Falcons at Buccaneers -- Week 12

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. (grass, outside)

When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)

Spread: Falcons by 1

Forecast: Sunny, projected kickoff temperature: high 60s

Records: Buccaneers (Overall: 6-4, NFC South: 2-1); Falcons (Overall: 9-1, NFC South: 1-1)

Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Jan. 1, 2012: Falcons 45, Bucs 24; Sept. 25, 2011: Bucs 16, Falcons 13. Series record: Tampa Bay leads 19-18, but Atlanta has won six of the last seven games in the series.

What matters: If anyone is going to catch the Falcons in the NFC South, Tampa Bay simply must win this game. Even after last week's loss to the Saints, Atlanta has a three-game lead in the division over the second-place Bucs. A four-game deficit would almost certainly be too much for anyone to overcome in the final five weeks of the season. A win, though, would get Tampa Bay back within two games -- hardly an insurmountable margin.

Who matters: QB Josh Freeman. With the Bucs' pass defense struggling and the Atlanta passing offense putting together a strong season, Freeman is probably going to have another outstanding game for Tampa Bay to have a chance. He has been one of the NFL's best at the position of late, throwing 16 touchdowns and only three interceptions over the Bucs' last six games. Not coincidentally, the team has a 5-1 record over the same stretch.

Key matchups: The Bucs' offense has been high-flying of late, but its best chance to put up points and yards this week may actually come on the ground. The Falcons are No. 7 in the NFL in pass defense (giving up only 216.3 yards per game) but are 26th in rush defense (130.5 yards per game allowed). Behind the strong running of rookie RB Doug Martin, Tampa Bay has moved to No. 9 in the league in rushing offense (128.9 yards per game).

Injuries of note: Tampa Bay moved WR Arrelious Benn to the injured reserve this week due to knee and shoulder issues. In the secondary, S Ahmad Black and CB Eric Wright both missed practice time this week as well. For the Falcons, CB Asante Samuel didn't practice Thursday due to a shoulder injury that caused him to leave last week's game against the Saints. If Samuel can't play, the Bucs' passing game -- already hot as of late -- would get another boost.

Inside stuff: With all of the Bucs' weapons on offense, one that often gets overlooked is TE Dallas Clark. But it was Clark who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime last week at Carolina, and is going for three games in a row with a scoring grab this week. In the red zone, Freeman has looked for his tight ends often this season, as even reserves Nate Byham and Luke Stocker have caught touchdowns. All told, five of Freeman's 21 touchdown passes have gone to tight ends.

Connections: For a pair of NFC South rivals, there aren't many substantial ties, though Falcons head coach Mike Smith was the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville when Tampa Bay offensive coordinate was a Jaguars' offensive assistant.

Stat you should know: Rookie RB Doug Martin is in rarified air. He has 1,019 yards from scrimmage in Tampa Bay's last six games, joining Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James as the only rookies to tally 1,000 or more yards from scrimmage in a six-game span.

Looking ahead: The Bucs travel to Denver next week for a game against the Broncos. Tampa Bay has beaten all three of Denver's AFC West rivals -- Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego.

Prediction: Atlanta 38, Tampa Bay 31

For more from Tampa Bay Bucs blogger Patrick Southern, follow @CBSBucs on Twitter.