Week 15 Preview: Bucs Look to Ground the Falcons

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in need of a quick pick-me-up following a costly divisional loss, but the odds of a rebound won’t be in the team’s favor when the playoff hopefuls visit the Georgia Dome this Sunday for a key late-season matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.
 
Home teams have reigned supreme within the NFC South this season, with the four division members combining for a stellar 24-2 record as the host heading into the final three weeks of play.
 
Both the Buccaneers and the Falcons were victims of that trend a week ago. Tampa Bay was dealt a 38-23 road loss by Carolina last Monday in a showdown for first place in the NFC South, while Atlanta came up just short in a 29-25 setback at fellow division member New Orleans this past Sunday.

Tampa Bay’s four-game win streak came to an end because of an inability to stop the Panthers’ potent running game. Carolina gashed the Bucs’ usually reliable defense for a startling 299 yards on the ground, with running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart each eclipsing the century mark, and
broke open a close contest with three fourth-quarter touchdown drives.
 
The Buccaneers now have a short week to prepare for an Atlanta squad that sports the NFL’s second-ranked rushing offense and is 5-1 at the Georgia Dome so far this year, with four of those victories coming by double digits.
 
The Falcons had problems defending the run as well in their most recent game, allowing 184 rushing yards to a New Orleans club that isn’t renowned for moving the football in that fashion. Those defensive troubles, coupled with a late breakdown on special teams, led to a hard-fought defeat that has dashed
Atlanta’s hopes of becoming the latest team in the topsy-turvy NFC South to win the division following a last-place finish the year before.
 
Atlanta, which trails front-running Carolina by two games with three to go, still remains squarely in the hunt for a Wild Card berth in the NFC. The up-and-coming Falcons are tied with Dallas for the conference’s sixth and final seed at 8-5, with resurgent Philadelphia lurking a half-game back of those
two.
 
The defending NFC South champion Buccaneers are in a better position for a repeat, despite falling out of a first-place tie with the Panthers after Monday’s loss. Tampa Bay (9-4) has a softer remaining schedule than Carolina, which hosts AFC West leader Denver on Sunday before closing things out with
road tests against the New York Giants and New Orleans.

Tampa Bay, which has yet to lose at home this season, will host AFC West also-rans San Diego and Oakland after Sunday’s clash with the Falcons.


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