard for all four quarters, despite choking away some games late in the fourth quarter. That penchant for choking has cost Dan Quinn his job, and will likely mean the end of Raheem Morris’ stint as head coach, too. Atlanta will clean house in 2021, especially after getting swept by Tampa Bay to finish 4-12. The key is the Bucs needing to get off to a better start, as the team did last Sunday at Detroit in building a 13-0 lead, rather than falling behind 17-0 at halftime as Tampa Bay did in Week 15 at Atlanta before a furious, second half comeback.
How will the the Falcons players look at this game? Are they prepared to play spoilers and knock Tampa Bay down a notch in the playoff seeding? Or do they have their bags packed, and one foot out of team facility door ready to toss all of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols out the window and get back to some semblance of normal life without swabs stuck up their nose on a daily basis? I’m leaning towards the latter, and that is a good thing for the Buccaneers.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: USA Today
Some may look back at last season and remember a Falcons team out of the playoffs that came into Raymond James Stadium and beat Tampa Bay to close out 2019. But that team was different. Actually both teams are different in 2020. Atlanta was playing for their coaching staff to stick around another season and to finish the second half of the season with a 6-2 record. This year? There aren’t any goals to reach as Raheem Morris, who replaced the fired Dan Quinn, will be coaching elsewhere in 2021. Atlanta just wants this year to be over with and knows they are playing for a lame duck coaching staff and front office. This Bucs team is different as well – this season they are playing for a No. 5 seed in the playoffs, a place they haven been since 2007.
I don’t think this week will be Detroit Lions easy, but if the Buccaneers can get ahead in this game early, expect to see the Falcons go on cruise control and just get this dismal season over with. Tampa Bay will try to get Mike Evans his 40 yards receiving to surpass the 1,000 mark, and try to feed Ronald Jones enough to push him over the same threshold on the ground. The Bucs are a focused group of players who know what is at stake, while the Falcons are dreaming of tropical, sun-filled, deserted and socially-distanced beaches for the next couple months. This game shouldn’t be close.
Jon Ledyard: Bucs’ “B” Game Might Be Enough, But Health Is More Important
The Falcons are a much better football team than their 4-11 record might suggest, and their defense is playing at a high level right now. That’s a remarkable turnaround from where they were early in the season, especially considering Atlanta’s lack of defensive talent. Yes, the Bucs destroyed them in the second half two weeks ago after being held scoreless in the first half, but that’s the only game the Falcons have surrendered more than 24 points in since their Week 10 bye.
Falcons MLB Deion Jones and Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
It’s a Bucs offense that is rolling vs a Falcons defense that is on fire, coming off an exceptional performance in holding the high-powered Chiefs to just 17 points. What will Atlanta have left in the tank for Week 17, down several key contributors on both sides of the ball? The Bucs have more to play for, as the NFC’s fifth seed and a road date with the NFC East champion would be locked in with a win.
While I believe that getting to 11-5 and locking in the highest possible seed matters, does it matter more than risking health one week before the biggest game in 13 years for Tampa Bay? It’s a tough call, but I’m concerned the Bucs may be putting a lot on the line with little to gain. The biggest priority going into this game against Atlanta is coming out healthy, not victorious, but I’m confident the Bucs will find a way to get at least the latter done, while hoping the former doesn’t rear its ugly head in the form of injuries on Sunday.
Matt Matera: Bucs Punch Ticket In As Fifth Seed For The Postseason
What a good position for the Bucs to be in. They’re playing a meaningful game in the last game of the season, and yet they already have a ticket into the postseason. Tampa Bay may have dominated a week ago, but don’t let that make you think that they’ve forgotten about trailing 17-0 in the first half to Atlanta the week before that.
Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: USA Today
Tampa Bay has the blueprint to beat the Falcons if you go by the second half where it scored 31 points. The Bucs know how good they can be when they’re feeding the top three wide receivers and throwing to Rob Gronkowski when he’s got the right match-up. This time, they’ll also get Ronald Jones II back to help set up the play action with a better ground game.
The key defensively for the Bucs will be to stop Calvin Ridley, who torched the defense last time for 163 yards and touchdown, and continued it next week against Kansas City for 130 yards and another touchdown. With that said, the Bucs’ pass rush won’t be as bad as last time without sending Devin White, so that’ll stop another big game. I don’t think Tom Brady will get to fully rest at halftime, but we could see him out by the fourth quarter as the Bucs clinch the chance to play the NFC East.
Taylor Jenkins: Bucs Finish Season Strong Against Falcons
Despite sitting at just 4-11 heading into Week 17, the Falcons have proven time and time again this season that they’re not a team to take lightly and we know they always put up a fight against Tampa Bay. While they’ve lost their last four games since a 43-6 drumming of the Raiders in Week 12, none of their losses have come by more than one score. These four games include two blown halftime leads against the Bucs and Chargers and two games in which they played the Saints and Chiefs right down to the wire, even taking a tied game into the fourth quarter against Kansas City last week.
Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting and Falcons WR Calvin Ridley – Photo by: USA Today
The Falcons have talent and have turned a big corner this season under interim head coach Raheem Morris, but they repeatedly look like a team that just hasn’t figured out how to finish and win games. Once again, the Falcons may be without star receiver Julio Jones, but Calvin Ridley has performed like a bona fide star in his own right through Jones’ absence, including a 10-reception, 163-yard performance against Tampa Bay in Week 15, adding a touchdown to top the day off. The Bucs had a field day on both sides of the ball against Detroit last weekend, but Atlanta’s offense will surely prove a tougher test as Tampa Bay prepares for their first playoff appearance since 2007. Defensively, the Falcons remain one of the league’s lesser units, ranking 28th in yards allowed per game and 19th in points allowed per game, and I think it’s important that the Bucs stay in rhythm heading into the postseason and play a full four quarters of solid football, unlike the last meeting between the two teams.
All-in-all, this is a game that the Bucs should win, although it may not come easy, and a game that the Bucs really need to win, given that a victory is the only way Tampa Bay can ensure itself of the coveted fifth seed in the NFC playoff picture ahead of the Rams-Cardinals match-up later in the afternoon on Sunday.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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