Written by Cody Manning, @CodyTalksNFL
Week 17 has arrived! We have reached the final point for the Bucs 2019 season since they failed to reach the NFL Playoffs for the 12th straight season. Tampa is coming off a competitive effort in a loss to the Houston Texans, but with a win over the Falcons, the Bucs will finish with a 6-2 record over their last 8 games to finish the year. One of the biggest reasons for the second-half turnaround for the team has been the improved play by the defensive unit. Outside stopping the run, they have gotten better at limiting the explosive passing plays and forcing turnovers to give their offense a shot to win the game. Even without postseason chances not on the line, it is important for Tampa to get to .500 and carry this 2nd half surge into next season. Here are my Top 5 things I want to see from the Bucs against Atlanta:
1. Will Jameis Winston finish the season on a high-note?
Prior to last week’s game, a report came out that the team wanted to bring back on Winston on the franchise or transition tag for the 2020 season. Winston went on to have one of his worst games of the year by tossing 4 interceptions and being one of the key reasons why the Bucs couldn’t pull off the upset over the Texans. After that performance, most people are still questioning why the organization is interested in bringing back Winston for at least one more run. He has one last chance to leave a positive memory in Jason Licht and Bruce Arians’ minds before they commit to him being their franchise quarterback for the 2020 season. Let’s see if he can get it done against a divisional rival to cap off his season.
2. Can the defense repeat their performance from the last time they face the Falcons?
The last time Tampa and Atlanta faced off, the Bucs won 35-22 and a major part of that was because of how their defense played in that matchup. They held the Falcons to only 57 rushing yards, but that was without Devonta Freeman, who will be playing on Sunday. Matt Ryan had one of his worst performances of his season, he went 23/46 for 271 yards while getting 0 touchdowns and threw an interception in the process. As I have mentioned, the defensive unit has gotten better as the season has progressed, and with another impressive performance, they can prove to be something to reckon with in the 2020 season.
3. Does the offense finish the season without a player going over a 100 rushing yards?
Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber have had their share of chances to get over a 100 rushing yards this season, but failed to do so. Jones’ season-high is 77 yards and Barber’s is 82 yards. The Falcons are 15th against the run this season, allowing 109.3 YPG. It is possible that it could be done against the Atlanta defense, but BA may need to choose one back to do so. It will be interesting to see if they give Jones more of the heavier workload on Sunday, since they may have to address the position in the offseason. It would make sense for them to see if he can handle a 20+ touch game or if he will be better suited to be a role player in the 2020 season. A 100-yard rushing performance by Jones could show that he should be the starting back for next year when the team returns to Raymond James Stadium.
4. Can Shaq Barrett get off his tie with Warren Sapp and break the Bucs franchise sack record?
Barrett tied the Bucs franchise record for sacks at 16.5 a couple of weeks ago against the Detroit Lions but failed to get his hands on Deshaun Watson to break the record. The Falcons allow 2.9 sacks per game so he should have plenty of chances to get to Matt Ryan and get his name supplanted in Tampa’s history. It will be interesting to see if Todd Bowles schemes up ways that Barrett can get one-on-one matchups so he can win those and get to the quarterback. I am sure the rest of the defensive front will do their best to help their teammate make history on Sunday.
5. Will the team get to 8-8 and carry some momentum into the 2020 season?
As I alluded to earlier, with a win against the Falcons, the Bucs will finish with a 6-2 record over their last 8 games of the 2019 season. The future is bright under Bruce Arians. A .500 record and a strong finish to the year is the type of momentum that a team can carry over into their next season. Tampa will need to address certain areas of the team, but if they can strengthen the secondary, limit the turnovers by Winston (assuming he does come back), and find a running game, then I believe this team will be ready to compete to get into the playoffs next year. But, let’s start with getting a win to finish out the decade.