The Atlanta Falcons host Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the opening Sunday of the season. the Bucs were able to beat the Falcons twice last year, despite Atlanta having leads in the fourth quarters of both games. Former Atlanta offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, is now the head coach of the Bucs, adding a little fuel to this once brutal rivalry.
Chase Irle: Falcons football is back, and I could not be more excited. Atlanta really struggled last season in the division, only managing to salvage one victory in six games. With the schedule being so tough outside the division this season, it is pivotal that the Falcons do better against their divisional opponents, particularly the weaker ones like the Saints and Bucs.
The Bucs are going to be stout on defense, especially across the defensive line. The Falcons offensive line should be much improved with the addition of all-pro center Alex Mack, so the Buccaneers should provide a nice test for the unit. Vernon Hargreaves also had a spectacular preseason, but if the offensive line gives Matt Ryan time he should be able to pick a part the defense with his new weapons and of course Julio Jones.
I know its only week one, but it already almost feels like a must win for the Falcons. With high expecatations coming off a disappointing end to last season, Atlanta has to win this game at home or could be in for a really rough start to the season. 4 of their next 5 games come on the road (Raiders, Saints, Broncos, Seahawks) and the other one is home against the Panthers. That is a tough beginning to the schedule, and with a home loss to the Bucs, a 2-4 or 1-5 start to the season is very possible.
With that being said, the Falcons will get the job done. I believe in Dan Quinn’s ability to get the most out of his defense. They should be able to stop the Bucs to a degree, but most importantly the Atlanta offense should soar and not just for this game. This unit is now loaded with talent. There are no excuses for Matt Ryan this season. I believe in Ryan and think he makes a statement this game by throwing 3 touchdowns and leading the Falcons to a 31-20 victory.
Shailin Singh: After being horribly swept by the Bucs in 2015, I think the Falcons will bounce back this Sunday with a win the opener in the Georgia Dome. Both games last year were extremely winnable, and a few costly turnovers ended costing us both of them.
I think Devonta Freeman will have a great game on Sunday and our passing attack should be able to take advantage of a subpar Tampa secondary. Julio Jones will probably be against an aging Brent Grimes, who he should be able to put up great numbers against. Matt Ryan will hopefully look better in year two of Shanahan, and with added weapons we should see a more dynamic offense hit the field for the first time on Sunday.
Jameis Winston provided plenty of fits to our defense last year, and I think many fans still have his first down run on 3rd and a mile fresh in their minds. Hopefully, the added speed with both rookie linebackers starting will help against Winston scrambling as well as to stop Sefarian-Jenkins and Doug Martin. The Mike Evans and Winston is quickly becoming one of the best in the game, but Trufant should be able to limit Evans from putting up huge numbers.
Ultimately, I believe the Falcons should come out with the win, but winning the turnover battle will be a deciding factor on whether we do so or not.
Prediction: 31-24 Falcons
Michael Arkin: After a long offseason, the Atlanta Falcons finally are back. Opening up against a division opponent will mean both teams will have to bring their best on opening day. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers swept the Falcons last year, but both games Atlanta could have easily won. Turnovers were the issue, and they were the issue all season. Expect Dan Quinn, Kyle Shanahan, and the offensive coaches to have done their best to address that issue.
Tampa Bay has slowly but surely improved each year. Second-year quarterback Jameis Winston looks to continue his winning streak against Atlanta, bolstering an offense that can be very hard to stop. Mike Evans is one of the better receivers in the NFL, but he will go against a top cornerback in the league in Desmond Trufant. Keep an eye out on that matchup.
Doug Martin had a much-improved season last year, and he looks to carry that momentum. The Falcons allowed 105 rushing yards per game last season, and more importantly held Martin under four yards per carry in both games. With the expected new starters for the front seven and two rookies starting at linebacker, the rush defense could improve or become worse.
On the offensive side of the ball, Matt Ryan comes back after having one of his worst seasons in recent memory. Gerald McCoy and Levante David lead the Buccanears on defense, but Atlanta can take advantage of this defense. Kwon Alexander had a forced fumble and interception that completely changed everything in the first meeting last season, and as I stated before, the Falcons will have to limit turnovers. They must win the turnover battle in order to win this game. Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith both coached Ryan, so they have an idea of his tendencies which can play a big factor in Sunday’s matchup.
Devonta Freeman had a big year in 2015, and I see him exploding come Sunday. The Bucs rush defense averaged just above 100 yards, and with an improved offensive line for the Falcons, Freeman could see a lot more holes this year. The receivers should be able to get open, as superstar receiver Julio Jones will be most likely be matched up against rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. He should be able to exploit the rookie corner and welcome him to the NFL. Justin Hardy and Mohammad Sanu should also be factors in this game, and look for Sanu to be a big third-down target this season.
This is a very big opening game to start the new season with. Divisional matchups are always the biggest games, and starting off with one means a lot for winning, but also for pride. After being swept, the Falcons need to find a way to start off the year just like every other team wants, which is to be 1-0. I think this game starts off shaky and sloppy, but Atlanta starts to get into a groove, finally taking down the Buccaneers.
Prediction: Atlanta 27, Tampa Bay 20