When the 2013 season began, many expected Tampa Bay and Atlanta to battle for the NFC South. Instead, both teams are well out of contention heading into their Week 11 matchup. With Tampa Bay at 1-8 and Atlanta at 2-7, Sunday's game will have a bigger impact on the NFL Draft order than it will on the playoff standings.
Despite its record, Tampa Bay has played better recently and is coming off its first win of the season. The Bucs have been better than their record would indicate, including an 0-5 record in games decided by eight points or fewer. If the Bucs flipped that record, they would be right in the thick of the playoff race.
The Falcons have suffered their share of injuries, but are still struggling mightily on both sides of the ball. Even quarterback Matt Ryan is struggling. Atlanta beat Tampa earlier this season, but it has suffered three convincing losses since.
Meet the Buccaneers
It's been a rough season on and off the field for Tampa Bay. There have been injury woes and other issues, with Greg Schiano's job security called into question. The Bucs, however, appear to be improving. They jumped out to a 21-0 lead on the road against Seattle two weeks ago, but were unable to hang on. The Bucs jumped out 15-0 against Miami last week, and rallied back to win, 22-19.
Tampa Bay will be without its two leading rushers with Doug Martin and Mike James out for the year due to injuries. Rookie Mike Glennon will once again start at quarterback. Glennon has been up and down this season, flashing some potential at times. Tampa Bay will enter the game near the bottom of the league in passing yards, averaging just 188.7 yards per game.
Meet the Falcons
Not much has gone right for the Falcons this season. They've lost several key players due to injury -- including leading receiver Julio Jones -- and have struggled even when healthy. The Falcons have allowed 378.8 yards per game, which isn't drastically worse than the 365.6 YPG they allowed last season. Instead, the difference has been on the scoreboard. Atlanta was No. 5 in the NFL in scoring defense last season at 18.7 points per game. It has dropped to 29th in scoring defense this season at 27.9 PPG.
Atlanta has also fallen off offensively, partly due to key injuries and partly due to the recent struggles of Ryan. Forced to play much of the season without Jones and with a limited Roddy White, Ryan hit a rough patch recently. He's thrown three touchdown passes in his last three games, compared to seven interceptions. He hasn't received a lot of help from the running game either, with Atlanta dead last in rushing yards per game.
Local Takes: Tampa Bay
Glennon may not be blowing anyone away, but Bucs Nation said the rookie has done some impressive things as well:
No, it wasn't a banner night for Mike Glennon but he showed poise in overcoming that horrible interception in the 4th quarter that seemingly iced the game for the Dolphins. Glennon still directed the Bucs on a 9 play 80 yard drive that resulted in Bobby Rainey's 1 yard scamper around the edge for a touchdown.
The kid is doing better. Am I convinced he's better than Bridgewater or Mariota? No. But there's worse quarterbacks in the NFL. Glennon is a capable starter in this league - of that I am now sure. Glad he got himself a win.
Local Takes: Atlanta
Part of Ryan's recent struggles are some of his own mistakes but Dave Choate of The Falcoholic wrote that the team isn't giving him much help:
Right now, Ryan's under real pressure. He's was under duress on better than 50% of his dropbacks on Sunday. Tony Gonzalez is constantly being doubled, Roddy White isn't quite 100% and everyone else is capable of stretches of quality play and not much else. There is no run game to turn to. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Ryan is scuffling right now, and that he's starting to fall back into some bad habits that are making things worse.
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@ScottSBucs -- Bucs writer
The total of 2 rushing yards Bucs allowed Miami tonight is tied for 12th-lowest in NFL history. Lowest since DAL got 1 off WAS on 12/30/07.— Scott Smith (@ScottSBucs) November 12, 2013
@vxmcclure -- Bucs beat writer
On paper, Atlanta was clearly the more talented team to start the season. Injuries have changed that and based on recent performance, the Bucs have been better. Tampa Bay nearly pulled off the upset in Seattle against the Seahawks and arguably outplayed Seattle even in the loss. Atlanta hosted Seattle last week and was thoroughly dominated in all three phases.
With recent performance in mind and the fact Tampa Bay is playing at home, I'm going with the Bucs to win two straight.
Pick: Tampa Bay, 24-16
Despite their recent issues, and Tampa Bay coming off a win, the Falcons were favored by 2.5 points in the opening line, according to OddsShark.com.
Week 12: Falcons vs. New Orleans, Thursday Nov. 21, 8:25 p.m. ET
Week 12: Bucs at Detroit, Sunday Nov. 24, 1 p.m.