The Atlanta Falcons are putting in their maximum effort this week in preparation for a three-game road stretch that begins Sunday against the Buccaneers. Take a look at the team at work in Week 13.
*1. One of the biggest keys down the stretch will be for Atlanta's offense to produce more. Other than cutting down on turnovers and improving in the red zone, what would you like to see from that group? *
Jay Adams:*Consistency. I'd like to see the Falcons be able to move the ball like we know they're capable of at a consistent clip throughout the game. You'll have drives that stall out, but turning drives into points is a product of consistency on that side of the ball. Kelsey Conway:* Being effective in both the pass and run game. With the return of Devonta Freeman to lineup, I'd like to see the Falcons dominate running and throwing the ball on Sunday. The talent Atlanta has in Matt Ryan and his receivers combined with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the backfield, this offense can be a nightmare for a defense when executed mistake-free.Andrew Hirsh: I'd like to see a few of the secondary passing options to step up. Jacob Tamme and Leonard Hankerson have shown they can be valuable receivers for Matt Ryan; Justin Hardy has shown flashes in his brief time with the team. If someone can be a consistent No. 2 threat opposite Julio Jones, it'll make a huge difference.
2. Tampa's D has quietly become a formidable unit under Lovie Smith. Who's one defender who's helped them take a leap forward?
JA: Gerald McCoy is a force in the middle and, while his status for Sunday still seems to be up in the air, he's an emotional leader for that side of the ball. McCoy gets pressure and stuffs the middle like few defensive linemen in the league right now and his veteran leadership is certainly a boon for that side of the ball.
KC: Rookie LB Kwon Alexander is second on the Buccaneers in tackles with 83. Alexander had an interception, forced fumble and a fumble recovery the last time these clubs met.
AH: William Gholston is someone who really stands out to me. He's developed a lot in his third season and, with 15 stops, has grown into one of the NFL's most productive 4-3 DEs against the run. It'll be interesting to see how he fares against Atlanta's wide zone ground attack.
3. Do you consider this week's matchup against the Bucs as a "must-win" game? JA: Absolutely. You have to win this game. The Falcons are the first team to make the playoffs because the playoffs start now. Because of the recent skid, every game from here on is a must-win in order to have any say in your own destiny.
KC: Definitely. I wrote earlier this week about what's at stake on Sunday and I think that although every game from here on out is important, this one is especially because Tampa sits behind Atlanta in the playoff picture. A win would be huge for this team moving forward, but a loss could make things tough for the Falcons.
AH:I do. Losing their fifth in a row against a team just below the Falcons in the standings would make a playoff berth extremely difficult. A victory, on the other hand, would vault Atlanta right back into the postseason picture.
Over/Under: Three combined rushing TDs.
JA: Over. Devonta Freeman and Doug Martin are machines in the backfield. I expect both to put in some solid work Sunday.
KC: Devonta Freeman is hungry, I expect a monster performance from him and Doug Martin is a talented running back that puts up consistent numbers for his team.AH: I'll take the over. With Devonta Freeman returning and Doug Martin playing as well as he has, I wouldn't be surprised if both offenses lean heavily on the ground game.