Tampa Bay (0-0) at Atlanta (0-0)
When: Sunday, September 11th 2016
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Time: 1:00 ET | TV: FOX
The Atlanta Falcons host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in what will be the last home opener at the Georgia Dome. Dirk Koetter makes his debut as Tampa Bay’s coach after serving as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator from 2012-14 under Mike Smith, who is now the Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator. Koetter was the OC with Tampa last year and really help develop rookie Jameis Winston at quarterback. Winston became the third rookie in NFL history to pass for more than 4,000 yards last season and found a favorite target in Mike Evans (74 catches, 1,206 yards in 2015). The Buccaneers ground game ranked fifth in the league last year led by Doug Martin (1,402 yards, six TDs). The Bucs ranked 10th in total defense last year but 26th in scoring defense, in large part because they allowed opponents to come away with touchdowns on 64.3% of trips in the red zone.
The Falcons will look for more improved play out of quarterback Matt Ryan, who seems to be regressing rapidly. Ryan passed for 4,591 yards a year ago – his fifth straight season going over 4,000 – but also threw 16 interceptions as the Falcons finished -7 in turnover margin. Two of the Falcons’ top offensive weapons are back in running back Devonta Freeman (1,056 rushing yards, 11 TDs) and receiver Julio Jones (136 catches, 1,871 yards, eight TDs). The Falcons added former Cincinnati wide receiver Mohamed Sanu who should help out Ryan. The addition of defensive end Dwight Freeney should improve the pass rush and contribute to a defense that ranked around the middle of the league last season. Tampa Bay swept the season series for the first time since 2007 last year, winning 23-20 in overtime at Atlanta and 23-19 at home.
Vegas is begging you to take the home favorite at -2.5, but I’m not biting. This Tampa Bay team is on the rise and are pretty solid all around. Winston is only going to get better and Atlanta just can’t seem to get out of it’s own way at times. Remember, Mike Smith knows this Atlanta offense pretty well, so he should have the edge in game-planning as the new DC with Tampa.
Pick: Bucs +2.5