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Week 15 Monday Night Football has more of a feeling like Thursday Night Football this week. A divisional matchup of the 8-5 Atlanta Falcons and 4-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers has two of the most underachieving teams of 2017.

With a win, Atlanta could stay alive for a playoff spot while Tampa Bay just wants to play spoiler now. The good news about these two teams, there will be plenty of star power on display tonight.

Let's get to it.

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Atlanta Falcons @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Date and Start Time: Monday, December 18th at 8:30 p.m. EST

Game Spread: Falcons -7

Notables from Injury Report and Inactives:

  • Tevin Coleman (RB, ATL)- Concussion- Out
  • Lavonte David (LB, TB)- Hamstring- Out
  • Gerald McCoy (DT, TB)- Biceps- Out

Offensive and Defensive Rankings (based on per game stats through Week 14):

Falcons Buccaneers
Passing Yards 8th 6th
Rushing Yards 11th 27th
Pass Defense 7th 32nd
Rush Defense 11th 18th



Atlanta has not been able to find steady footing this year after one of the most disappointing Super Bowl collapses in history. Just like you, I’m ready to move on from that story line and not hear about it anymore. Problem is, you don’t typically put that shame to bed until you get back and win. Atlanta is on the fringe of that opportunity right now. A win tonight would move them to 9-5, one game behind division leading New Orleans and Carolina and ahead of Seattle, Dallas and Detroit for the wild card. Atlanta can thank a questionable call in Detroit earlier in the season for this advantages situation. The road doesn’t get any easier after this week. Atlanta will head to New Orleans in Week 16 and will host Carolina in Week 17. The NFC South playoff race will be one of the better storylines as the season winds down.

Tampa Bay is playing for pride right now, and even at 4-9, they are one of the most important teams in the NFL when it comes to determining the playoffs. Tampa Bay can play spoiler tonight against Atlanta and possibly the next two weeks when they visit Carolina and host New Orleans. The road to the NFC South title and possibly a wild card spot goes through Tampa Bay. Now, while they would rather be playing for a chance to make the playoffs, this is the perfect situation in a terrible season to gain momentum heading towards 2018. Winning two out of the last three games or even sweeping them to end the season and ruin the hopes of some playoffs teams is exactly what Jameis Winston and company need. Could it be enough to save Dirk Koetter’s job? Maybe, but it should. Tampa Bay has dealt with injuries and ineffective play this year. Giving Koetter another year with this talent makes sense.

The big matchup to watch tonight is Julio Jones vs Mike Evans. Two elite level wide receivers get a chance to shine on the big stage tonight. Jones has the far superior matchup, playing a Buccaneers defense that allows 283.3 receiving yards a game, last in the NFL. Evans will need to fight through a Falcons defense that only allows 231.3 receiving yards per game, seventh in the NFL. The key stat for me is Atlanta’s average yards per reception of 10.0, best in the NFL. Chances of big plays tonight will be slim for Tampa Bay. Evans and DeSean Jackson thrive on those types of plays to make this offense run. Controlling the game through running backs will be the key to success for Tampa Bay. Even if Atlanta gets ahead quickly, Tampa Bay cannot get pass happy and try to beat Atlanta through the air. They will need to stay committed to the run game. I like this matchup for both Tampa Bay running backs.

A divisional battle like this should bring a decent game. Both teams should hang in there to begin with, but the team that makes the least amount of mistakes will walk out with a win. Even on the road, I believe Atlanta will get the win tonight with a steady diet of Devonta Freeman and some huge plays by Jones. The Falcons will keep their playoff hopes alive and look towards more daunting tasks the next two weeks.


Must Starts

Devonta Freeman (RB, ATL)

Freeman will have the backfield all to his self tonight while Tevin Coleman recovers from a concussion. Not only will the volume be there, but the quality opportunities will also be there. Tampa Bay will be missing DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David. Those are two huge playmakers missing in the middle of the defense. Freeman will have room to run all night long.

Julio Jones (WR, ATL)

The Buccaneers rank 32nd against the pass this year and that means Jones will be open all night. When these two teams met in Week 12, Jones had 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He will have the opportunity to make big plays but hopefully Tampa Bay can keep it close. Jones owners don't want the passing game shut down too early.


Must Sits

Doug Martin (RB, TB)

Since Martin made his debut in Week 5, he has only averaged 2.82 yards per carry. Atlanta only gives up an average of 108.3 yards rushing per game, but gives up an average of 4.3 yards per carry. Atlanta has been able to limit damage because they have faced the fourth least rushing attempts per game. I am not going to trust Martin in this matchup. The volume could disappear quickly if Atlanta gets ahead early.

UPDATE: Doug Martin is a healthy scratch tonight and will not play.

Austin Hooper (TE, ATL)

You are going to see a lot of Jones and Freeman with some Mohamed Sanu mixed in tonight. Hooper doesn't have a touchdown catch since Week 10 and hasn't had 50 or more receiving yards wince Week 4. I mentioned Hooper in #TrendingNow a couple weeks ago and I haven't changed my mind. The Bucs may be bad in a lot of areas this year, but they only give up 5.82 fantasy points per game to tight ends, second best in the league.


Solid Options/Sleepers

Solid Option - Mohamed Sanu (WR, ATL)

I have loved Sanu all season as a WR3/Flex play regardless of the opponent. He is so undervalued but doesn't get the recognition because of the guys around him. Sanu has manged at least five targets in a game nine times this season. Add in a career high in catch rate, Sanu makes for a decent play every week, especially against the leagues worst pass defense. Even when Jones had his monster week against Tampa Bay earlier in the year, Sanu still managed 64 yards on eight catches.

Sleeper - Peyton Barber (RB, TB)

Tampa Bay should game plan around young Peyton Barber who has surprised the last couple of weeks, rushing 35 times for 160 yards and hauling in five receptions for 46 yards. Atlanta has given up the fifth most receptions to running backs in the NFL this year. Barber has become a much better all around back then Martin. I look for Barber to pick up some decent points, especially in PPR leagues.


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