It isn't very often that teams with a 6-6 and 5-7 record are playing in a pivotal matchup for supremacy within a division, but that will be the case on Sunday when the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers square off. These two teams already battled back in Week 7, Atlanta winning 16-13 on the back of a game-winning field goal from Younghoe Koo.
That kick is looming very large right about now. Any win within the division is huge and the Falcons went into the Bucs' house to take that win. Atlanta is undefeated against NFC South foes at 3-0, while the Bucs are 2-1 with their lone blemish coming at the hands of the Falcons. Arthur Smith's team is on a two-game winning streak with wins over the New Orleans Saints and New York Jets, while Tampa Bay snapped a two-game losing streak with a win over the lowly Carolina Panthers last week.
This game could be for the NFC South crown. A Falcons win would put them in pole position to win the division, especially if the Saints drop their matchup against the Panthers this week. If the Bucs win, they'd join the Falcons in a tie atop the division. This is a big game. Because of that, some Bucs bold predictions are in order.
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Baker Mayfield throws for at least 300 yards
Baker Mayfield has enjoyed a solid bounce-back season with the Bucs even though his stats won't jump off the screen. In 12 games, Mayfield has put up 2,790 yards and 18 touchdowns compared to just eight interceptions while completing 63.6% of his passes and averaging 6.8 yards per attempt. He's basically middle of the pack in just about all of those categories. Mayfield has simply played solid, competent ball all year long.
This is a matchup in which Mayfield could play a step above solid and competent. The way to beat the Falcons is through the air. They rank second in EPA per rush allowed this season with only the New England Patriots being more stout against the run. But against the pass? That's where the Falcons are susceptible. They rank 19th in the NFL in EPA per dropback allowed. That's not bad, but a week ago they ranked 23rd in that same metric. Every defense will look better when they get the chance to face Tim Boyle and the New York Jets.
Before the Falcons played the Jets, they relinquished 304 passing yards to New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr. Josh Dobbs came off the bench to lead the Minnesota Vikings to a comeback win despite not even being there for a week. Tennessee Titans rookie Will Levis threw for four touchdowns in his first ever start against the Falcons; he's thrown three touchdowns in five starts since.
Atlanta's secondary is very beatable. Mayfield has Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to his disposal. He should be able to get to 300 yards on Thursday.
Both teams score at least 30 points
Talk about bold. The Bucs have scored at least 30 points in a game just once this season. The Falcons? Zero times. But if there were a matchup both teams could get it done, it would be this one. The Falcons' secondary, as described above, is exploitable. But who else's secondary has been a weakness this season? Tampa Bay's.
Tampa Bay ranks 26th in the NFL in EPA per dropback allowed over the course of the regular season. Since their Week 5 bye, the Bucs rank 31st in that stat behind only the Washington Commanders, who have given up 90 points in the last two weeks and 150 points in their last four.
Vegas has the over/under for this game set at 40.5 points. That seems too low. Both teams should be able to move the ball through the air. As a result, points should follow suit, coming in droves for the Bucs and Falcons at Raymond James Stadium.