The Buccaneers (3-4) host the Falcons (5-3) on "Thursday Night Football"in a rematch of Week 1. The Bucs won that game, which did two things: Gave us all the impression that first-year coach Dirk Koetter and second-year quarterback Jameis Winston were not only going to improve on last season's 6-10 mark, but were serious about making a playoff run. And the Falcons, where Matt Ryan was inconsistent a season ago, still hadn't sorted out their issues -- on both offense and defense.
Now, two months later, we have a clearer picture of these two teams -- and a gentle reminder that making grand proclamations after one week of football remains an incredibly stupid idea. In that time, the Bucs have gone 2-4 while the Falcons are 5-2.
The two biggest reasons for the divergent paths? The quarterbacks.
That's hardly revolutionary; we've been beaten about the head in recent years about how the NFL is a passing league that, it turns out, is woefully short on passers. Both Winston and Ryan are high first-round picks, both have had early success, and both have also struggled. Unfortunately for the Bucs, Winston is living through his sophomore slump, one that included a four-pick game against the Cardinals in Week 2, and a three-game stretch of four touchdowns against seven interceptions and two lost fumbles. The Bucs went 0-3.
In early October, Koetter admitted he was "very" concerned with Winston, but added that things could be worse.
"He's not regressing, but we've got to take care of the football," he said. "I mean, we've got to take care of the football. We can't turn it over three times in a half. We just can't do that.''
Winston has shown improvement in recent weeks but the inconsistencies remain. But that's the deal; young quarterbacks, even the ridiculously talented ones, have growing pains. Look no further than Ryan, who helped the Falcons to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons only to see his game fall off a cliff from 2013-2015.
It's worth remembering that 12 months ago, the Falcons headed into Week 9 with a 6-2 record. But they managed just two wins over the final two months and finished 8-8, ranking in the bottom third of the league in both offense and defense. One of the biggest offseason questions marks: Ryan, franchise quarterback, whose lack of consistency manifested itself in inexplicable decisions and ill-timed turnovers.
But it's all coming together in 2016, Ryan's second season in Kyle Shanahan's offense. In eight starts, he's completing a career-high 69 percent of his throws for a career-high 9.4 yards per attempt. The results: A career-high touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4.75. Both men deserve credit; Ryan for buying into the system, and Shanahan for tailoring that system to simplify Ryan's strengths.
Ryan went from 19th in QB value in 2015, according to Football Outsiders' metrics -- just ahead of Brian Hoyer -- to first this season.
A win on Thursday against the Bucs will give the Falcons a 1.5-game lead on the Saints in the division. But if Tampa Bay can find a way to win, they'll move to 4-4 and just a half-game back of Atlanta in the NFC South. Only one CBSSports.com expert has the home-dog Bucs covering the 4.5 points. And none of the experts thinks the Bucs can beat the Falcons.
CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco's pick
This is a big game in the division, and Tampa Bay beat Atlanta earlier in the season. This Atlanta team is much better now, and Matt Ryan will light up a Tampa Bay secondary that couldn't stop Derek Carr last Sunday. Falcons take it.
Prisco's final score: Falcons 31, Buccaneers 21
The Buccaneers' offense remains in flux; Winston's turnovers are a concern and they're down to Antone Smith at running back. Oh, and the Falcons' offense can pretty much score at will.
Our final score: Falcons 24, Buccaneers 10