Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Date and Time: Monday, December 18, 2017, 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Opening NFL Odds: Falcons -5, O/U 47.5
Falcons vs. Buccaneers TV Coverage: ESPN
The Falcons absolutely have to understand the magnitude of this game. They're sitting at 8-5 and would be in the playoffs if they started today, but they have three huge games left to play, all of which are against teams from the NFC South. The difference between winning the division and finishing 8-8 comes down to these last three games.
Atlanta picked up a huge, season-saving win last week against the Saints at home. It erased the stench of a 14-9 loss to the Vikings and kept the Falcons involved in the playoff chase with a few games left to play.
However, there are still some real concerns. This is a team that suddenly only has 29 points on the board in its last three games, and this defense still hasn't really come together. The best game of the year was the 14-point showing against the Vikings, and even that game wasn't exactly dominant.
Tampa Bay's season is said and done with, and the only question left is whether Koetter is going to be back as the head coach next season.
The bigger question, though, is whether Jameis Winston is legitimately an NFL quarterback or not. Sure, we're only three seasons into Winston's career, but he just doesn't seem to "get it." He has 41 career interceptions in 42 games, and he seems to shrivel in the spotlight. Tampa Bay is only 2-7 in his starts this year, and he has almost as many games with multiple interceptions (3) as he has with multiple touchdowns (5).
To say that this is the worst stretch of Matt Ryan's career would be a bit of hyperbole, but it's definitely proving a point. The Falcons beat the Saints last week in spite of Matty Ice and his three picks. That came on the heels of Ryan going through an entire game against Minnesota without generating a single offensive touchdown, the first of its sort in 33 games, including the postseason.
Ryan's completion percentage has been just above 55 percent in these last two games, and his quarterback rating is under 65. We know he has more in him, but with Julio Jones struggling and no one else to really pick up the slack for this passing game, Ryan has had a really tough time getting traction and putting together consistent drives.
Perhaps the sight of the No. 32-ranked pass defense in the NFL will help. Ryan's last good game came against the Bucs when he threw for 317 yards and a touchdown.
Falcons vs. Buccaneers Free Picks
We're hesitantly going to take the five points with Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers aren't good, but at least they aren't getting blown out either. There's going to be a point when this team might give up, and we wouldn't be shocked if this was it after an overtime defeat and a loss in the last couple minutes in consecutive weeks.
Still, we just don't trust the Falcons right now. We think they'll find a way to win this game on the back of their defense as they did against the Saints, but this offense has had some real problems. Until or unless Jones can get back involved, this isn't a team we have much fear of in terms of winning the Super Bowl. If Jones gets going, Ryan and the crew are as dangerous as it gets, but just as the team ran out of gas in the Super Bowl last season, we feel as if it's on fumes at the moment, too.
Even though we think the Falcons are getting the 'W' in this game, we think they're still going to ultimately fail to beat the odds at the top internet sportsbooks and will miss the playoffs anyway.
NFL ATS Pick: Buccaneers +5 at BookMaker.eu
NFL Score Prediction: Falcons 19, Buccaneers 17