The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8) have won the NFC South and are locked into the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Atlanta Falcons (6-10) are already eliminated, making this a low-stakes game. Does anyone really believe Tom Brady is going to end his streak of winning records by finishing 8-9 after losing to an Atlanta team he is 11-0 against in his career? This is not even one of the good Atlanta teams.
Will the Buccaneers rest starters? Probably not. Head coach Todd Bowles was speaking the truth about not being overly worried about injuries in the 17th game if you’re not going to worry about them in every practice, in all three preseason games, and in the previous 16 games. That sounds like a coach preparing to win, and this is a team that needs to start playing well with the playoffs next week and a tough opponent (NFC East winner) on the way.
The Falcons are a 4-point home favorite at many of the top-rated sportsbooks, but here is why Tampa Bay is the best upset NFL pick this week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, January 8, 2023 – 01:00 PM EST at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Week 5 Recap: Buccaneers 21 - Falcons 15
When these teams met in Week 5, the Buccaneers took a 21-0 lead into the fourth quarter, already making it one of the team’s best performances of the season given how often Tampa Bay has trailed in the fourth. Despite never trailing in this game, Brady still threw 52 passes and gained 351 yards, his fourth 350-yard game against Atlanta as a member of the Buccaneers.
Controversy surrounded a pass play that did not count. The Buccaneers did a poor job of closing the game out after taking the 21-0 lead, and the Falcons were able to get it to 21-15 with 4:38 left. On a crucial third-and-5 with just over 3:00 left, Brady was sacked by Grady Jarrett on a routine play. It should have forced a punt and given the Falcons plenty of time to drive for the go-ahead touchdown.
Instead, a flag was thrown for a ridiculous roughing of the passer penalty and the drive was allowed to continue with a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down for the Buccaneers. Three plays later, Brady iced the game with a conversion to Mike Evans. It was an awful call that drew plenty of criticism, and it’s the kind of call you would not expect to see if the roles were reversed, and Marcus Mariota was the one taking the sack.
It was a game without any turnovers, so that call was huge. The Falcons were outgained 420-261 and they are only 2-6 this season when they do not rush for at least 160 yards. The Buccaneers just did a great job holding down the Carolina running game to 74 yards.
Tampa Bay’s Offense Figuring It Out?
The Buccaneers will have tougher tests in the playoffs, but this is an interesting point of the season as the offense wonders if it has figured something out, or if it was just opponent related.
Mike Evans had three touchdowns on go routes against the Panthers as he finished with 207 yards in the best game he’s ever had with Brady at quarterback. It was the first time all season the Buccaneers scored more than 21 points in a win, and it was Brady’s best game of the season by far.
But in Week 7 in Carolina, Evans also was wide open on a go route on the first drive of the game and he dropped the ball. Was Carolina just that poorly prepared for Evans and this passing game this year? It did not help that the Panthers were missing corner Jaycee Horn (wrist surgery) and had to bring Josh Norman out of retirement to play corner on Sunday.
We’ll have to see if Brady to Evans is back on track, or if this was just a Carolina-related thing. With Atlanta, we already noted that Brady has torched this defense repeatedly with 350-yard games almost at will. That’s still the best way to beat this defense, though the Falcons have played very few good quarterbacks this year.
The Falcons Haven’t Faced Many Good Quarterbacks
Brady, even in one of his weakest seasons, will be the best quarterback the Falcons have faced since Justin Herbert for the Chargers in Week 9. Herbert dinked and dunked his way to 30 completions and a game-winning drive in a 20-17 win, the type of Tampa Bay outcome we have seen often this year.
Not many passing games have attacked the Falcons this year. Joe Burrow and the Bengals did in Week 7, and Burrow is the only other quarterback besides Brady to throw for over 350 yards on the Falcons this year.
Tampa Bay still ranks 32nd in rushing yards and yards per carry. The running game should not magically appear this week. They are going to throw the ball, and Brady is going to put up numbers because the Falcons have the worst sack rate (3.8%) and pressure rate (14.6%) of any defense this season according to Pro Football Reference.
When Brady was in New England, he almost never left season finale games early for playoff rest, and he certainly never blew a game off entirely in the final week of the season. Todd Bowles is not Bill Belichick, but he seems to understand this team is not good enough to take the week off. They need to play, and they need to win to take a winning streak into the playoffs against better teams.
Atlanta’s Struggling Offense
The Buccaneers are not the only offense that’s been disappointing this season. The Falcons benched Marcus Mariota, but things are not any better with rookie Desmond Ridder after three starts. In fact, you could say Ridder is off to the most boring start of any quarterback since the 1970 merger.
Ridder joins Paul Justin and Tom Savage as the only quarterbacks since 1970 to throw zero touchdowns and zero interceptions in their first three NFL starts. However, Ridder is the only one of those quarterbacks to start and finish each of the three games. The other two were injured or benched in at least one of the games.
The Falcons' QB is not forcing passes to get picked, which is a good thing, but he’s also not being that aggressive and putting up many points, which are bad things. It also explains why his yards per attempt is just 5.7, a far cry from the yards per attempt in the first three NFL starts for Mariota (8.68) and Matt Ryan (7.98).
But it’s not like Ridder was that highly thought of as a prospect. The Falcons like to run the ball with rookie Tyler Allgeier, who needs exactly 100 rushing yards to hit 1,000 for the season. The Falcons will likely try to get him there, but it won’t be easy. He has done it once all season and the Buccaneers held him to 45 yards on 13 carries in Week 7.
Buccaneers vs. Falcons: Pick and Prediction
If the Falcons have never found a winning formula against Brady all these years, it is hard to think they’ll have one now with a rookie quarterback on a team that doesn’t score much and cannot rush the passer.
Tampa is 6-2 against teams who currently have a losing record this year. Tampa is also 7-1 when allowing fewer than 20 points this season. The Falcons have not topped 20 points in seven of the last eight games, only scoring 27 against a Chicago team that ranks dead last in points allowed.
The NFL odds may not favor Tampa Bay, but rest or not, trust the Buccaneers to win the game and get to 9-8. And don't forget that Sunshine State locals can bet and cash this pick at one of the top Florida betting sites.
NFL Pick: Buccaneers ML (+170) at Bovada
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