Week 15 of the 2017 NFL season wraps up this evening with a Monday Night Football matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This NFC South affair has plenty of playoff implications hinging on the outcome, although these are only relevant for one of the teams involved. This is a critical contest for the Falcons—who need a win to stay within striking distance of the division co-leaders—and not so important for the Bucs, a team that benefits more from losing than winning due to draft position but is still playing for pride, making this an interesting game that can be tough to predict a winner for.
The 8-5 Falcons are right in the thick of the playoff hunt, currently sitting one game behind both the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints—the two opponents Atlanta will face in the final two weeks of the campaign—in the division and narrowly holding on to the No. 6 seed and final Wild Card spot in the NFC. There are three other eight-win clubs lurking right behind the Falcons (Detroit, Seattle and Dallas) with an eye on the postseason, plus a seven-win Green Bay squad that isn’t out of contention yet but will be if the Falcons win tonight. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, isn’t looking forward to much else besides next season after a 4-9 start. The Buccaneers have lost three games in a row and come into this one as 6.5-point underdogs.
Oddsmakers aren’t expecting a close contest, opening betting with the Falcons as five-point chalk before early action forced the line to slide to ATL -6.5, where it currently sits a few hours before kickoff. It’s a rather large spread, especially in a game that precedes critically important showdowns with division rivals New Orleans and Carolina to decide the fate of the NFC South. The Falcons could get caught napping if they are already looking past this still-dangerous Tampa Bay organization. Las Vegas betting pro Jon Price of SportsInformationTraders.com has taken these—and many other—factors into account when coming up with a lean on this game for readers. Before getting to Price’s expert pick, take a quick look at the complete schedule, start time, TV information, updated odds and more for this Week 15 Monday Night Football game.
The Bucs-Falcons rivalry is deadlocked after 48 games between the franchises, with each side claiming 24 victories over the other. That tie will be settled, at least temporarily, this evening. The lead probably won’t last too long, however, as this series has been evened up on 12 separate occasions and neither side has gained more than a two-game edge since 2010. Here’s how the last 10 matchups between these rivals has shaken out:
If recent history is any indication, the Falcons should be feeling good about their chances of winning. They have won back-to-back games against this opponent by double-digits, including a 34-20 result in Week 12. Atlanta was also the victor the last time these organizations took the field in a primetime slot, putting up points at will in Raymond James Stadium, resulting in a 43-28 win on Thursday Night Football last year.
James Palmer noted the latest playoff implications stemming from Week 15, which adds up to Packers fans watching and rooting for Tampa tonight to keep their playoff hopes alive:
High scores are a common sight at the Bucs-Falcons game, with the total across the last 10 meetings averaging out to slightly above 52 points. One reason for the massive scores, at least on Atlanta’s end, is the presence of wide receiver Julio Jones. The seventh-year man out of Alabama has made his mark on this series since coming into the league and has had some his finest outings against Tampa Bay. In the most recent matchup, Atlanta was able to assert control largely thanks to Jones’ 12-catch, 253-yard, two-touchdown performance. He broke the game wide open, racking up than double his previous season-high for yards and scoring twice during a campaign in which he had found the end zone only once prior.