Opponent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Where: Georgia Dome
Time: 1 p.m.
Records: Falcons (13-2, 3-2 in NFC South); Buccaneers (6-9, 2-3).
Point Spread (Danny Sheridans odds as published in USA Today): Atlanta is favored by 3 with an over of 46.
Key Offensive Matchup
Any time an opponent has the worst pass defense in the NFL, as Tampa Bay does, thats something a team should look to exploit. Whether its Matt Ryan throwing the bulk of those passes on Sunday or backup Luke McCown remains to be seen. The Falcons want to win this game but perhaps not at the expense of getting players on offense like Ryan, tight end Tony Gonzalez, wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, the latter of which has been bothered by a knee injury for weeks, and center Todd McClure injured, as they already have sewn up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Falcons ought to be able to get a comfortable lead and rest those players by halftime. Both players the Bucs expected to be their starting corners this season Aqib Talib and Eric Wright are not playing; Talib was traded and Wright is inactive.
Key Defensive Matchup
Quarterback Josh Freeman has been awful lately. In the last two games, he has thrown one touchdown and eight interceptions half of all of the interceptions he has thrown this season. The Falcons ought to be able to continue that trend, as their plus-12 mark in turnover ratio ranks sixth in the league. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has confused some of the leagues most accomplished quarterbacks this season by disguising coverages. Freeman should be no different. If cornerback Asante Samuel lives up to his nickname of Pick Six early, he could find himself rested for the second half, along with a few other key defensive veterans like end John Abraham and tackle Jonathan Babineaux.
Inactive: For Atlanta: quarterback Dominique Davis, cornerback Chris Owens, safety William Moore, guard Phillipkeith Manley, guard Harland Gunn, center Joe Hawley, defensive tackle Travian Robertson; for Tampa Bay, cornerback Eric Wright, running back Michael Smith, Jacob Cutrera, guard Roger Allen, Chris Owusu, defensive tackle Corvey Irvin, defensive tackle Matthew Masifilo.