Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) at Atlanta Falcons (8-5)
The Buccaneers have been better than their 4-9 record suggests, as they enter this game 15th in first down rate differential at 0.59%, with 17 more first downs gained than allowed this season. They are just 2-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less and could easily be 6-7 had a couple things gone their way. Their losses to the Patriots, Packers, and Lions (by a combined 14 points) all came in games in which they won the first down battle, but came up just short on the scoreboard.
However, the Buccaneers also enter this game incredibly banged up. Jameis Winston returned at quarterback a few weeks ago, but hasn’t looked quite right with an injury to his throwing shoulder. He is also missing his top-2 offensive linemen, center Ali Marpet and right tackle Demar Dotson, who are out for the season. On defense, the Buccaneers are missing arguably their best two players, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and outside linebacker Lavonte David, as well as defensive end Noah Spence and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who have been out for weeks.
This line has moved from Atlanta -3.5 on the early line to -6 this week, but, with McCoy and David both going down, I think that’s fair. The Falcons have a top-5 roster on paper and are relatively healthy and finally playing more like they did last season. I can’t be confident in the Falcons though. We’ve seen the Steelers and Patriots both have flat games on Monday Night Football in tough situations against divisional opponents in the past two weeks and we could see something similar this week, as this game is sandwiched between a pair of games against the division leading Saints on Atlanta’s schedule. The Falcons are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes as long as this line is less than 7.
Atlanta Falcons 31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24
Pick against the spread: Atlanta -6