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Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Point Spread - Pick

Atlanta Falcons 8-5 SU, 6-7 ATS) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9 SU, 3-9-1 ATS)
Week 15 NFL
Date/Time: Monday Night Football, December 17, 2017 at 8:30PM EST
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
TV: ESPN

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: ATL -6/TB +6
Over/Under Total: 47.5

The Atlanta Falcons take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC South battle on Monday Night Football. Those who scheduled this were hoping it would be a battle of contenders, but only the Falcons have held up their end of that deal this season. Last Thursday, they relied on some late dramatics to tip the win in their favor against the Saints, 20-17. It was a valuable win for the defending conference champions, who are now at 8-5, with a realistic chance to win the division and with a solid wild-card position if that doesn't work. They come into Raymond James Stadium this week to take on a Buccaneers team that continues to struggle.

On Sunday, the Bucs fell short to the Lions at home, 24-21. It was their third loss in a row and 8th in their last ten games. As NFC South divisional teams, the Falcons and Bucs have already played each other this season, with Atlanta scoring a 34-20 home-win just on November 26. The Bucs were without Jameis Winston, while the Falcons were without Devonta Freeman. Julio Jones shredded the Tampa secondary to the tune of 253 yards.

It has been an up-and-down season for the Falcons this season as they try to get back to the top of the NFC. Three wins opened the season with promise, before 4 losses in their next five games threatened to derail their season. Four wins in their last five games have steadied their condition. There was a big road win over Seattle and the win over the Saints, showing they can flex their mettle against good teams in this conference. Other than a 14-9 loss to the Vikings, they've been looking a lot better over the past month-plus.

The Atlanta offense is still pretty dangerous; though not the thrill-a-minute group they were last season. In the last two games, they have a combined 29 points. After missing some time, they got Devonta Freeman back and he was good against the Saints with 91 yards on the ground. Matt Ryan did throw three picks, but was still able to steer his team to a big win. That was his second three-pick game of the season and they've oddly won both games. Jones is still perhaps the top receiver in the game and Ryan won't win his second MVP this season, but is still elite. But a reduction in the production of Freeman, Taylor Gabriel, and others has made this a unit that is definitely a deflated version of what we saw last season. Their 22.6 point per game average, which puts them mid-pack, will attest to that.

The Atlanta defense has rather quietly upgraded its form this season. Giving up 14 to the Vikings and 20 to the Saints in consecutive weeks is a pretty good stretch and they look to keep it going. Safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, along with corners Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant have been pretty serviceable as a secondary. One sore-point is a minus-five in turnover ratio, as this group isn't quite the playmaking unit of last season, though they are more-stout. Vic Beasley is still a presence, while Deion Jones was huge against New Orleans, especially with the late pick in the end zone that saved the win. Up-front, Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn both had sacks. All told, they've been pretty decent and consistent all season.

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On Sunday, the Buccaneers went into the fourth quarter down 21-7, before Jameis Winston threw a pair of TD passes to tie the game. But the defense, a sore-point on this team for most of the season, again let them down. Detroit mounted a late drive to set up the FG for the win. It's been a tough season for a team that entered the season with such high hopes. Nothing has really gone right for the Bucs. A defense that has the requisite talent has been hit with injuries, while just not really being able to make it happen for whatever reason. The secondary has been pure garbage and the playmaking has been minimal. In his third season, Jameis Winston has taken a pronounced step back and the supposed improvements with the tools with which Winston works with haven't taken hold at all. Making it worse is that in light of the crushing disappointment this season has been, there seems to be a combination of apathy and resentment forming in the locker-room.

Winston's pros and cons were on display on Sunday. He can be pretty clutch in the right spots, as he illustrated in the two TD passes in the final quarter to tie it. But with two picks and a lost fumble on Sunday, he showcased his propensity for mistakes that has been a major hurdle for this offense to overcome. The line has suffered some injuries and as a result, they are fielding a below-average group. Receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson have been productive in spots, but rarely together and certainly not to the extent the Bucs had in mind. Both Jackson and OJ Howard had TD catches on Sunday, but the overall production this season has been so-so at best. WR Chris Godwin had a nice game, as the rookie is becoming more of a reliable target. Peyton Barber has been decent in recent weeks, but after coming back from suspension, Doug Martin continues to look like a spent force, making some wonder if he will ever regain his prior form.

The Tampa Bay defense has a lot of issues. They saw another key piece go down on Sunday, with defensive line anchor Gerald McCoy suffering a biceps injury and now out indefinitely. There haven't been many situations this season where the "D" was able to thrive late and help bring home the win. More often than not, they fail to provide resistance when the chips are in the middle. Sunday's loss to Detroit was a case in point. Not to call out individuals, but whatever formula they have in the secondary isn't working well. Even with McCoy, the front has under-performed with Chris Baker, Robert Ayers, and others. They aren't getting after quarterbacks. They have helped manufacture a plus-six in turnover ratio, but it barely matters with how leaky and otherwise ineffectual they have been.

This doesn't seem like a spot where one can righteously expect the Falcons to start slipping mentally. They may have beaten the Bucs just a few weeks ago, but the divisional landscape and conference playoff picture forces them to stay on-point. It's always a bit of a trap when one team that is playing relatively well with a lot on the line plays a team that looks like a duck dead in the water. It's still a road divisional game for the Falcons against a Bucs team that might rise to the occasion of division spoiler, with their last three games coming in-division. But this could be a spot where we outsmart ourselves, so I'm laying he number on the Falcons.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Atlanta Falcons minus 6 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the Falcons vs. Bucs MNF game by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 50% sign-up bonus!

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