I'm just going to pretend that last Thursday's game between the Jaguars and Titans didn't happen, even though I was right on my spread pick , because that was pretty darn unwatchable -- and not just because of the garish uniforms. I actually think NFL ratings will pick up soon because the MLB playoffs will be over by Wednesday night at the latest and the presidential election will come to a merciful conclusion next Tuesday.
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This Thursday's game is actually fairly interesting as Atlanta (5-3) visits Tampa Bay (3-4) in a potentially important NFC South matchup. That division is totally up for grabs, especially if Bucs win here, and I wouldn't even rule out Carolina (2-5) winning it for a fourth straight year. The Panthers were heavy preseason favorites to do so, but now Atlanta is the -275 leader at Bovada. The Falcons already own wins over Carolina and New Orleans (3-4) but lost in Week 1 to Tampa Bay 31-24, so a Bucs victory here obviously would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker.
In that opening game, Tampa's Jameis Winston threw for 281 yards and four touchdowns, all to different receivers. Kwon Alexander was a beast defensively with 17 tackles (15 solo), two tackles for loss and a sack. Atlanta actually had a slight statistical edge. Matt Ryan threw for 334 yards with two touchdowns and his team didn't turn the ball over. Tampa Bay has won three straight in the series --- first time this decade -- after two close victories last year.
Falcons at Bucs Betting Story Lines
Atlanta played in one of the highest-scoring games of Week 8 and beat visiting Green Bay 33-32 on a Ryan to Mohamed Sanu 11-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left. It was Ryan's third career game-winning touchdown pass in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. If not for Tom Brady, Ryan would be your likely MVP favorite right now as he leads the NFL in passing yards (2,636) and TDs (19) and is second in rating (115.8) and third in completions (69.2 percent).
Ryan didn't have running back Tevin Coleman against the Packers due to a hamstring injury, and he won't play here. Coleman has six TDs on the season and is a terrific change-of-pace to starter Devonta Freeman and good pass-catcher. Top Falcons tight end Jacob Tamme left early against Green Bay with a shoulder injury and won't play here. Rookie Austin Hooper will get the start. The Falcons still lead the league in total (425.3 ypg) and scoring (32.8 ppg) offense.
I honestly didn't have much faith that mediocre Falcons defense would prevent Aaron Rodgers from driving the Packers into field-goal range after Ryan's TD pass, but Green Bay went four-and-out. And I still think that defense is why Atlanta won't win the NFC. It allows 379.3 yards and 28.9 points per game.
Tampa Bay lost at home to Oakland 30-24 in overtime in Week 8 as the Bucs allowed David Carr to have one of the best days of any quarterback in league annals. How do you lose a game where the opponent is penalized a record 23 times for 200 yards? I'll tell you how: by committing a defensive holding penalty when Oakland had been stopped on fourth down inside the Tampa Bay 10 with less than two minutes left in regulation. That led to the Raiders tying the game.
Winston as 16-for-32 for 180 yards and two TDs. Jacquizz Rodgers continued his career resurgence with 19 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown. He has been amazing the past three games with Doug Martin still out, but Rodgers sprained his foot and is likely out Thursday. Martin still is too with his hammy, so you are looking at a no-name committee back there. So Winston likely will need to have a huge game to pull the minor upset.
The Bucs' defense, coordinated by former Falcons head coach Mike Smith, hasn't been much better than Atlanta's in allowing 27 points per game. Against the Raiders, the Bucs' defense was on the field for a total of 44 minutes and 85 plays. So that unit might be totally gassed still on Thursday. The 356 total yards differential between the Bucs (270 yards offense) and Raiders (626 total offense) Sunday was the most in the NFL this season.
Falcons at Bucs Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Atlanta is a 3-point favorite (-130) with a total of 51. On the moneyline, the Falcons are -185 and the Bucs +160. On the alternate lines, Atlanta is -3.5 (-105) and -4 (+103). The Falcons are 5-3 against the spread (4-0 on road) and 7-1 "over/under" (3-1 on road). Tampa Bay is 3-4 ATS (0-3 at home) and 4-3 O/U (2-1 at home).
Atlanta is 5-1 ATS in its past six Thursday games. It is 3-8 ATS in its past 11 vs. teams with a losing record. The Falcons are 2-10 ATS in their past 12 following an ATS loss. Tampa is 7-3 ATS in its past 10 vs. the NFC South. The Bucs are 1-5 ATS in their past six on Thursday. The over is 5-0 in the Falcons' past five vs. the NFC. The over is 5-2 in Tampa's past seven after a loss. The favorite is 8-3-1 ATS in the past 12 meetings.
Falcons at Bucs Betting Prediction
This is one of the tougher Thursday games to handicap in my opinion. But that's largely because most of the other one were mismatches. All things equal, I tend to lean the home team in these quick-turnaround games. But Tampa is also winless at home and just played a marathon game in the heat. Give the 3 points and go over the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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