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Bucs opponent preview: Falcons, Weeks 1 and 9

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) breaks away for 39 yards through Tampa's defense in the first quarter as Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) and others miss during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday (11/9/14). [BRENDAN FITTERER | Times]


Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) breaks away for 39 yards through Tampa's defense in the first quarter as Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) and others miss during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday (11/9/14). [BRENDAN FITTERER | Times]

When they play: Week 1 (Sept. 11) in Atlanta, Week 9 (Nov. 3) in Tampa

2015 record: 8-8

Last time vs. Bucs: Tampa Bay swept the Falcons last year in two close games, winning 23-20 in overtime and then 23-19 after being swept in 2014.

2016 outlook: Last year, the Falcons opened 5-0, sweeping all four NFC East teams and scoring at least 24 in each game, then didn't score 24 in any game the rest of the way, losing seven of their next eight. It might be the opposite this year, as they open with four of six on the road, then close with four of six at home. Perhaps their best offseason upgrade was adding Pro Bowl center Alex Mack from the Browns in free agency.

Player to watch: WR Julio Jones (6-4, 220) led the NFL with 1,871 receiving yards in 2015 and tied for the league lead with 136 receptions. The Falcons spent big to add Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu, who should be a better No. 2 than he had last season.

Rookie to watch: First-rounder Keanu Neal, the former Gators safety, will miss the first month of the season with injury, so we'll mention second-rounder Deion Jones, a speedy linebacker from LSU and good friend of the Bucs' Kwon Alexander.

Key matchup: Dirk Koetter ran the Falcons offense from 2012-14 and Mike Smith was Atlanta's head coach from 2008-14. They know old players' tendencies, but those players know how their old coaches like to scheme, so there's a chess match of who can surprise and/or outwit the other best.

Familiar face: Former Bucs first-round pick Adrian Clayborn re-signed with the Falcons after finishing second on the team with three sacks last season.

Cool stat: Atlanta tied for the NFL lead with 16 defensive pass interference penalties last season, including six from Desmond Trufant and four from Robert Alford. A DPI penalty last year negated a Falcons interception in the final minutes, keeping alive the drive that led to the Bucs' winning touchdown.

Bucs opponent preview: Falcons, Weeks 1 and 9 09/09/16 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2016 9:13pm]
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