by Frank Martin
The Atlanta Falcons will put their perfect home record on the line but have little else at stake when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the regular-season finale Sunday. Atlanta already has clinched the top seed in the NFC playoffs, ensuring the road to the Super Bowl will go through the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons are 7-0. Still, Falcons coach Mike Smith said his team will "play the game to win" but stopped short of saying whether - or how much - his stars will play.
The Buccaneers' playoff hopes vanished with their current five-game losing streak, which started with a 24-23 home loss to Atlanta in Week 12. The only thing Tampa Bay still has to play for is trying to avoid the NFC South cellar - the Bucs are tied with Carolina for last place in the division. The Falcons have won seven of the past eight meetings with the Bucs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9): Tampa Bay's offense caught fire midway through the season, but the flames have been doused by five turnovers in each of the past two games. Quarterback Josh Freeman has been the primary culprit, throwing four interceptions in each of the past two contests after throwing just eight in the previous 13. Running back Doug Martin (1,312 yards, 10 TDs) has enjoyed a big rookie season but has just one 100-yard game during the five-game losing streak. The defense has been one of the worst in the league, especially against the pass, and allowed 345 passing yards to Ryan and the Falcons in the first meeting.
Atlanta Falcons (13-2): Atlanta looked susceptible in a 30-20 loss at Carolina in Week 14, but the Falcons have responded with impressive wins over the Giants (34-0) and at Detroit (31-18). The offense has been outstanding with quarterback Matt Ryan (4,481 pass yards, 31 TDs, 14 INTs) and a prolific receiving corps led by Roddy White (87 catches, 1,309 yards, 7 TDs), Julio Jones (76 catches, 1,142, 10 TDs) and Tony Gonzalez (88 catches, 889 yards, 8 TDs). The defense has given up a lot of yardage at times but has used 30 turnovers to mitigate the damage.
1. The Buccaneers have a 3,500-yard passer (Freeman 3,843), 1,200-yard rusher (Martin 1,312) and 1,200-yard receiver (Vincent Jackson 1,334) for the first time in franchise history.
2. Ryan's 56 wins are the most by an NFL quarterback in his first five seasons. He has won 11 straight home starts and is 33-4 at the Georgia Dome.
3. Gonzalez needs two receptions to reach 90 for the fifth time in his career.
NFL Football Prediction: Falcons 23, Buccaneers 16.
tony gonzalez - atlanta falcons - doug martin - josh freeman - julio jones - matt ryan - mike smith - roddy white - tampa bay buccaneers