Another divisional matchup is the featured game on this week's NFL Thursday Night Football. This time, it's the Atlanta Falcons hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC South encounter.
Tampa Bay finds itself without a win two weeks into the 2014 NFL season. After a pair of home losses, new Bucs head coach Lovie Smith hopes a change of scenery might do the trick. The Buccaneers lead the all-time series with Atlanta, 21-20, but the past three seasons have seen the teams split their two division games. The last time Tampa Bay won in Atlanta was the final game of the 2012 NFL season.
The Buccaneers are led by quarterback Josh McCown, who has completed almost 68 percent of his passes. Running back Doug Martin was expected to contribute heavily from the backfield, but has been dealing with a knee injury and is questionable for Thursday night.
Bobby Rainey filled in admirably last Sunday for Martin, rushing for 144 yards in a two-point loss to the Rams. Rookie wide receiver Mike Evans, Johnny Manziel's favorite target at Texas A&M, leads the Tampa Bay wideouts with nine catches so far.
With a 1-1 record, Atlanta is the No. 2-rated offense in the NFL, gaining an average of over 438 yards per game while scoring over 23 points per contest. Quarterback Matt Ryan is in his seventh year, running the Falcons offense. He threw for almost 450 yards in a come-from-behind win at home over the Saints. However, last Sunday, he was intercepted three times and sacked twice in a loss at Cincinnati.
Despite the loss, Tampa head coach Lovie Smith knows Ryan is a proven commodity in the NFL.
"Matt is one of the top quarterbacks in the league, since he came into the league, pretty much," Smith told AtlantaFalcons.com. "He's a great leader and when the game is on the line, you want a guy like him in charge. Personally, he's caused me a lot of long nights," the Bucs coach added.
Ryan has the weapons on offense to put points on the scoreboard. Running backs Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers, both Oregon State products, provide power and speed in the backfield. Meanwhile, Julio Jones and Roddy White are two of the more prolific pass catchers in the NFL. But White has missed practice during this short week, due to injury, and is also questionable for the Buccaneers game.
Another Falcon receiver, Devin Hester, also doubles as a kick returner and can cause problems for the opposing team. Hester holds the NFL record for career punt return touchdowns, with 13. Look for the Buccaneers to play "keep away" from Hester on special teams.
The Falcons-Buccaneers game can be seen on both CBS and the NFL Network, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern Thursday.