The Falcons have been one of the bigger surprises to start the NFL season, going 2-2 after taking down the Cleveland Browns, 23-20, in Week 4. Prior to that, the Falcons won the battle of the birds against the Seattle Seahawks on the road, 27-23.
The line for this game has moved in favor of the Buccaneers, and a big reason why is the loss of Falcons RB Cordarrelle Patterson. He has been the lifeblood of this team through the first four games, and Atlanta has lived and died on the rushing attack with him. Against the Browns, Atlanta racked up 202 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries. QB Marcus Mariota only had 139 passing yards on 7 of 19 completions, and without the rushing attack, they certainly would have lost.
The Falcons have Drake London and Kyle Pitts, but this team isn't built to pass the ball 50 times a game. Mariota isn't that good, and they need that rushing game to keep competitive. Tampa just allowed nearly 200 rushing yards to the Chiefs, but we don't know how well Atlanta will do without Patterson.
The Falcons have not played in a blowout contest so far, with all their games ending in one-score affairs. They are 4-0 against the spread this year, the only team to be perfect ATS.
Tampa Bay just has not looked very good to begin the season. While I think it certainly is too early to be smashing the proverbial panic button on this team, they need to start winning games. Their two losses so far this season were against legitimate Super Bowl contenders who are levels above the quality of talent Atlanta has. A loss to the Falcons should be where it becomes seriously alarming for the Buccaneers.
With Atlanta missing one of their most important players on offense, Tampa Bay's elite run D should be able to stop their rushing attack to a degree. Offensively, Tom Brady and Co. should have almost no problems against this Atlanta defense, and if they do, something needs to change. The Falcons allowed the New Orleans Saints to score 27 points in Week 1 and the Los Angeles Rams 31 in Week 2.
The Buccaneers are 4-1 against the spread in their last five games against division rivals.
Atlanta is fantastic at covering the spread as large dogs this year, but only when they have a fully healthy rushing attack. Without Patterson, that really hurts their offensive game plan, and having Mariota throw the ball more is not a recipe for success. Tampa desperately needs a game where they just destroy their opponent, and I think this may be the game where they can do that.