Tampa Bay Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith and running back Ronald Jones have both been placed on the COVID-19/reserve list, with Smith being officially out and ROJO’s status up in the air for Sunday’s matchup against the Falcons at Raymond James stadium.
Now, with any other team, in any other situation, missing your starting left tackle and running back would usually spell disaster. But the Bucs have Leonard Fournette (a healthy scratch in last Sunday’s win over Minnesota), rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn and veteran LeSean McCoy to fill in for ROJO, and backup tackle Joe Haeg is a solid replacement for Smith.
Haeg started 15 games at right tackle and right guard in 2017, but was tripped up by injuries in 2018, leading him to the Bucs on a one-year deal for 2020.
The Falcons are abysmal. They’re 4-9, and their defense is atrocious, specifically against air attacks. They are in the bottom three of the league in passing yards given up, and are in the bottom five for total yardage given up. You can blame a lot of that on their spectacular blown leads coming in the beginning of the year, against the Cowboys and Bears, but TB12 has been prolific in picking apart subpar defenses, with his brilliant performances against the Chargers, Raiders and Panthers as examples.
Plus, Brady has that mental advantage, especially with the ghosts of 28-3 still haunting Atlanta. I mean, have the Falcons ever really recovered from that nuclear meltdown? Since that infamous game, they are 28-33 (given, in that same stretch the Bucs are 25-36, but let’s not talk about that).
This is looking like a mismatch of the grandest sorts. Brady does not have letdown games, especially in important games. His reputation precedes him, and it’s time for him to cash in. My guess is, he will, and the Bucs will dominate the Falcons 27-10 at home. Brady will throw a pair of TDs and the Bucs will have a pick-six off Matt Ryan, who will be without at least star wideout Julio Jones, who has been ruled as out by interim coach Raheem Morris (a blast from the past), and the Falcons’ other star receiver, Calvin Ridley, is questionable with a foot injury that has kept him as a limited participant in the Falcons’ practices this week.
In other important news for the Bucs’ playoff chances, the Saints take on the Chiefs this Sunday and the Who Dats will have their future-HOF QB back under center, as Drew Brees has been cleared to return to play following his rib injury.
To be frank, the Saints really don’t have a chance against the Super Bowl champs, with or without Brees. If I were Sean Payton I would have told Brees to take another week off, as the best-case-scenario for this game is that Brees gets through it without suffering further injury, with the worst-case being Brees causes further injury and is unable to go in the playoffs. Do we really want to watch Taysom Hill try to do his best Tim-Tebow-for-the-Broncos impression in the playoffs?
As for the Wild Card spot, the Seahawks take on the Washington Football Team, who has been on a roll recently, winning four in a row.
However, Washington’s fearless leader Alex Smith will be out, forcing Washington to put last year’s first-round pick Dwayne Haskins under center in a very important game for both Washington and the Bucs’ playoff chances.
Now, the Seahawks lost to the Giants a couple weeks ago, but they got to right the ship last week in their 40-3 trouncing of the still-winless New York Jets. I wouldn’t hold my breath for Seattle to fall. The Rams get another cake walk in the Jets, and the Cardinals take on the Eagles. So the rest of the NFC Wild Card contenders will probably come out victorious, making this matchup against the Falcons even more important.
Let’s hope the Bucs don’t blow it.
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