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Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pick.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9 SU, 8-6-1 ATS) vs. Atlanta Falcons (13-2 SU, 9-5-1 ATS)
NFL Week 17
Date/Time: Sunday, December 30, 1:00 p.m. EST
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
TV: FOX/DTV 704
by Vesper Abadon, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: TB OFF/ATL OFF
Over/Under Total: OFF
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The road through the NFC Playoffs will go through the Georgia Dome. The 13-2 Atlanta Falcons have already been crowned the NFC South Champions and locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC, giving them a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout. When such a prestigious position is locked up before the final week of the regular season, it begs the question-will the team rest their starters or keep them fresh by playing them in a seemingly meaningless game.
According to Jay Adam’s blog on NFL.com, head coach Mike Smith plans on playing to win. “We’re going to play the game to win,” Smith said. “That’s how we’re going to approach it. It’s an important game because it’s a division game. All games, I think, are important. In terms of the importance of it, does it have no bearing? It really does, because we want to win every time we go out and play.”
The game he’s referring to is Sunday’s match against the division-rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who’re 6-9 and out of Playoff contention. The last time these two teams met, which was back on November 25, the Falcons barely edged out the Bucs in a 24-23 victory, but of course there was more on the line back then.
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If Smith’s words hold true and the Falcons do play hard, it should be quite the show as both teams enter with potent offenses. Let’s start with the Falcons, who’re currently ranked 7th in the league averaging 375.2 total yards per game (YPG). They’re not ranked so high because of their rushing game, which comes in 28th in the league with an average of 88.8 YPG (Michael Turner is their leading rusher after carrying 216 times for 782 yards (3.6 Avg) and nine touchdowns), so that means their real strength is their passing game, which is ranked 5th in the league with an average of 286.4 YPG.
That comes courtesy of fifth-year quarterback Matt Ryan, who has gone 394 of 571 for 4,481 yards, 31 touchdowns and 14 interceptions-good for a NFL 5th-best 100.2 rating. Of course those numbers are helped by the fact that he’s throwing to two Pro-Bowl-caliber wide receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones. The former has 87 receptions for 1,309 yards (15 Avg) and seven touchdowns, while the latter has 76 catches for 1,142 yards (15 Avg) and ten touchdowns. What’s more, future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez has 88 receptions for 889 yards (10.1 Avg) and eight scores. Needless to say, the Falcons can put on quite the aerial show.
Defensively the Falcons are 23rd in the league, allowing 365.5 YPG, which is a little bit better than the Bucs’ 29th-ranked defense, which allows 386.7 YPG. Granted, the Bucs are a young, rebuilding team, but it doesn’t seem like too long ago when they were feared for their defense. Now, it seems, they’re focused on building their offense, which is ranked 10th in the NFL averaging 363.6 total YPG.
That includes 250.7 passing YPG (9th in the NFL) and 112.9 rushing YPG (16th in the NFL). Regarding the pass game, fourth-year QB Josh Freeman is manning the helm and has went 287 of 523 for 3,843 yards, 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions-good for an 82.3 rating. Surprisingly, Freeman’s two main targets-Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams-aren’t getting as much love as the Falcons’ corps, but that’s likely because the Bucs aren’t winning. That’s unfortunate as Jackson is having a superb year with 69 receptions for 1,334 yards (19.3 Avg) and eight touchdowns, while Williams isn’t doing too bad himself with 57 catches for 931 yards (16.3 Avg) and eight touchdowns.
Furthermore, the Bucs are actually a lot better on the ground than the Falcons. They average 112.9 rushing YPG (16th in the NFL), and that’s thanks to rookie sensation Doug Martin, who has carried 291 times for 1,312 yards (4.5 Avg) and ten touchdowns.
Vesper Abadon’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: First-year head coach Greg Schiano is building something special in Tampa. Their offense is maturing rapidly, and they have a running back that can consistently shoulder the load. They need to improve on the defensive side of the ball, but they’ll be contenders in the years to come.
With that said, this year belongs to the Falcons. They’ve dominated their opponents, have flown high in the NFC, and are Super Bowl favorites for many. I like Smith’s decision to play the starters, and I hope he plays them strong. Keeping Ryan and company in the thick of things is important as two weeks off could see a little rust develop. If the Falcons pull away, I’m sure the starters will get a rest. With all that being said, I can’t make a pick against the spread until a line comes out on this game. (There was no line as of 12/26). Please check back later in the week for my wager recommendation on this game.
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