Jay Adams of Atlanta Falcons.com wrote on Sunday about Falcons head coach Mike Smith’s comments following Saturday night’s win against the Detroit Lions. In those comments, Smith talked about the Falcons intention to “play to win” in their Week 17 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Smith said:
“We’re going to play the game to win. That’s how we’re going to approach it. It’s an important game because it’s a division game. All games, I think, are important. In terms of the importance of it, does it have no bearing? It really does, because we want to win every time we go out and play.”
The Falcons have already locked up the NFC’s top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and thus the result of next Sunday’s season finale is relatively meaningless. Leading many to think the Falcons should rest their starters in order to keep them healthy for their upcoming playoff game in two weeks. The Falcons receive a first-round bye, giving them an extra week of rest. That two-week lay-off certainly will be beneficial to get some players healthy, such as safety William Moore who has missed the past three games with a hamstring injury. It also should give players like wideout Roddy White, who has had a lingering knee injury in recent weeks, a greater chance to get closer to 100% health before the playoffs.
While Smith’s comments don’t mean that some key players could still wind up sitting out or playing limited reps, it does mean that the Falcons won’t be treating this as nothing more than a preseason game. The Falcons will be smart to reduce the reps of some key players, and give some of the younger guys more opportunities to show their skills. For example, White has played over 90% of the team’s offensive snaps most weeks. Even with a bum knee, he played in 50 of the team’s 57 snaps against the Lions (88%) per Pro Football Focus. That won’t be necessary this week. The Falcons should be a bit more willing to rotate Drew Davis into the lineup and maybe White only needs to play 35 or so snaps. That certainly would give the Falcons an opportunity to win the game, but also lower the risk that White aggravates that knee injury.
In 2010, when the Falcons similarly had a first round bye and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, they squared off against the Carolina Panthers in the season finale. The Falcons built a 31-3 lead before pulling many of the starters at the outset of the fourth quarter. It seems likely that will be the goal for the Falcons this week. Unfortunately, the Falcons won’t be facing 2-13 Panthers team led by Jimmy Clausen this year. Instead they will be facing a 6-9 Buccaneers team that is coached by Greg Schiano. A year ago the Falcons faced a 4-11 Buccaneers team that had quit on then-coach Raheem Morris, resulting in 45-24 beatdown. That likely won’t be the case with Schiano, who wants his players to blitz on kneel-downs because he believes going all-out for four quarters.