Falcons vs. Buccaneers 2012 game preview: Streaking Tampa Bay hosts Atlanta in divisional battle

Al Messerschmidt

The Buccaneers are red hot, but face a tough challenge in Week 12 when they host their division rival Falcons on Sunday.

The Atlanta Falcons survived a close call a week after their first loss of the season. In Week 12, they'll travel to Tampa Bay to take on a Buccaneers team currently playing its best football, as they are winners of four consecutive games heading into Sunday.

Atlanta, at 9-1 overall, holds the NFC's top spot even though they've been involved in more close contests of late, including their first loss of the season in Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, are still on the outside of the postseason looking in, currently sitting in the seventh spot and tied with a 6-4 record with two other teams in the Wild Card race in the NFC.

Meet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay has rattled off five wins in their last six games, scoring under 30 points only twice in that span -- one a 35-28 loss to the Saints in Week 7 and the other coming in last week's 27-21 overtime win over the Carolina Panthers. Quarterback Josh Freeman is fourth in the league in touchdown passes, with 21, to go along with 2,505 passing yards and seven interceptions.

Defensively, the Buccaneers are first in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, giving up only an average of 81.8 per contest. Along with the Falcons, Tampa Bay begins a four-week stretch of games against the Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints.

Meet the Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons showed their resiliency in last week's 23-19 win over the Arizona Cardinals, overcoming five interceptions from quarterback Matt Ryan and six overall turnovers to earn the victory. Ryan and Atlanta's passing game ranks third in the league, averaging 292.9 yards through the air per contest.

Freeman and the Buccaneer's passing attack figures to be tested by Atlanta's pass defense, which ranks tenth-best in the NFL, giving up 216.3 passing yards per game. Week 12 is the start of three-straight NFC South divisional showdowns for the Falcons, who will host New Orleans on Thursday night in Week 13 and travel to Carolina to take on the Panthers in Week 14.

Local Takes: Buccaneers

Sander Philipse from Bucs Nation says despite their current hot streak, Tampa Bay still has a tough hill to climb for the postseason:

"The biggest obstacle to Tampa Bay's playoff aspiration is still their schedule, however. Of their six remaining opponents, three have winning records and a fourth is the Saints, whom they will face in New Orleans. Obviously, if they win all of their games they'll make it in. But that's not realistic given the strength of their schedule and the simple variance of NFL games. They're likely to drop a few games."

Local Takes: Falcons

Jeanna Thomas from The Falcoholic believes Atlanta's ability to win games when they're not at their best could be their biggest strength:

"The fact that the Falcons found a way to win on Sunday does say a lot about the team. Teams generally don't win games in which they turn the ball over six times. It almost never happens. Yes, the Cardinals are offensively terrible, but this was a game that the Falcons should have lost, and they found a way to win, as they have so many times this season. Despite the weaknesses of the Falcons, and the challenges the rest of their schedule presents, their will to win is the most important intangible the Falcons possess this season. Let's hope it's enough."

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Bucs Nation and The Falcoholic, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@Bucs_Nation

@TheFalcoholic

@NFLSTROUD - Rick Stroud, who covers the Buccaneers for the Tampa Bay Times.

@CBSFalcons - Falcons coverage from CBSSports.com's Mike Singer.

Prediction

From SB Nation's Week 12 picks:

A month ago you wouldn't have thought this would be a big game. But here the Bucs sit at 6-4, right in the thick of the playoff conversation after winning four in a row. This is a home game for the Bucs, but it'll probably be blacked out. I like the Bucs and think people should be talking about them more. But I don't like them enough to pick them to beat the 9-1 Falcons.

The pick: 30-24, Falcons

Odds

Even though the Falcons opened the week as 1½-point favorites, according to OddsShark, the line is now set at even odds. The over/under point total for the game began this week at 48, but has since shifted slightly to 48½.

Next Week

In Week 13, the Buccaneers hit the road to take on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The Falcons, on the other hand, have another divisional battle on a short week when they host the New Orleans Saints in Week 13 on Thursday night.

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