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  1. Bucs

Bucs-Falcons: Tampa Bay Times staff predictions for Sunday's 1 p.m. game

The Bucs face the defending NFC champion in its new home Sunday in Atlanta.

Here's the Times' Bucs coverage team's predictions for Tampa Bay's 1 p.m. game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium:

MATTY ICE-FOLLIES

Rick Stroud, @NFLStroud: The Bucs did well to survive if not thrive in wins over the lowly Jets and diving Dolphins. But the Falcons are twice as good as those other teams. Considering how every quarterback has time to pat the football against an invisible Bucs pass rush, Matt Ryan should have a 300-yard passing game. The question is whether he can accomplish it in the first half. Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu may be the best tandem the Bucs have faced this season. Prediction: Atlanta 34-20.

CLOSER THAN THE EXPERTS THINK

Tom Jones, @tomwjones: To quote ESPN's Lee Corso, this one will be closer than the experts think. The Bucs have won two in a row, but against lousy competition. What will make this game kind of close is Atlanta is coming off a Monday night game on the other coast in Seattle. Makes for a short and tough week. In the end, however, Falcons are too much. Prediction: Atlanta 31-21.

A SOLID EFFORT

Martin Fennelly, @mjfennelly: The Bucs throw down in the name of 2017. It's a potential flat spot for Atlanta coming off season-saving wins vs. Dallas and at Seattle. Add the short week and cross-country travel for the Falcons and the Bucs. showing more feistiness, should stay in the game. Prediction: Atlanta 30-24.

FALCONS ARE GOOD; BEARS, GIANTS, JETS & DOLPHINS WEREN'T

Thomas Bassinger, @tometrics: The Falcons offense isn't as ridiculously good as it was last season, but it's still one of the NFL's 10 best. Atlanta has the third-most plays per drive (6.39), the third-most yards per drive (37.24) and the sixth-most points per drive (2.25). The Bucs defense ranks in the bottom half of the league in each of those categories. Tampa Bay has allowed the third-most pass plays of 30 or more yards. Prediction: Atlanta 33-23.

1-800-DEFENSE

Ernest Hooper, @hoop4you: The prevailing logic has Atlanta outscoring Tampa Bay, but if the Bucs can extend its recent turnover-producing ways, it can slow Ryan and Jones. The Bucs' best chance of a victory is calling on the defense to turn in one of its best efforts against a weary unit that is missing RB Devonta Freeman (concussion protocol). But if the Bucs fall behind big early, there will be no comeback. Prediction: Atlanta 21-20.

NOT QUITE ENOUGH

Greg Auman, @gregauman: It would be huge for the Bucs to pull off the upset, as they'd only need an easier win at Green Bay to be back at 6-6 with a four-game win streak and three of the final four games at home. As nice as that would be, I don't think Tampa Bay's defense can keep Ryan and Atlanta's offense in check enough to pull it off. Prediction: Atlanta 34-24.

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