Thursday Night Football Preview
Falcons @ Buccaneers[the_ad id=”63198″]The Thursday night matchup last week was an AFC South divisional matchup and this Thursday we will look to switch conferences as the Atlanta Falcons will head to Tampa to take on the Buccaneers in an NFC South showdown. The Falcons are coming off of an as advertised high-scoring thriller against the Packers while the Buccaneers had an equally thrilling but heartbreaking overtime loss to the Raiders. The Buccaneers are one game back of the Falcons for the division lead and will be home team underdogs with a three and a half point spread as well as an over under of fifty-one and a half.
If you rolled the clocks back to the preseason, you would remember the numerous jokes about Matt Ryan. Remember when he was intercepted by one of the coaches in practice? That same Matt Ryan has been on a roll this season and has the Falcons sitting as the highest scoring team in football. He is one of six quarterbacks with four three hundred yard passing games. One of those three hundred yard passing performances was in a week one victory against the Buccaneers. Some might be amazed to know that just sixty-six yards out of that game went to Julio Jones. The Falcons star wideout will be coming off of his worst performance this season when Jones had just three receptions for 29 yards after suffering a bruised knee. Jones is expected to play this Thursday, and it is noteworthy that when he has had a game of less than a hundred yards this season he has followed it up with games of a hundred yards or more. With Julio hampered by the knee injury last week, it was Mohamed Sanu who lead the way for Falcon pass catchers. Sanu ended up hauling in nine of his ten targets for 84 yards and one touchdown.
The Falcon passing game is ranked first in the league, but they are by no means a one-sided offense. They are currently the eleventh ranked rushing team in the league and have done it with a dynamic dirty south duo. That duo is Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and they have combined for 1,299 all-purpose yards and eleven total touchdowns. One-half of that duo (Coleman) is still nursing a bad hamstring and this Thursday but will be a game-time decision. Some folks might have thought that Freeman would have one of his best games not having to share the backfield work but from a yardage standpoint, they were wrong. Freeman came up with just 58 all-purpose yards but salvaged his solo performance with a rushing and receiving touchdown. Freeman could see an uptick in his yardage output this week as he won’t be going up against the Packers. As far as measuring the Falcons shortcomings as a team, you should look no further than the pass defense.[the_ad id=”66786″]The Falcons have given up 19 touchdowns passes this season which is tied with the Browns and Lions. It also doesn’t help that defense cannot get off the field as their opponents are converting 43.4% of their third down conversions. Players like cornerback Desmond Trufant and linebacker Vic Beasley will need strong showings to allow the Falcons to pull ahead and stay ahead.
The struggling passing game in Atlanta may be just what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking for. They’ll need to lean on the pass as Jacquizz Rodgers‘ playing status is up in the air this week with a sprained foot that he suffered against the Raiders. Over the last three weeks, Rodgers was responsible for 75 carries and almost four hundred yards of total offense. Picking up the pieces in regards to backfield duties will be Antone Smith and Peyton Barber.
The flow of the offense will weigh even heavier on the shoulders of Jameis Winston who has managed six touchdown passes and just one interception over his last three games. Winston is 3-0 all-time against the Falcons with 685 yards passing and six touchdowns. As the season has continued to evolve, Jameis Winston has had new passing options emerge, but none have been counted on as much as Mike Evans. The Tampa pass catcher has been one of the most targeted wide receiver in the game as he has had just one game with less than ten targets. He is currently tied among wide receivers in touchdown catches (6) and is ranked eighth among all pass catchers with 595 yards receiving. This game will not be one that Evans will have to go it alone as last week saw seven other Buccaneers receive targets from Winston.
As mentioned earlier, several additional targets in the passing game have emerged, and that is due in large part to injuries sustained by Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and the release of Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Tight End Cameron Brate is among those emerging players and has already seen more targets this season than he had in all of 2015. He will be going up against a Falcon defense that has allowed five touchdowns and just short of five hundred yards receiving to opposing tight ends. The Falcons will also need to keep their eyes on Adam Humphries and Russell Shepard who have combined for 51 targets this season. While most folks thought Humphries would take the reins after Vincent Jackson’s injury, it has been Shepard who has been making noise. Humphries has yet to see the end zone this season while Shepard has had two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns came just last week in the form of a 19-yard strike from Jameis Winston.[the_ad id=”58835″]If Evans has trouble with Desmond Trufant, we should expect to see these fresh faces continue to assert themselves within this Tampa passing attack. Both of these NFC South quarterbacks have combined for 33 touchdowns and just ten interceptions, so I’m expecting this to be as high scoring as advertised. The Falcons have scored 127 points during their road games this season while the Buccaneers have managed 152 all season long. Julio Jones’ availability will be closely watched, but I think the Falcons have enough weapons to endure any limitations he may have. Ultimately I think the Buccaneers will put up a fight but will remain winless at home while the Falcons start to put some separation between them and the rest of the NFC South.
My Prediction: Falcons 34 Buccaneers 27
Fantasy Thoughts & Tips:
These primetime games have been causing some concern from an excitement standpoint. I believe that this game will go against that growing concern and will be an action-packed Thursday night for fantasy owners. Both of these quarterbacks are more than start worthy as the opposing defenses have allowed combined 4,414 passing yards. Although the Falcons have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs, I’m not all that comfortable start either Antone Smith or Peyton Barber.
I think Tampa will lean on the passing game given all the backfield injuries and that could make Smith or Barber touchdown dependent for you. Bye, week hell is what it is though, and if you’re in a pinch, I would go with Barber over Smith as he managed 84 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown verse the 49ers in week 7. Devonta Freeman will be a much better play this week than he was against the Packers. The Buccaneers have allowed the 12th most points to running backs while the Packers have given up the second fewest. Looks for Freeman to excel on the ground and in the air as the Bucs have allowed 1,068 all-purpose yards to running backs.[the_ad id=”58837″]Both Mike Evans and Julio Jones are without a doubt matchup proof and this game is no different. Jones dealing with injuries could be a passing game decoy so watch for how he is practicing, but your hands are tied if he plays, you’re starting him. Considering the potential bye week issues, I like the complimentary wideouts on both teams in this game. Mohamed Sanu was the most targeted Falcons pass catcher last week (10) and could be a nice option if Julio Jones is still playing in pain.
I like Russell Shepard over Adam Humphries on the Tampa side of things but would be looking to start Sanu over both of them as Evans is more healthy than Jones. Cameron Brate is a nice start in this contest as the Falcons have given up the 6th most points to opposing tight ends. With the backfield injuries being what they are I would not be shocked to see Brate get some extra red zone attention from Winston. If you’re avoiding anything in this games matchup it is both defenses as well as the Falcons tight end situation. Other than that I think fantasy owners can prepare for a fantasy feast this week.
Enjoy the game folks!
Mike is a hardcore fantasy football fan. He has been doing serious writing for a couple of years now and loves finding the next big sleeper that no one is talking about. He also isn’t afraid to go against the grain and predict the next big bust. The fantasy community is as strong as ever and Mike is ready to help you win a title!