At last, the Bucs are back! They open the season with the chance to take an early command of the NFC South following Carolina’s loss to Denver on Thursday. The matchup with Atlanta is also an opportunity for Tampa Bay to break their troubling habit of starting the season with a disastrous effort.
This season provides the Bucs with an ideal opportunity to exit the NFC South cellar. While Jason Licht made numerous moves to upgrade talent and address needs along the defensive line and at cornerback, the Falcons and Saints persist with their underwhelming front offices.
Thomas Dimitroff is Atlanta’s secret bane. After early success drafting Matt Ryan and signing Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez, Dimitroff became complacent with talent evaluation. The defense is a joke, lacking a centerpiece like Carolina’s Luke Kuechly or Tampa’s Gerald McCoy.
Really the only playmaker Atlanta has on defense is CB Desmond Trufant. Everyone else is either a role player, an unproven commodity, or is plain inadequate. Head coach Dan Quinn’s first head coaching gig is doomed so long as he has such a talent-starved roster.
The offense is only marginally better. Julio Jones is a top-3 receiver and Devonta Freeman broke out last year despite a merely average offensive line. Matt Ryan, once a promising franchise quarterback, has regressed the last two years despite Jones playing at an All-Pro level.
The Bucs swept Atlanta last year and it looks likely they will again in 2016. Improvements to the Tampa defense, particularly the coaching staff, should only make the results more disparate. Last year, the defense did well to neutralize an otherwise electric Freeman, and exploited Matt Ryan’s desperate pressing and poor judgment.
Of all the Bucs’ additions on defense, Robert Ayers and Noah Spence should have the greatest impact. A stronger starting line with a deeper rotation will only make life more hellish for Matt Ryan, who struggled when facing pressure last year.
The Bucs offense lacks the experience of Atlanta’s but enters Sunday with more upside. Against the Falcons last year, Jameis Winston threw for 404 yards and scored four touchdowns. While he didn’t exactly set the world on fire, Winston was solid and could be even better against a middling Atlanta defense this year.
While the game may still be decided within a touchdown, the Bucs should take this game, barring of course an “Tennessee-ready”mindset that led to an opening day blowout last season. With a more talented roster, the Bucs merely need to execute.
Final score prediction: Tampa Bay 24 – Atlanta 17