The Atlanta Falcons may own the NFL’s top-ranked offense and reside on top of the NFC South, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had their number with Jameis Winston under center. The former Heisman Trophy recipient will look to guide the Buccaneers to their second series sweep of the Falcons in as many seasons on Thursday night as the division rivals clash at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Winston tossed four touchdown passes in a 31-24 season-opening victory over Atlanta on Sept. 11 and added two more in a 30-24 overtime loss to Oakland on Sunday. Trusted target Mike Evans reeled in a scoring strike against the Falcons and his six touchdown receptions are tied for the NFL lead.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan continued his stellar season with three touchdown passes in Sunday’s 33-32 victory over Green Bay, capping his 32nd career game-winning drive with an 11-yard scoring strike to offseason acquisition Mohamed Sanu. Ryan, who leads the league in both yards (2,636) and touchdowns (19), has thrown for 1,000 yards and five scores in his last three encounters with Tampa Bay and faces a Buccaneers defense that ranks 23rd in the league (274.7 yards per contest).
TV: 8:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network.
LINE: The Falcons opened as field goal road favorites and that jumped to -3.5. The total has dropped from 51.5 to 51.
WEATHER: The forecast for Raymond James Stadium is calling for partially cloudy skied with temperatures in the mid 70’s with winds blowing NNE at 5 mph.
INJURIES: Falcons – DE D. Freeney (questionable), DT. G. Jarrett (questionable), G A. Levitre (questionable), S B. Poole (questionable), T. Coleman (doubtful), TE J. Tamme (out). Bucs – DT C. MacDonald (questionable), RB J. Rodgers (questionable), WR R. Shepard (questionable), DE W. Gholston (questionable), RB D. Martin (out).
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “Having opened at three, and almost immediately moving to 3.5, it’s clear that everyone has been on Atlanta from the start for Thursday night’s matchup against the Bucs. Right now 70 percent of the action is on the Falcons, and I would be surprised if the line doesn’t get up to at least Atlanta -4.” – Mick Sloan, GTBets.eu.
WHAT SHARPS SAY: “At 2-5, even the Carolina Panthers have a mathematical shot at winning the NFC South. Atlanta is 5-2 and the Bucs are 3-4, making Thursday’s contest an extremely important one. Tampa Bay won 31-24 in Atlanta in their respective openers, so it’s interesting to note that the Falcons are 8-6 ATS in their last 14 in trying to avenge a loss versus an opponent.” – Covers Expert AAA Sports.
ABOUT THE FALCONS (5-3, 5-3 ATS): Julio Jones has amassed an NFC-best 859 yards and is averaging 20.0 yards per catch, but the electric wideout was hobbled by an ailing knee and finished with 29 yards receiving for the second time this season. While Jones is expected to play on Thursday, running back Tevin Coleman (hamstring) is listed as questionable after sitting out last week’s tilt versus the Packers. Devonta Freeman more than picked up the slack with a rushing and receiving touchdown last week and has 100-plus scrimmage yards in two of his last three contests, although he was limited to just 20 yards on 11 carries in the season-opening loss.
ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS (3-4, 3-4 ATS): While Tampa Bay’s passing game is pretty well defined, the backfield has remained in motion through most of the season due to injury. Jacquizz Rodgers filled in admirably for Doug Martin (hamstring) before sustaining a sprained foot versus the Raiders, perhaps opening the door for a three-man backfield of Antone Smith, Peyton Barber and Mike James. Linebacker Kwon Alexander recorded 14 tackles versus Oakland last week, his highest total since collecting 17 in the season opener at Atlanta.
* Under is 4-1 in the last five meetings in Tampa Bay.
* Favorite is 8-3-1 ATS in their last 12 meetings.
* Falcons are 1-3-1 ATS in their last five meetings in Tampa Bay.
COVERS CONSENSUS: 76 percent of bets are on Atlanta while 73 percent of totals bets are on the Over.
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