Week 9 marks the halfway point of the NFL regular season, and this Thursday night’s matchup is potentially very important in the NFC South Division as Atlanta visits Tampa Bay. Recent history between these two says it will be a close game as the Buccaneers look for their fourth straight win in the series for the first time since early this century. But they are home underdogs on Sports Interaction NFL odds.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Point spread: Falcons -3.5
Date: Thursday, Nov. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
The Falcons (5-3) lead the NFC South by 1.5 games over Tampa Bay and New Orleans as both the Bucs and Saints have had their bye week already and Atlanta doesn’t until Week 11. Matt Ryan and Co. ended a two-game losing streak — by a combined five points, blowing fourth-quarter leads in both — with a 33-32 thrilling win over visiting Green Bay on Sunday. Ryan hit Mohamed Sanu on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left, and then the Atlanta defense held against Aaron Rodgers.
It marked the third time in Ryan’s career that he threw the game-winning touchdown pass in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. He continues to play like an MVP candidate as he was 28-for-35 for 288 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a rating of 129.5. Ryan leads the NFL with 2,636 yards passing and 19 touchdowns and is second to MVP favourite Tom Brady (133.9) in rating.
Atlanta beat Green Bay despite a rather quiet day from receiver Julio Jones, arguably the best in the NFL. He had just three catches for 29 yards after tweaking his knee in the first half. Jones, who will play Thursday, is second in the league with 859 yards. He had a 300-yard game earlier this season against Carolina.
Meanwhile, the Falcons will be missing change-of-pace running back Tevin Coleman and No. 1 tight end Jacob Tamme. Coleman, who has totaled six TDs this season as the backup to Devonta Freeman, missed the Green Bay game with a hamstring injury. Tamme left with a shoulder injury. Rookie Austin Hooper will start in his spot.
The Falcons are 5-3 against the spread this season, 4-0 ATS on the road.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs (3-4) haven’t won the NFC South or made the playoffs since 2007. But they would clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker over Atlanta with a victory here. Tampa Bay had a two-game winning streak come to an end Sunday at home to Oakland, 30-24 in overtime. The Raiders tried all they could to hand that game to the Buccaneers as Oakland committed an NFL-record 23 penalties for 200 yards. But the Tampa defense was torched by David Carr for a franchise-record 513 passing yards and four scores, including the winner with under two minutes in OT.
Former No. 1 overall pick and Heisman winner Jameis Winston threw for 180 yards and two scores for Tampa Bay. He hit Jacquizz Rodgers on the go-ahead score with 3:48 to go in regulation, but the Bucs’ defense couldn’t stop Carr. Ironically, a penalty on the Bucs helped lead to the tying touchdown.
Tampa Bay is really thin at running back. Doug Martin, a Pro Bowler last year, hasn’t played since Week 2 due to a hamstring injury and won’t Thursday. Rodgers, a former Falcon, has been terrific in his place the past three games, but he sprained his foot vs. the Raiders and not expected to play here. So you are looking at a committee of Antone Smith, Peyton Barber and Mike James, who was just re-signed by the team.
On the season, the Bucs are 3-4 against the spread and 0-3 ATS at home.
Falcons vs. Buccaneers Prediction
The last three meetings have been decided by seven points or fewer in Tampa’s favor. In Week 1 at the Georgia Dome, the Bucs won 31-24. Winston threw for 281 yards and touchdowns to four different receivers. Martin had 96 yards from scrimmage. Ryan threw for 334 yards and two scores. Jones caught one of them. That Tampa run game is worrisome, but take the points. All other things equal, these short-week games favour the home team. Go over the total.