Here’s what you need to know about the Bucs’ season-finale:
Bucs-Falcons TV, streaming options, odds, etc.
Time: 1 p.m. ET Sunday
Place: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
TV: FOX (Channel 13 Tampa Bay)
Announcers: Tim Brando, Matt Millen and Sara Walsh.
Radio: 97.9 FM in Tampa Bay (Bucs radio affiliates can be found here).
Officiating assignment: Carl Cheffers
Odds: Bucs (-1.5 points), over-under (47.5)
A consolation prize worth having
John Romano, columnist, @romano_tbtimes: Can a consolation prize ever be a motivating factor? In this case, I think it might. Bruce Arians has the Bucs believing they’ve turned a corner, and finishing 8-8 would be a very tangible selling point. It’s true Tampa Bay is banged up. It’s also true the Falcons have been on a roll in December. So an Atlanta victory would not even qualify as an upset. But Tampa Bay’s young secondary first grabbed your attention in a game against the Falcons last month, and they’ve only gotten better since then. Bucs 27-23.
The difference between 7-9 and 8-8
Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer, @NFLStroud: Bruce Arians told his players that they should finish .500 because they’re “not losers.” A win Sunday would make Tampa Bay 8-8 with six wins in the last eight games. Maybe that momentum carries into the 2020 season, but likely not. The Bucs will be without Mike Evans and Chris Godwin again. Meanwhile, the Falcons will have running back Devonta Freeman and tight end Austin Hooper. Atlanta has won three in a row and this is a battle for second place in the NFC South. Jameis Winston is two interceptions away from the first 30-touchdown, 30-interception season in NFL history. He says his total focus is playing a turnover-free game. If he does that, the Bucs have a good chance because their defense is playing as well as it has all season. This is Shaq Barrett’s last chance to set the club’s sack record and Jason Pierre-Paul had three sacks last week. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was dumped six times when they played earlier this season. Matt Gay may win it late. Bucs 24-23.
Still a lot to play for
Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs/Pro sports enterprise writer, @EddieintheYard: Both of these teams have rebounded from slow starts to win five of their last seven games. The Falcons have road wins in New Orleans and San Francisco, so they’ve been their best away from home. But the key here — as it is most times with the Bucs — is whether Tampa Bay can limit turnovers. Winston threw two interceptions in the Bucs’ 35-22 win in Atlanta, when Tampa Bay averaged a season-high 7.2 yards a play and had 133 rushing yards. There’s something that makes the Falcons a good matchup for the Bucs. This time it will be closer. Bucs 28-27.
Bucs have more to gain by losing
Thomas Bassinger, sports data reporter, @tometrics: Would you trade $120 for $100? That’s essentially what the Bucs will be doing if they beat the Falcons on Sunday. If they lose, they have a chance at landing the 12th overall pick in April’s draft. If they win, they could fall to 19th. The 12th pick is roughly 20 percent more valuable than the 19th pick. Put another way: A team slotted 12th could command at least a fourth-round pick (and maybe a third-round pick) to trade down to 19th. You want a win, do you? So does coach Bruce Arians. “8-8 tastes a whole lot better all offseason,” he said. Okay, but does it mean anything? No. You would think that teams that improve during the second half of a season carry that success over to the next season, but there’s no such correlation. The Bucs would be better off resting any players they’re counting on for 2020. Bucs 35-21.
Another chance to prove it
Mike Sherman, deputy editor | sports, @mikesherman: When you haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 and have lost 10,000 paying customers in three seasons, proof of progress is vital. Winning six of your last eight games would be proof. Winning is proof. What happened the next season to other teams that have won seven of their last nine is irrelevant. What’s relevant in Tampa Bay is improvement. The Bucs are significantly improved on defense, a fact masked by Winston’s 28 interceptions and seven pick-sixes. Eliminate half of those interceptions and the Bucs would be playing for a playoff berth. But when you haven’t done that for more than a decade, you have something to prove every Sunday. Bucs 28-21.
Evaluating Winston, game-by-game (John Romano)
Jameis Winston’s 30-30 challenge (Eduardo A. Encina)
Could the Bucs lose both coordinators? (Rick Stroud)
Farewell to a Bucs mainstay? (Rick Stroud)
Tampa Bay Times staff NFL picks for week 17
|Visitor||Home||Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs beat writer||John Romano, columnist||Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer||Mike Sherman, deputy editor-sports||Thomas Bassinger, sports data reporter|
|Atlanta||Tampa Bay (-1.5)||TB 28-27||TB 27-23||TB 24-23||TB 28-21||TB 35-21|
|Green Bay (-12.5)||Detroit||GB 27-14||GB 24-10||GB 34-17||GB 26-13||GB 21-14|
|N.Y. Jets||Buffalo (-1.5)||BUF 24-21||BUF 28-20||BUF 24-17||NYJ 20-17||BUF 24-21|
|Miami||New England (-15.5)||NE 27-17||NE 24-17||NE 28-29||NE 31-21||NE 31-13|
|Chicago||Minnesota (-1.5)||CHI 21-18||CHI 17-16||Chi 21-20||CHI 23-17||MIN 24-17|
|L.A. Chargers||Kansas City (-9.5)||KC 31-21||KC 26-13||KC 35-20||KC 34-21||KC 31-23|
|Cleveland (-2.5)||Cincinnati||CLE 24-22||CLE 28-23||CLE 24-17||CIN 27-24||CIN 38-35|
|New Orleans (-13.5)||Carolina||NO 34-17||NO 41-20||NO 30-21||NO 41-21||NO 42-31|
|Indianapolis (-3.5)||Jacksonville||IND 24-20||IND 28-20||IND 27-23||JAX 24-20||IND 35-28|
|Philadelphia (-4.5)||N.Y. Giants||PHI 21-14||PHI 24-17||PHI 28-20||NYG 27-23||PHI 28-23|
|Arizona||L.A. Rams (-3.5)||LAR 28-24||LAR 30-23||LAR 30-24||LAR 28-20||LAR 30-27|
|Pittsburgh (-2.5)||Baltimore||PIT 27-24||PIT 20-16||PIT 21-17||PIT 21-13||PIT 21-20|
|Tennessee (-3.5)||Houston||TEN 28-27||TEN 23-21||HOU 27-23||HOU 24-20||TEN 32-28|
|Oakland||Denver (-3.5)||DEN 20-17||DEN 28-20||DEN 30-23||DEN 27-24||DEN 24-20|
|Washington||Dallas (-10.5)||DAL 30-18||DAL 31-17||DAL 34-21||DAL 35-20||DAL 31-21|
|San Francisco (-3.5)||Seattle||SF 30-27||SF 35-34||SF 27-24||SF 28-24||SF 27-26|
|Lock of the week||NO||NO||NE||NO||NE|
|Upset of the week||CHI||CHI||CHI||CHI||CIN|
|Bucs games vs spread||10-5||8-7||8-7||4-11||7-8|
|Versus spread last week||5-11||3-13||8-8||5-11||3-13|
|Versus spread overall||128-112||122-118||122-118||112-128||104-136|
|Straight up last week||10-6||10-6||11-5||9-7||9-7|
|Straight up overall||159-81||149-91||147-93||143-97||143-97|