Monday Night Football Predictions: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Odds & Picks
We won't know which team will be featured on the 2018 version of HBO's "Hard Knocks" until the spring, but I'm not going to predict whichever club it is to make the playoffs. I have learned my lesson!
Of course, I am speaking somewhat tongue-in-cheek of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I really did think they were a team on the rise after winning nine games in 2016 and Jameis Winston taking a leap forward in his second season. The Bucs then appeared to have a terrific offseason in adding a few weapons for Winston in signing top free-agent receiver DeSean Jackson to pair with Mike Evans as well as landing the top-rated tight end in the 2017 draft in Alabama's O.J. Howard. The defense was largely untouched but was coming off a fine year under coordinator Mike Smith. Watching Winston's leadership on "Hard Knocks" simply sold me 100 percent that the Bucs were going to be a playoff team this year.
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Instead, Tampa Bay (4-9) is only assured of a last-place schedule in 2018 and a Top-10 draft pick if it loses out - right now, the Bucs would pick seventh. That could become Top 5 if the Bucs lose out, which is very possible considering they go to Carolina next week and then host New Orleans in Week 17 (both likely losses). I don't expect Coach Dirk Koetter to return next year amid reports his relationship with Winston has become strained. If your franchise QB and head coach don't get along, you don't get rid of the franchise QB - and I still think Winston is one. You will continue to hear Jon Gruden's name as a potential replacement. He still lives in Tampa, and bygones are bygones between Gruden and ownership in the wake of his firing following the 2008 season.
As for Atlanta (8-5), it sits third in the NFC South behind the Saints and Panthers (both 9-4) and currently holds the final wild-card spot over Seattle (also 8-5) thanks to a head-to-head victory. If the Falcons win this week, next in New Orleans and Week 17 at home vs. Carolina, they will repeat as South champions. I'm not sure I see them winning in the Big Easy on a short week, though. The Falcons would also own head-to-head wild-card tiebreakers over Green Bay, Detroit and Dallas so even 10-6 likely would be enough for a playoff spot.
Falcons at Bucs Betting Story Lines
Last week's 24-21 home loss to Detroit pretty much summed up Tampa's season. Winston showed signs of brilliance in completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and two fourth-quarter scores to lead his team back from 21-7 down. But Winston also turned it over three times and the defense couldn't make a stand when necessary as the Lions drove into position for a Matt Prater winning field goal with 20 seconds left.
You aren't supposed to lose a game where you have 400 yards of offense and force three giveaways. Alas, the Bucs gave up 434 yards and turned it over five times. Matthew Stafford was barely touched all day, and getting to the QB has been a year-long problem as the Bucs are last in the NFL with 17 sacks - expect a pass-rushing end or linebacker to be the team's top draft pick. The Bucs' best defender and leading sacker, Gerald McCoy, suffered a biceps injury early vs. Detroit and might be done for the season. He says he wants to play and the team hasn't ruled him out yet, but why would you put your anchor out there for three meaningless games you are better off losing?
Atlanta is on a few days extra rest after a clutch 20-17 win over the visiting Saints last Thursday. Falcons linebacker Deion Jones picked off a Drew Brees pass in the Atlanta end zone with just over a minute left to essentially clinch it. Jones was deservedly named NFC Defensive Player of the Week as he added 13 tackles with the Falcons holding the Saints to a season low in yards.
The bad news is that the Atlanta offense is in a bit of a rut again, which means the pressure is back on first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. In a Week 13 14-9 home loss to the Vikings, Matt Ryan threw for just 173 yards with a rating of 72.9. Against New Orleans, he was held to 221 yards, picked off three times and had a season-low rating of 55.2. I don't really have a reason for why this unit has struggled so much at times after a record-breaking 2016 - other than to say it was probably never THAT good. Perhaps former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was that important.
Falcons at Bucs Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Atlanta is a 7-point favorite (+120) with a total of 48. On the moneyline, the Falcons are -255 and Bucs +215. On the alternate lines, Atlanta is -6.5 (-102) and -6 (-110). The Dirty Birds are 6-7 against the spread (2-4 on road) and 5-8 "over/under" (3-3 on road). The Bucs are 3-9-1 ATS (2-4 at home) and 1-5 "O/U" (1-5 at home).
The Falcons have covered their past five on Monday. They are 6-2 ATS in their past eight inside the division. The Bucs are 1-10 ATS in their past 11 vs. the NFC and 0-5 ATS in their past five inside the division. The over is 10-0-1 in Atlanta's previous 11 vs. teams with a losing record. The under is 4-0 in the Bucs' past four at home. The favorite is 7-2 in the past nine meetings.
Falcons at Bucs Betting Prediction
In Week 12, the Falcons were -10.5 and beat Tampa 34-20. Once a year, Julio Jones has a game where you just marvel at the guy and that was it for 2017: 12 catches, 253 yards and two scores - he now has three 250-yard games in his career. Ryan threw for 317 and a score, with WR Mohamed Sanu throwing the other TD on a trick play. Tevin Coleman had two TD runs but he's questionable here in the concussion protocol; Coleman's 14-yard run with 1:53 left was the clincher and the cover. Winston was out injured and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 283 and no picks. Peyton Barber had two short TD runs.
This one is all about motivation. Give the 6.5 points and go over the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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