Hopefully following a week two win against the much-hyped Eagles, one which would likely catapult the Falcons to the top of the list of teams to beat in 2011, the Birds then march into Tampa Bay to take on the division-rival Buccaneers. Even though the Falcons won both matchups with the Bucs in 2010, neither was what you could call an easy game. They were hard fought games that usually involved alot of grind-it-out football and one play in the fourth quarter that would decide the game. I expect the same type of hard-nosed game this year, as well.
Record: 10-6, missed playoffs
Last Meeting: Week 13, 2010 (Falcons won 28-24)
Notable Additions: P Michael Koenen, DE Adrian Clayborn(draft pick), DE Da'Quan Bowers(draft pick), LB Mason Foster (draft pick)
Notable Losses: LB Barrett Ruud, RB Cadillac Williams, DE Stylez G White, WR Maurice Stovall
For the Bucs, free agency this season was more about building through the draft and keeping the players they deemed important. They brought back O-line starters Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood on multi-year contracts along with signing former Falcon Michael Koenen to a prudent six-year, $19M deal.
The real point to make about the Bucs, however, was that they were really intent on improving a front seven that was less than stellar last season. In fact, with Michael Turner picking up almost 200 yards over the two contests, I'd say their front seven was the deciding factor in both wins. They simply couldn't match up with our aggressive O-line.
Well, with their top three draft picks devoted to defense, expect the Bucs to be an improved team in 2011. Whether that translates to a better record or not, I cannot say, but Raheem Morris certainly has the tools in place to make the playoffs this season. It's all a matter of whether they can beat our Falcons or the Saints.
With Turner possibly seeing reduced carries this season in order to benefit his long-term health, I'd say the key to this game is Matt Ryan. He's pretty much always struggled against Tampa Bay's secondary. For some reason, Aqib Talib practically owns Matty Ice every time the two match up. However, with Ryan maturing as a passer I think this week three matchup will tell us if he's finally overcome his kryptonite in Talib. Julio Jones and Harry Douglas will likely play a big role in this one as well.
Atlanta's first three games of the season are all pretty tough matchups, but if the Falcons can emerge from them unscathed I think we'll have a pretty good idea what this squad is capable of in 2011.