Buccaneers vs. Falcons 2012 game preview: Tune-up time for Atlanta

Leon Halip

The Falcons' Week 17 meeting with the Buccaneers will be nothing more than an opportunity to work out the kinks before another potential Super Bowl run.

When the Buccaneers and Falcons met five weeks ago, Tampa Bay was shaping up to be a surprising Wild Card candidate following an uninspiring start.

While the Bucs weren't able to pull out the victory, they still gave the Falcons a run for their money that November afternoon and proved they could hang with the big boys, barely losing the closely contested contest, 24-23. Unfortunately, they must have left that new found confidence on the field that Sunday as that tough loss multiplied to a streak of five consecutive, which the Buccaneers now carry into this matchup.

Now, neither team has much to play for with the Falcons already wrapping up the NFC's No. 1 seed and the Buccaneers well out of the playoff picture. With that in mind, it's looking like this game will be purely for pride. Nothing like meaningless late December football, right?

Meet the Falcons

If you haven't heard, Atlanta is pretty damn good. Even though their offense is the definition of one-dimensional with old man Michael Turner leading the way, Matt Ryan and company are still fifth in the NFL in passing yards per game. Making matters more frightening for their opponents is the fact that they're looking as sharp as they have all season after dismantling the Giants and Lions. Over the past two games, Ryan has thrown for a total of 549 yards and seven touchdowns, all while completing a cool 80 percent of his passes. Oh, and did I mention he doesn't have a single turnover over that span?

Meet the Buccaneers

Need two words why Tampa Bay has been struggle city lately? How about: Josh Freeman? For as good as Ryan has been, Freeman has been proportionately as bad. Over the past two games, Freeman has combined to produce a whopping nine turnovers against only one touchdown. Furthermore, he hasn't broke a 56-percent completion rate over his last four games and has actually been under 50 percent twice. With Freeman piling up the misfires, the Buccaneers only have 13 points to speak of over the last two weeks. That's a pretty unacceptable number when you take into consideration the rate at which Tampa's secondary allows players to waltz into the end zone.

Local Takes: Falcons

Although Matt Ryan is on pace to break his fair share of team records, Dave Choate of the Falcoholic took some time to focus on a less appreciate gentleman by the name of Roddy White. As Choate points out, White is only 80 yards away from the franchise single-season receiving record he set back in 2008. Here's what Choate had to say on his odds of surpassing his own mark:

"The Falcons will likely only trot Roddy out for a half, at most, given what's at stake and the fact that he's kind of chasing his own record here. But against a rapidly imploding Buccaneers team, a half might be enough to grab those 81-plus yards and get the record. I'd give him a 50/50 chance to do it."

Local Takes: Buccaneers

While the fan base has vocalized their concerns over Freeman's play recently, JC De La Torre of Bucs Nation believes that the young signal-caller is exactly where he should be in his development. In fact, he actually thinks he's gotten better:

"Freeman has improved dramatically this season, give him a second year in this offense and a defense that can at the very least protect a lead and I think you'll see this team go places. That should be Tampa Bay's focus this off-season."

Prediction

Truthfully, this game is nearly impossible to predict considering that the Falcons could rest their starters at any moment. Sure, they're saying they'll go about this like a normal game, but if they were to get down by double digits at any time, it wouldn't surprise me at all if head coach Mike Smith decided to pull everyone remotely valuable. But with how hot the Falcons have been lately, I'd be crazy not to go with the home team. Matt Ryan is going to have his way with this joke of a secondary to earn a heaping helping of momentum heading into the playoffs.

Falcons 30, Buccaneers 21

Next Week

Both the Buccaneers and the Falcons will be watching the first round of playoffs from home. It will be a far more desirable viewing experience for Atlanta though considering their early vacation is due to the No. 1 seed's bye week.

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