This game really doesn’t matter to Atlanta in terms of playoff seeding and home field advantage; they have those locked up. However, just in case there is a kid reading this who has been told that every game counts, we’ll give a few reason as to why Atlanta should not treat their final home game like a preseason game.
Most NFL teams who have clinched playoffs spots will probably rest their starters but Atlanta has some really nice momentum going in their last two games against the New York Giants and Detroit Lions. The offense is clicking on all cylinders. Matt Ryan has pulled out his mini-slump; Julio Jones and the rest of the Falcons receivers are in sync with their QB and Michael Turner will head into the playoffs well rested, having come nowhere near 300 carries on the season.
Speaking of the Falcons running game, even though the Buccaneers are one of the best teams against defending the run, this would be a good game for Atlanta to really work on their rushing attack. Being able to run the ball effectively is important in the playoffs, especially when it comes to sustaining drives. If Atlanta can have a solid day on the ground against the Bucs, it could pay huge dividends in the postseason. Atlanta has found something in their rushing attack with Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers but have yet to really breakout; now would be a good time.
Defensively, Atlanta could probably rest their starters in spells throughout the game. The Falcons pretty adhere to the “bend but don’t break” philosophy. Throughout the season they have given up very few big plays but have usually recovered well thereafter.
On the other hand, if Atlanta can dig the Bucs into a hole early, then resting their starters will not be that big of a deal. That might be a challenge considering the Falcons won by one point the last time these two teams played. Greg Schiano and his Buccaneers will be looking to finish a disappointing season on a high note.
Atlanta might want to think about actually winning this game since they have home field advantage in the playoffs and I’m not so sure they would fare well heading into the post-season coming off of a loss; not to mention they would have a bye and could end up facing a hot team like the Seattle Seahawks or the Green Bay Packers. A team like Atlanta needs all the momentum they can get having bowed out gracefully in the first round for the last three years.