Week 1 Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Atlanta Falcons

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Game Time: Sunday, September 11 at 1:00 PM EST

It’s that time again; football is back. The Atlanta Falcons open their season at home against division rival the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last year, Atlanta was swept by the Bucs. This year will have a reunion of sorts. Former Falcons OC Dirk Koetter replaced Lovie Smith as the head coach for the Bucs. Koetter brought in former Falcons head coach Mike Smith to be his defensive coordinator. Last year, the Bucs finished 6-10 while the Falcons finished 8-8. Both teams are hoping to improve upon last season. Atlanta went 3-1 in the preseason while Tampa Bay went 2-2.

I fully expect the Falcons to win this Sunday. Matt Ryan is 8-0 in home openers, which is pretty impressive. The Falcons usually play the Bucs very well, barring last season. Matt Ryan usually plays well against them, also barring last year. Julio Jones and Kemal Ishmael will be good to go this Sunday. RB Terron Ward is questionable. Dwight Freeney will also be ready for the opener. I am hoping to see an improved pass rush with him in the game. I am worried about the Falcons’ inability to stop mobile quarterbacks. Our defense has had a problem with that since 2012. I still have nightmares from the NFC Championship game a few years back. Jameis Winston can run; he proved that last year gaining twenty yards on a 3rd and 19 play. However, Tampa Bay will have their own problems. Who will cover Jones? I expect them to put veteran and former Falcon CB Brent Grimes on Jones. I do think Jones will win that matchup, even though Grimes is still very good. The Falcons will be starting two rookie linebackers. Deion Jones takes over the role of middle linebacker from Paul Worrilow; his speed will be an instant upgrade this season. The Falcons will also be starting De’Vondre Campbell, who impressed during the preseason. RB Doug Martin will be a tough test for the Falcons. Last year he ran for 71 yards in the first game and 95 yards in the second game. The Falcons will be facing pro bowler DT Gerald McCoy. Last year he had 8.5 sacks. The Falcons OL is improved this year and I think they will fare much better against this tough Tampa DL than they did last year.

The Falcons need a win Sunday; they can start 1-0 in the division. The Saints play the Raiders and the Panthers lost to Denver Thursday night. The Falcons went 1-5 in the division last year. The Falcons need to have a better division record if they want to be competitive this year. Division games are always tough, but I think the Falcons win 24-21.