Week 3 of this year’s NFL schedule features an intriguing match-up of two NFC teams who are both hoping to build on big wins last week. The Atlanta Falcons, picked by many experts to make the playoffs and possibly challenge for a Superbowl birth this season, are coming off a huge victory last week over the “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles 35-31, despite being outplayed for most of that game. The win evened the Falcon’s record on the year at 1-1, after they lost their season opener to the Bears 30-12 in Chicago. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the same 1-1 record in their first two games this year, losing their home opener 27-20 to the upstart Detroit Lions, and coming back from a double-digit second-half deficit to defeat the Minnesota Vikings 24-20 at the Metrodome in week 2.
This game is a very even contest on paper, with these two teams not only having the same records, but also being very close statistically in most categories, and the betting line supports just how even this game should be. One factor which may have a huge impact on the outcome of this game is the health of Falcon’s pivot Matt Ryan, in particular his knee, which he injured in last week’s game against the Eagles, although he did manage to finish the game. Ryan was limited in practice on Wednesday, but head coach Mike Smith expected Ryan to be more involved in Thursday’s practice and did expect him to be able to start Sunday’s game against TB.
Atlanta vs. Tampa Bay Spread, Line and Betting Odds
Atlanta Falcons (+2.5, -110)
@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.5, -110)
Over 45.5 (-110)
Under 45.5 (-110)
Atlanta Falcons (+110)
Tampa Bay (-130)
Betting odds taken from BetOnline.com <– Get $900 FREE on 1st deposit – top NFL betting site!!
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Falcons vs Bucs Pick:
At this point in time, we will have to assume that Matt Ryan will in fact start (and finish) this game. The Buccaneers bring the league’s 28th ranked defense into this game (19 against the pass; 31 against the run) which should take some of the pressure off of Ryan, and therefore some of the chances of him taking a game-ending hit. The Falcon’s this year have been relying more on the run than expected, especially since they paid such a hefty price during this year’s draft to move up 21 spots to be able to select WR Julio Jones. With Jones now in this line-up to complement Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White and future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta is now able run an offense similar to what the Indianapolis Colts ran with Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dwight Clarke, and we all know how that turned out. Matt Ryan is not quite a Peyton Manning, but the Falcon’s also have a much better and dedicated running game than those Colts teams had, so anything is possible. Coming off their match-up against the Eagles and in particular their one-two punch at cornerback, Ryan should have many more looks and open receivers to choose from, and will look to involve both Jones and White more in this game. Both receivers are off to relatively slow starts, with White having 11 catches for 84 yards, while Jones has 7 catches for 100 yards so far this year. In particular, Julio Jones should start seeing more balls thrown his way as he gets more and more used to the Falcon’s offense, and should have a better grasp of their playbook now that he has a couple of regular season games under his belt. Tony Gonzalez is having another Pro Bowl season so far, making 12 grabs for 155 yards and 2 TD’s. The Falcon’s have the NFL’s 17th ranked overall offense so far this year, sitting at 21 in passing, but being ranked an impressive 9th in rushing, thanks mainly to running back Michael Turner who is off to one of his best starts so far, running for 214 yards in the first two games. Two areas of concern for the Falcon’s so far this year has to be their discipline and their offensive line. Atlanta has been penalized 16 times so far this year for 122 yards, and are on pace for 124 penalties, while only being flagged a league fewest 58 times in all of last season. They have also been sacked 9 times in the first two games, but given their first two opponent’s aggressive defensive styles, this could improve, especially against the Bucs who have only 2 sacks of their own so far this year.
Tampa Bay comes into this match with some momentum, riding high after their double-digit comeback win last week against the Vikings. Their offense is led by second year starter Josh Freeman, who while still being a very accurate passer, may be coming down a little bit from last year and experiencing a little bit of the sophomore jinx so far this year. The Buccaneers have the NFL’s 20th ranked offense and are a disappointing 25th on the ground. Even though statistically they have the 14th ranked passing game, they have only thrown for 502 yards and 2 TD’s with 2 interceptions this year. The Bucs leading receiver so far this year is Preston Parker, who has 10 catches for 142 yards and no TD’s in his first two games. They may be able to get him on track however in this one, as the Falcon’s have given up 15 plays of 20 or more yards, including 9 in last week’s game alone. Look for them to try and stretch the field a little and burn the Falcon secondary. Since the departure of Cadillac Williams, their ground game is being led by second year running back LeGarrette Blount, who has just 86 yards on 18 carries (4.8 yards/attempt) in his first two games, after rushing for over 1000 yards in his rookie season last year (1007 yards, 5.0 yards/attempt). Look for TB to also try to involve veteran running back Earnest Graham, possibly as a receiver out of the backfield, as a change of pace from the power running game of Blount. Tampa Bay could get a boost this week with the expected return of starting cornerback Myron Lewis, who suffered an ankle injury during the preseason and is listed as probable for this Sunday’s game.
The Falcons are 6-2 against the spread (ATS) in their last 8 meetings with an NFC South opponent, and are 8-3 ATS overall in their last 11. The Buccaneers are 5-17 ATS in their last 17 home games, and are 8-3-1 in their last 12 overall. Both teams are 1-1 ATS the spread so far, and the total has been over in both team’s first two games. Atlanta is 2-6 ATS against Tampa in their last 8.
Even though these two teams both have 1-1 records and have very similar statistical numbers, I think the Falcon’s prevail in this one and cover the spread. Although Atlanta’s defense gave up too many yards again last week against the Eagles, they did manage to come up with the big plays when they had to and put pressure on Michael Vick all night long, eventually knocking him out of the game. This game will not have the same intensity for the Falcon’s as Michael Vick’s return did last week, but Mike Smith is a great motivator and should leverage their win in week two into another win in this week’s game.