Falcons vs Buccaneers Preview & Free Pick [11/3/2016]

Atlanta (5-3) at Tampa Bay (3-4)
When: Thursday, November 3rd 2016
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Time: 8:25 ET | TV: NFL Network

The Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open-up Week 9 of the NFL season on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium as the Bucs look for the season sweep. Bucs QB Jameis Winston tossed four touchdown passes in the season-opening 31-24 win at Atlanta and will look to rebound after last week’s 30-24 overtime loss to Oakland. Winston’s favorite target Mike Evans, hauled in a scoring pass against the Falcons in Week 1 and his six touchdown receptions on the season which ties him for the NFL lead. While Tampa Bay’s passing game is ranked 21st in the league, the rushing attack is 12th despite a revolving door of runners due to injury. Jacquizz Rodgers filled in admirably for Doug Martin (hamstring) before sustaining a sprained foot versus the Raiders, perhaps opening the door for a three-man backfield of Antone Smith, Peyton Barber and Mike James. Rodgers has been ruled out for Thursday. The Bucs defense ranks 26th in the league overall (390.0) and 27th in points allowed (27.0). Tampa Bay can move to within a half a game of Atlanta with a win on Thursday.

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Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan continued his stellar season with three touchdown passes in Sunday’s 33-32 victory over Green Bay, capping his 32nd career game-winning drive with an 11-yard scoring strike to Mohamed Sanu. Ryan, who leads the league in both yards (2,636) and touchdowns (19), has thrown for 1,000 yards and five TDs in his last three meetings with Tampa Bay. Julio Jones has an NFC-best 859 yards receiving and is averaging 20.0 yards per catch, but he was hobbled by an ailing knee and finished with just 29 yards receiving against Green Bay on Sunday. While Jones is expected to play on Thursday, running back Tevin Coleman (hamstring) is listed as questionable after sitting out last week’s game versus the Packers. Devonta Freeman more than picked up the slack with a rushing and receiving touchdown last week and has 100-plus scrimmage yards in two of his last three games. The Bucs managed to slow down Freeman in Week 1, holding him to 20 yards on 11 carries.

Winston loves going up against Atlanta, and why wouldn’t he? The Falcons are ranked 27th in the league against the pass and are allowing 28.9 points a game. Both teams have a banged-up backfield which should result in this being a shoot-out between Ryan and Winston. The Bucs are actually one of the best in league and holding opponents on third-down (34.0%), while the Falcons are one of the worst (43.0%). I think Winston is more than capable of his fourth straight win over Atlanta, so taking the 3.5 points is a gimmie.

Pick: Bucs +3.5