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Falcons vs. Buccaneers: Three things to watch

Atlanta look to keep momentum heading into the post-season with a final punctuation mark against a division rival.


The Atlanta Falcons have been in the NFC South driver's seat all season -- and even in a throw-away game to close out the year, they get to decide who finishes second in the division. These are the three things to watch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With a win against Tampa on Sunday either the New Orleans Saints, or Carolina Panthers will finish second in the division; a loss, and the Buccaneers get the silver medal. It's an appropriate way to close out the season, where the Falcons have asserted their will on the division for much of the season, and now get to choose everyone else's fate.

1. Put the pedal down

In year's past the Atlanta Falcons have lost momentum heading into the playoffs. This year things are different, and it's time for Dirk Koetter to step on the Buccaneers to build more confidence. The Buccaneers have the NFL's worst ranked pass defense, and their inability to stop quarterbacks is the reason why they're in a five-game losing streak. Matt Ryan should have a huge day against a team allowing a QB rating of 94.1, and as he cruises past 4,500 yards it's about extending his franchise single-season passing record.

2. Sit in three-wide

There is no risk or need of a pass rush from Tampa due to injury. The Buccaneers have only 25 sacks on the season, and while it's because of numerous pass rushers being hurt, the result is the same -- Atlanta shouldn't be afraid to leave Matt Ryan on an island.

Against the New York Giants, Harry Douglas was able to break out for 83 yards. This is the same situation the Falcons find themselves in on Sunday, where they can use their full complement of receivers to push the tempo.

3. Fully commit to stopping Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams

As much as the Bucs have struggled to stop passers, so too have they had amazing success throwing the ball themselves. This is purely because of their top two receivers -- Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Combining for 2,268 yards and 16 touchdowns, they are Tampa Bay's passing attack, and the primary fear for Atlanta.

The Falcons can win a shootout, but they should still be wary of Tampa's receivers.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.