As the National Football League approaches Week Nine, there are key matchups, divisional repercussions, and the possibility of top teams finishing at the bottom of their divisions. Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta is the most intriguing games of the weekend. The game is a divisional blockbuster, with both teams currently at the top of the division at 5-2.
Atlanta has home field, and Matt Ryan is on a twelve-game winning streak when playing in Hotlanta. The chemistry between Ryan and receiver Roddy White, not to mention tight end Tony Gonzales, is potent and one of the best in the NFL this season. While running the ball shortens games and controls ball possession, the Falcons have their version of beauty and the beast in running backs Michael Turner and Jason Snelling. Both deliver a power running game. Atlanta’s game plan is to beat the opposing defense up with a strong running game and strike big with the deep pass, or underneath routes. The Falcons defense is aggressive and plays an attacking style that produces good turnover differentials. They are solid against the run and work hard in man press defensive coverage. They match up well with Tampa Bay overall.
With Tampa Bay on the road, their current success starts with a solid defense that has yielded only 56 points in all second halves of games, ranking second in the NFL. The stingy defense allows only 149.4 rushing yards per game, while the secondary produces with corners Ronde Barber and Aquib Talib ball hawking skills paying dividends (Talib leads the team with five interceptions).
Josh Freeman, one of the top elite young quarterback along with Sam Bradford, is playing extremely well for a second year player. Five of his eight wins, have been the result of fourth quarter comebacks. He has the size, arm strength, and mobility to give defensive coordinators nightmares, not to mention he spins a good ball with velocity. Carnell “Cadillac” Williams starts the games for the Buccaneers with a pick and slide running style.
The offense has an emerging star in LeGarrette Blount, an undrafted college free agent. A slashing power running back with size, speed, athletic ability and pad level to finish. The best thing this 243 pound running back does is punish defenders with good YAC (yards after contact) production. With the running game building production every game, Freeman is able to use play action and play pitch and catch with rookie receiver Mike Williams, who is putting up good numbers. A receiver with first round talent, he dropped in the draft due to off field issues. Tampa is stocked with weapons and also has a good tight end in Kellen Winslow.
Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris has said his Buccaneers are the best team in the NFC. They look the part on paper, and have lived up to the bragging of their head coach. This team is developing a solid championship foundation. Their first step to becoming an elite team despite being young, is win on the road.
Other key matchups to keep an eye on;
Kansas City vs. Oakland – The Chiefs visit the “Black Hole.” This is a clash of the top two rushing offenses in the NFL. Kansas City is 5-2 and the Raiders are 4-4 and climbing fast, but this divisional battle might get ugly due to bad blood in the past. The Kansas City run defense is stout, but gives up too much yardage in the air.
Indianapolis vs. Philadelphia – The Colts are 5-2 and the Eagles are 4-3. This has the makings of a classic match-up. While the Colts running game is beat up because of injuries, Peyton Manning is getting his receivers healthy again, despite the loss of Dallas Clark for the season. The Colts pass offense is dominating and is considered the team’s best weapon at this time. Philadelphia gets several starters back, including Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson. The mobility of Vick against a high powered attacking defense lead by Dwight Freeney will be exciting to watch.