The Atlanta Falcons can put a stranglehold on the NFC South with victory Sunday as they take on the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
Atlanta followed up their only loss of the season with an ugly 23-19 win over the Arizona Cardinals, despite a career-high five interceptions from quarterback Matt Ryan.
Ryan went 28-for-46 for 301 yards, and was held without a touchdown pass for the first time this season. The Falcons were down 13-0 after the first quarter, but tied in the second off a 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Jonathan Babineaux.
Ryan appeared to steady the offense in the fourth, by leading a seven play 70-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown by running back Michael Turner, but threw another interception.
Thankfully the Falcons defense held Arizona to just one field in the second half, but also gave up 137 rushing yards, which they cannot afford to do against Tampa Bay and rookie Doug Martin.
Martin the 1,000 for the season last week in the Buccaneers 27-21 overtime win over the Carolina Panthers. Down by 11 late in the fourth quarter, quarterback Josh Freeman led Tampa Bay on two late scoring drives, and forced overtime with a 24-yard touchdown pass to top receiver Vincent Jackson.
Freeman would then find tight end Dallas Clark for a 15-yard score and the win. Bouncing back from a poor 2011, Freeman has throw three touchdowns in four of his last six games, and Tampa Bay have won four in a row.
One concern for the Buccaneers has to be their last ranked pass defense, which allows 312.6 yards per game, and Ryan will take advantage of it Sunday.
Tampa Bay’s secondary may struggle even more with cornerback Eric Wright listed as inactive.
Atlanta is banged up too, but still expect wide receiver Julio Jones and cornerback Asante Samuel to play.
The game begins at 1 p.m. EDT and will be shown by FOX, or watch a live stream online by purchasing NFL Sunday Ticket Max.
Betting Odds: Atlanta is favored by 1.5 points
Over/Under: 51.5 points
Prediction: Atlanta is favored but the Buccaneers are one of the hottest teams in the league. Look for Martin to have a big day, and for Ryan to bounce back from maybe his worst game as a pro. Atlanta will win a wire-to-wire game.
Predicted Score: Atlanta 37, 31