Thursday Night Football: Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons Preview

Matt Ryan enjoyed a career-best performance in week one for Atlanta

The NFL season enters its third week with an NFC South battle between Tampa Bay and Atlanta, who’ll square off in the Georgia Dome coming off a short week. While the Falcons are 1-1 following victory over the Saints on the opening weekend of the season, Tampa Bay find themselves 0-2 and defeat here would almost certainly signal an end of their play-off hopes. To find out which match-ups will be key in tonight’s pivotal battle just keep reading.

When Tampa Bay has the ball…
Big things were expected of Josh McCown this season after Tampa Bay signed him to start at QB following an impressive year as Jay Cutler’s deputy in Chicago. However McCown has so far disappointed, throwing two touchdowns to three interceptions and failing to connect with his wide receivers with any regularity. Running back Doug Martin is questionable heading into TNF, and if he is unable to go the rushing load will fall on the shoulders of Bobby Rainey, who has averaged 6 yards per carry thus far in 2014 and looks more than capable at the tailback position. The Falcons defense doesn’t look in great shape itself, with holes in the secondary and a pass rush that has failed to record a sack through two games. Neither unit has been good this season; fortunately something has to give in this contest. Edge: Tampa Bay

When Atlanta has the ball… 
Matt Ryan enjoyed a career performance in week one against New Orleans, but he came back to earth last week against the stout Cincinnati D. Julio Jones and Roddy White give Ryan two excellent options outside, although it remains to be seen if Tony Gonzalez can be adequately replaced at tight end and if Steven Jackson can rediscover his mojo running the football. The Buccaneers defense has struggled more than expected so far through two games, although they should improve over the remainder of the season with the likes key performers of Dashon Goldson and Lavonte David on board. The Falcons may prove too tough an assignment for now, however, as one of the premier offensive units in football. Edge: Atlanta

Special Teams
Tampa Bay has struggled in the early going on special teams, with punter Michael Koenen having a punt blocked and kicker Patrick Murray missing his only try from under 30 yards. Atlanta on the other hand can rely on former Buccaneer Matt Bryant when it comes to putting points on the board, and former Bear Devin Hester was brought in during the off-season to add explosiveness to the return game.
Edge: Atlanta

Injury Report
Falcons receiver Roddy White is questionable with a hamstring issue, while Tampa Bay could be without defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (broken hand), running back Doug Martin (knee) and defensive end Michael Johnson (ankle), all of whom are also questionable.

Prediction
Buccaneers 17, Falcons 30

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