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Week 8 Preview: Buccaneers at Falcons

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) at Atlanta Falcons (6-1)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Georgia Dome, Atlanta – TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Justin Kutcher, Charles Davis, Tony Siragusa

*Keys to the game: The Bucs blew a 24-point lead at Washington last week and now enter the Georgia Dome, where they suffered a 56-14 beat down last season. Still, there is some reason for optimism, as long as Tampa Bay can mentally shake off last week’s meltdown.

RB Doug Martin is third in the NFL with 541 rushing yards and received high praise from Falcons head coach Dan Quinn this week. It’s no coincidence that rookie QB Jameis Winston is also starting to play more efficiently as he get used to the speed of the NFL and with Martin drawing eight- and nine-man fronts with regularity. The Falcons boast the league’s No. 2 run defense, but the secondary is vulnerable – so Quinn will likely take his chances with the front seven containing Martin and making sure his secondary doesn’t get burned.

No one in the NFL is hotter than Falcons RB Devonta Freeman, who leads the league with 621 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. However, the offense has hit a funk with spotty pass protection and uncharacteristic inconsistency from QB Matt Ryan. The tonic just may be the Bucs’ porous defense, which is ranked last in allowing 29.8 points per game. Don’t be fooled by Tampa Bay’s No. 5 ranking in pass defense – that’s because the Bucs trail so often. Opposing quarterbacks have a 111.2 passer rating, second-highest in the NFL.

*Matchup to watch – Buccaneers wide receivers vs. Falcons CB Jalen Collins: The second-round pick played 37 snaps (67 percent) last week with Phillip Adams benched. When Collins enters the game opposite Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford slides inside. Alford is expected to see plenty of time against Bucs rookie WR Donteea Dye (Div. III Heidelburg University), who is slated to step in as the third receiver with Louis Murphy lost for the season.

*Player spotlight – Bucs WR Russell Shephard: Shephard has been dealing with a hamstring injury, but returned to practice this week and is likely to start opposite Mike Evans with Vincent Jackson dealing with a sore knee.

*Fast facts: Martin has three consecutive 100-yard rushing games for the first time in his career. … Freeman is the first Falcons running back with three consecutive 100-yard rushing games since Michael turner in 2009.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Tampa Bay is making strides on offense, but the defense is still woeful and can’t hold the leads the Bucs do manage to build. At home, this is the week Falcons QB Matt Ryan gets his groove back.

*Our pick: Falcons 33-23.


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