Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-9) at Atlanta Falcons (5-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX (Dick Stockton, Charles Davis)
PREDICTION: Falcons 27-17
SERIES HISTORY: 32nd meeting. Bucs lead the series 18-13. They've won 12 of the last 15. The Bucs lost a critical game to Atlanta last December that was the beginning of the end for coach Jon Gruden.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Falcons WR Roddy White vs. Bucs CB Aqib Talib. White is the go-to wide out for the Falcons and Talib has been a shutdown corner this season, leading the team with five interceptions.
Falcons DE John Abraham vs. Bucs LT Donald Penn. Abraham is a premier rusher in the NFL and Penn struggled a bit last week in pass protection.
Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez vs. Bucs LB Geno Hayes. Gonzalez is a future Hall of Fame player, and the Bucs have struggled in coverage against pass-catching tight ends.
GAME PLAN: The Bucs will continue to improve their running game in an effort to keep the heat off rookie QB Josh Freeman.
The first-round pick is coming off a four-turnover game last week against New Orleans. Ball security is an issue.
But the Bucs don't want to take away Freeman's creativity by extending plays.
Defensively, the Bucs have revamped the entire scheme. Gone is the two-gap scheme under Jim Bates and now linebackers and defensive backs are doing back flips over the return of Cover 2.
Coach Raheem Morris takes over the play-calling on defense and won't reveal his game plan against the Falcons. But the Bucs will return their front seven to a one-gap scheme and take advantage of their speed and quickness.
Look for Morris to take fewer chances in coverage and make the Falcons go the long, hard way by putting eight defenders in the box.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons are comfortable with RB Jason Snelling's hard-nosed style should starter Michael Turner's ankle keep him out a second consecutive week. The most important factor for Atlanta is attacking Tampa Bay's league-worst run defense (168.9 yards per game) to set up play-action for QB Matt Ryan. While Bucs rookie QB Josh Freeman has impressed with his poise, he has still turned the ball over six times in the past two games. Tampa Bay plays with a small margin of error and needs to win the turnover battle. But Atlanta's weakness is in the secondary, so Tampa Bay can't coddle Freeman too much.
FAST FACTS: The Falcons gave up seven plays of 20-plus yards to the Giants last Sunday. ... Tampa Bay is 0-4 on the road this season and has a six-game road losing streak overall.
--WR Antonio Bryant (knee) was given Thanksgiving off because the Bucs have an extra day of practice this week but had full participation on Friday. He will play at Atlanta Sunday.
--LB Barrett Ruud (ribs) returned to practice and had full participation. He will play Sunday at Atlanta.
--TE Kellen Winslow (knee) returned to practice Thursday and will play Sunday.
--S Tanard Jackson missed Thursday's practice with an illness but had full participation on Friday. He is expected to recover in time for Sunday's game.
--CB Torrie Cox (knee) had limited participation in practice on Thirsday but had full participation on Friday.
--RB Michael Turner (sprained ankle) participated in limited practice Thursday and Friday. After missing last Sunday's game, Turner has a chance to return to the lineup this weekend.
--WR Roddy White leads the team in receiving with 713 yards on 51 receptions (14.0 avg.) He's on pace for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season.
--LT Sam Baker has started in nine games at left tackle and is part of an offensive line that did not allow a sack in 18 consecutive quarters. He had limited participation during Frdiay’s practice but is listed as probable for Sunday.
--C Todd McClure is set to make his 124th consecutive start.
--RE John Abraham has 3 1/2 sacks and 10 quarterback hits. He now has 87 1/2 career sacks.
--RB Jerious Norwood (hip), who has not played over the last five games, is expected to play against Tampa Bay.
--WR Brian Finneran (knee) did not participate in practice on Friday and is out for Sunday’s game.
INSIDE THE FALCONS CAMP
The Falcons' secondary doesn't like the long ball.
Overall, they have given up 41 pass plays for 20 yards or more. There have been at least two "explosive" pass plays in every game.
"We are at the back of the league in giving up explosive plays of 20 yards or more," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "It's something that's been our Achilles' heel."
Look for rookie cornerback Christopher Owens to get some action and possibly start for the Falcons.
"We are going to evaluate as a staff, not only scheme, but also personnel, and come up with answers that we feel will give us the best opportunity to win," Smith said.
The Falcons gave up 234 yards on seven pass plays of 20 yards or more against the New York Giants.
They are hoping to confuse Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Josh Freeman.
"The defensive line has got to get pressure on the quarterback and the secondary has to cover their guys," middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "It's just all of us working together to get off the field on third downs."
Owens may become the fourth person to start at left cornerback this year.
Brian Williams opened the season as the starter. Tye Hill and Brent Grimes have started at the spot.
Hill was yanked after a slow start against Carolina. Last week, New York's Eli Manning threw for a career-high 384 yards. He appeared to target the left cornerback spot at times, including in overtime when he hit Mario Manningham for a 29-yarder with Grimes in coverage.
Hill, who started the two previous games, did not play against the Giants.
The Falcons could start Grimes and give him the quick hook like they did Hill at Carolina. Or they could just start Owens from the outset.
"Maybe with people not knowing the coverages or not being grown-ups about what they are supposed to do, so we've got to make changes," Abraham said. "If I'm not playing well they are going to take me out. It's a part of the game. We are just going to move on with Chris."