The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons both had high expectations in the NFC South entering the season, and both have crumbled beyond almost any scenario imaginable. Six weeks into the season, neither team is anywhere near a .500 record, and both have turned from looking to the playoffs to looking toward the 2014 draft.
And they'll each have their own massive holes to fill when making a pick that could be in the top 10 next season.
The Bucs travel to Atlanta looking for their first win of the year, and if there's a team that could blow a chance to beat an 0-5 team, it might be the Falcons. Which team comes out with a slightly brighter glimmer of hope, and which comes out with just more questions to answer for the fans?
Meet the Falcons
The Falcons almost went to the Super Bowl last season, but they might not have had any idea that their window of opportunity to win could have closed this quickly. Atlanta saw Michael Turner, John Abraham, and Donta Robinson depart in free agency and retirement and have placed Kroy Biermann and Julio Jones on injured reserve.
Despite trading up in the draft to take cornerback Desmond Trufant, Atlanta has one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL and ranks 25th in points allowed.
Free agent addition Steven Jackson has only played in two games, leaving Matt Ryan to pass the ball at a high rate, which will be a lot more difficult to do now without Jones. Tony Gonzalez opted not to retire in the offseason for one more chance at a Super Bowl, but that doesn't seem very likely right now, to say the least.
Meet the Buccaneers
If there's a team in the South more disappointed in itself than Atlanta, it has to be Tampa Bay. After adding players like Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, the Bucs thought they were well on their way to a playoff berth and more, but instead, it hasn't taken long to release their quarterback and former team captain and begin the year 0-5. Plus, they're possibly only weeks away from seeing Greg Schiano exit stage left, as well.
Josh Freeman looked like a QB on the rise of the last couple of years, perhaps the most valuable and elusive thing you can find in the NFL, but it didn't take long for him to wind up on the waiver wire after a terrible start. The offense ranks 31st in yards and scoring and dead last in passing despite the Jaguars existing.
Doug Martin has struggled to find space in his second year, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.
The defense actually hasn't been that bad, and the Bucs might not be nearly as bad as their 0-5 record, but they are still pretty bad. A win in Atlanta should save Schiano's job for a couple more weeks. Whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen.
Local Takes: Atlanta Falcons
Dave Choate at The Falcoholic asked three important questions for the Falcons if they're going to beat the Bucs:
Can the Falcons build a pass rush? The secondary has been remarkably solid outside of Thomas DeCoud and Robert McClain, and even McClain seems to be improving. If the Falcons can get after the quarterback, they'll make the unit look better than solid. The fact that the Falcons still haven't figured out how to generate a consistent pass rush, but they have to if they have amy hope of winning.
Mike Nolan needs to dial up more blitzes, guys like Jonathan Massaquoi must step up and the Falcons need to think about how they can get Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu opportunities. Since they're still pushing hard this season, it might be worth poking around the market, though as I said the other day, I'd like to avoid giving up too many assets.
Local Takes: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sander Philipse at Bucs Nation noted that the Bucs might be the best 0-5 team ever, per advanced stats:
Only a few of the best 0-5 teams turned it around over the final games. Just four of the twelve teams listed by Football Outsiders went on to win more than four games, and none of them made the playoffs. The 2007 Dolphins won just one game, in fact -- and then drafted Jake Long instead of Matt Ryan. Half of those teams did win more than 10 games the very next year, though.
The Bucs may be 0-5, but they're not really playing like it. Except for the losing, part. That one they've got down. This should give us a little hope that the Bucs can turn it around, or at least win a few games.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
@TheFalcoholic - Dave Choate
@BucsNation - Sander Philipse
This is a tough one because the Falcons are at home, but right now it seems like the Buccaneers might actually be the better team. Despite their 0-5 record, the Bucs have a solid defense, and though little is known about how good Mike Glennon will be, he can't be as bad as Freeman was.
Meanwhile, Atlanta is without one of its best players, and Roddy White has been hampered all season long by an injury. Can the Falcons defend their home turf, or will both teams end up being 1-5 after Sunday?
Atlanta is 0-3 at home this year, so playing in Georgia hasn't been as kind as it used to be for the Falcons. The Bucs finally get a win.
Tampa Bay 22, Atlanta 20
Buccaneers vs. Panthers, Thursday, Oct. 24 at 8:25 p.m. ET
Falcons at Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 27 at 4:25 p.m. ET