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18 Dec 2017 02:07 PM EST

-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Atlanta’s Julio Jones makes move against New Orleans. (Image Source: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Here’s a look at the Monday Night Football matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons:

Series: Tied at 24-24; Streak: Falcons have won the past two; Last Meeting: Falcons 34, Buccaneers 20 (11.26.17)

Time: 8:30 PM ET; TV: ESPN (Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters)

Where They Stand:

A .500 team at the midway point, the Atlanta Falcons (8-5) have turned it on in the second half of the season with four wins in their past five games. With a win tonight, the defending NFC Champs will reside as the sixth seed in the conference and stay within one game of the division lead. With games remaining against both New Orleans and Carolina, the Falcons can still win the South if they win out. The Tampa Bay Bucs (4-9) may have won the summer with Hard Knocks but have done little winning since, as they will finish the season in last place regardless of how they perform in the final three games of 2017.

When the Falcons Have the Ball:

Quarterback Matt Ryan has had Tampa’s number of late with 995 passing yards and seven touchdowns to no interceptions with a 122.3 rating in his past three against the Bucs. With 2,367 yards and 17 TDs (5 INTs) in his past eight games on Monday night, Matty Ice has proved he doesn’t melt under the bright lights. Wide out Julio Jones is having another fabulous season with an NFC-best 1,161 yards. In his past three games, Jones has 375 receiving yards and he went off the last time these teams played with 253 yards on 12 receptions, including a pair of scores. Mohamed Sanu has a TD in three of his past four division games, including 83 receiving yards last week with a TD against New Orleans.

The Bucs will need cornerback Brent Grimes, a former Atlanta Falcon, to be at his best tonight. He’s picked off a pass in his past two home games and leads the NFL with 75 passes defensed since 2013. The Bucs will be without their best defender Gerald McCoy and maybe their most-important defender, linebacker Lavonte David, who is always around the ball and is coming off a strong effort with 14 tackles, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in Week 14. His five fumble recoveries lead the league and he ranks second in the NFL with five forced fumbles. Without David, Kwon Alexander must step up and he’s shown a knack for making impact plays against the Falcons with two sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an INT in five career meetings.

When the Buccaneers Have the Ball:

Tampa Bay hopes quarterback Jameis Winston can find his groove at home, where he’s averaged 290.3 passing yards in his past four. In his past two against the Falcons in Raymond James Stadium the former No. 1 overall pick has thrown for 542 yards and seven TDs to just one INT (118.1 rating). In his past three home games against the Falcons, Mike Evans has caught 23 passes for 336 yards and four touchdowns, while the speedy DeSean Jackson has gone over 100 yards in five of his past six on Monday night. Not to be overlooked are Tampa’s tight ends. Cameron Brate has 14 receiving touchdowns since the start of last season which is tied for second among all tight ends and O.J. Howard is tied for third among all rookies with four TD catches.

Capable of matching up with the tight ends are the speedy duo of Deion Jones and Keanu Neal. Jones intercepted a pass and recorded a career-high 13 tackles last week to become one of four defenders with 100-plus tackles and at least two picks. From his safety position, Neal has three forced fumbles in his past four divisional games. Atlanta also has a strong pass rush that travels. Outside linebacker Vic Beasley, Jr. has 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in his past 11 road games and defensive Adrian Clayborn has seven sacks, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries in his past five.

Score: Falcons 27, Bucs 17

Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards. 

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