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Monday Night Preview: Can the Falcons Pick Up a Crucial Win?

Atlanta, fighting for a playoff spot in the loaded NFC, heads to Tampa Bay for a divisional clash. Who has the advantage?

This week's edition of Monday Night Football features the 8-5 Atlanta Falcons traveling to play the 4-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Atlanta enters this contest on a one-game winning streak while Tampa Bay has dropped their last three.

Last week, Atlanta narrowly defeated the New Orleans Saints, 20-17. On the other hand, Tampa Bay fell to the Detroit Lions, 24-21.

With Atlanta fighting for a playoff spot and coach Dirk Koetter possibly fighting for his job, here are a few matchups likely to influence the outcome of tonight's game.

Quarterback Breakdown

Matt Ryan has played solid football for the Falcons, recording 3,278 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Ryan has a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.17, which is well above the league average of 0.07. Additionally, among quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, Ryan's Passing Success Rate (percentage of drop backs contributing to a positive NEP) of 52.30% ranks first in the NFL.

On the other side, Jameis Winston has played mediocre football, accounting for 2,475 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Winston has recorded a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.10, which ranked 16th (entering Week 15) among quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. However, Winston's 50.28% Passing Success Rate ranks fifth among the aforementioned group, so his performance has been a little better than the counting stats show.

Running Back Breakdown

With Tevin Coleman ruled out with a concussion, the Falcons will turn to Devonta Freeman as their clear lead back. Freeman has been excellent this season, recording a Rushing NEP per rush of 0.09, which is third among all backs with at least 80 carries and well above the league average of -0.04. Freeman also boasts a Rushing Success Rate of 51.32%, which ranks second among said group.

On the other side, Tampa Bay has turned into a three-man committee consisting of Peyton Barber, Doug Martin, and Charles Sims. Last week Barber, Martin and Sims played 45%, 28%, and 29% of snaps, respectively.

Barber broke out for 102 rushing yards during Martin's Week 13 absence, earning more playing time. Barber's Rushing NEP per rush of 0.06 and Rushing Success Rate of 46.15% both pace the team, and per our numbers, Barber has vastly outperformed Martin this season as Martin's Rushing NEP per carry of -0.13 is the second-worst clip among 80-carry backs. Passing-down specialist Sims has a Rushing NEP of 0.03 with a Success Rate of 36.84%.

While this backfield will remain a timeshare, Barber's role should only increase at Martin's expense.

Defensive Matchup

Per our schedule-adjusted metrics the Falcons have the NFL's 18th best defense and the Buccaneers rank 26th.

Atlanta has struggled mainly against the run, ranking 28th in run defense. Against the pass, they rank 17th. Tampa Bay is the exact opposite, ranking 30th against the pass and 16th against the run.

With clear deficiencies on both sides, exploiting these matchups could be the key to this game, and Vegas is expecting plenty of points, giving this one a 48.5-point over/under.

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