Posted on May 24, 2016 by Brian Neal
The first game on the Sunday slate of Week 1 pits the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Atlanta Falcons. While it’s still May, it’s never too early to get ready for the upcoming football season. Who has the best odds of coming away with a 1-0 record from this matchup? A preview and prediction are below.
Game Day: Sunday, Sept. 11
Game Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Location: Atlanta, Ga.
Betting Line: -3.5 ATL; 48 O/U (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)
Bucs Key Losses:
- DT Henry Melton (free agent)
- G Logan Mankins (free agent)
Bucs Key Additions:
- G J.R. Sweezy (free agent)
- DE Robert Ayers (free agent)
- CB Brent Grimes (free agent)
- CB Josh Robinson (free agent)
- LB Daryl Smith (free agent)
- CB Vernon Hargreaves III (drafted)
- DE Noah Spence (drafted)
Falcons Key Losses:
- WR Roddy White (free agent)
- LT Jake Long (free agent)
- SS William Moore (free agent)
- ILB Justin Durant (free agent)
- DE Kroy Biermann (free agent)
Falcons Key Additions:
- C Alex Mack (free agent)
- WR Mohamed Sanu (free agent)
- DE Derrick Shelby (free agent)
- ILB Sean Weatherspoon (free agent)
- OLB Courtney Upshaw (free agent)
- SS Keanu Neal (drafted)
- TE Austin Hooper (drafted)
The Falcons made it a mission to turn over some new talent on both sides of the ball this offseason, and did just that. Mack brings a strong presence to the offensive line, even with the departure of Long (who isn’t really anything close to what he once was early in his career anyway). Swapping the younger Sanu for the aging White was also a smart move. Atlanta also made some good swaps on defense, letting Durant, Moore and Biermann go and bringing in talents like Shelby, Weatherspoon (for a second time), Upshaw and the rookie, Neal.
Nevertheless, that’s quite a few starters who will need to learn the system and gain the chemistry needed to compete in the NFL. These changes were necessary, though, given how stagnant the Falcons’ defense has been the past few seasons.
As for Tampa, the Bucs continue to add talent to a young, up-and-coming squad. They may have only won six games last year, but the future is bright. Not only did Jameis Winston exceed expectations, but he finally seems serious about his career and has gotten into phenomenal shape this offseason in preparation.
But it’s not the offense that Bucs fans are too worried about. They have two stud wideouts, a promising tight end, brought back Doug Martin and have a strong offensive line that got better with the addition of Sweezy.
It’s the defense that was not holding up its end of the bargain in 2015, especially in the passing game. But they added a ton of talent to the roster on that side of the ball.
It started in free agency, as they brought in Ayers, Grimes and Robinson, adding a better pass rush and cover corners. In the draft, they added even more talent to those two areas with Hargreaves in the first, and Spence in the second — who might be the best pure pass rusher in this year’s draft. All five of those guys are going to make a stark improvement on the defensive side of the ball, and could transform Tampa into a playoff contender, especially if Winston doesn’t suffer a sophomore slump.
What all of this means is that opening week is a big one for both of these NFC South squads, as well as the entire division. Atlanta fizzled last year, but has the potential to win double-digit games, yet the same could be said of the Bucs. Truly, it’ll come down to which defenses improved the most, and on paper at least, that pendulum seems to be swinging toward the Bucs.
Prediction: All things considered, it’s also important to factor in the home team. Atlanta seemingly always plays well at the Georgia Dome, especially early in the season. Despite the fact that Tampa Bay may be the more talented team overall at this point, it may take time to develop such a young group. This Week 1 matchup gives Atlanta the advantage, mostly because of location and time of year. Expect the 3.5-point favorites to cover in a high scoring affair, in which the over should be taken with that 48 spot.
Final Score: Falcons 31, Buccaneers 24