Bucs looking for a return to playoffs in first of two games against Falcons

LEFT: Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passes the ball against the Minnesota Vikings at Raymond James Stadium on December 13, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) RIGHT: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons warms up pr

While never in question, veteran quarterback Tom Brady can certainly add to his Hall of Fame resume with a strong finish to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

And if Tampa wants to make some noise, it has to begin Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons (1 p.m., FOX) at Mercedes Benz Stadium in the first of two meetings between NFC South foes.

For Brady and the Buccaneers want to have success, they need their running game to get going. That could be difficult without Ronald Jones, who could be out for COVID-19 exposure. If Jones can’t go, the Bucs will lean on veterans Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy to fill the gap.

The Falcons are in a different mode as interim coach Raheem Morris will look to make his job status permanent over the final three weeks of the season. Morris is 4-4 since taking over and has Atlanta playing better. However, the ultimate test may up ahead with two games against the Buccaneers and a contest against Kansas City to wrap things up.

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The sports betting information

On FOXBet.com Sportsbook, the Bucs are 5 1/2 road favorites with a money line of -250. (A $250 bet would pay out $100.) The Falcons are +250 (a $100 bet pays $250) with the over-under of 50 1/2.  Against the number this year, the Bucs are 7-6, which could spell troubles with away favorites winning just 47.9% of the time. The Falcons are 5-8.

There are plenty of CustomBets, PropBets and other wagers available at FOXBet.com to suit any betters wishes. Check it out today and find the special offers that are in play for this holiday weekend.

The history

The two teams have met 53 times since Tampa Bay entered the league in 1977 with Atlanta holding a slim 28-25 advantage. That hasn’t been the case in recent years, though. The Buccaneers have won six of the last seven meetings with the lone exception coming last season when the Falcons won at home in November. This will be the second meeting between the Falcons and Brady since the former New England Patriots quarterback engineered a 25-point comeback to an overtime win in Super Bowl LI.

The storylines to watch

Brady has Tampa poised to secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2007 despite an obvious learning curve under head coach Bruce Arians. Statistically Brady hasn’t dropped off significantly from his recent seasons with New England and is on pace to throw for his most touchdowns – he has 30 through 13 games – since he threw for 36 touchdown in 2015. The issue has been finding a way to get all of Tampa’s weapons- Rob Gronkowski, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans- on the same page. Brady had become a checkdown quarterback in New England in recent years, but the Bucs are a vertical team that looks to run Arians’ stretch system. Tampa has to get this on track over the next three weeks.

Meanwhile, the questions in Atlanta are simple: what’s next? Beyond the future of the head coach and general manager positions, its fair to wonder if the Falcons will start to look beyond Matt Ryan – who turns 36 next year- as their next quarterback. Ryan’s numbers are still good -3,700 yards passing, 19 touchdowns- but one of the issues would be can he still be effective when Atlanta is ready to contend again?

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