|Matt Ryan may see significant time Sunday despite the fact that Atlanta wrapped up the No. 1 seed last weekend. (US Presswire)|
Even though Sunday’s regular-season finale against Tampa Bay has no postseason implication given that Atlanta locked up the NFC’s No. 1 seed with its 31-18 win over Detroit last Saturday, the Falcons aren’t viewing it as a meaningless game.
“We’re gonna play the game to win,” coach Mike Smith said at his press conference earlier this week. “That’s how we’re gonna approach it. It’s an important game because it’s a division game. All games I think are important. Does it have no bearing? It really does because we want to win every time we go out and play.”
Smith’s mantra falls in line with something he’s preached all season: momentum. Atlanta has it following back-to-back sound performances against the Giants two weekends ago and then against the Lions last Saturday. After how lethargic the Falcons looked in their 30-20 loss at Carolina on Dec. 9, it’s fair to say that the past two weeks represented the best two-game stretch of the season.
In Atlanta’s postseason appearances the past two years, both times it won the regular-season finale following a Week 16 loss. Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers affords Atlanta one final tuneup before the Falcons’ divisional round game and gives them a chance to carry a three-game winning streak into the postseason.
The last two Super Bowl winners (New York and Green Bay), each won their final two games of the regular season before storming through the playoffs. Both, coincidentally, took down Atlanta en route to the championship.
Smith didn’t directly address whether the regular starters would indeed start or how long they might play, but he’s well aware that the team’s health is of the utmost importance heading into the playoffs.
“We’re trying to keep our guys as fresh as possible,“ he said. “It so happens that they’re getting a little more rest over the next few days. I think it’s important to have the guys rested both physically and mentally. It is a grind through four preseason games, 16 regular-season games, and then if you’re fortunate to play in that second season, you want to be as fresh as can be.”
With one eye toward the postseason, Smith’s priorities are correct. Avoiding injuries is significantly more important than beating the Buccaneers, regardless of any potential loss of momentum.
Pro Bowl? The NFL will announce its Pro Bowl teams on Wednesday night on the NFL Network and the Falcons have a number of worthy candidates from Matt Ryan to receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones to 36-year-old Tony Gonzalez. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution pointed out though, coach Smith is hoping that none of those players actually go to Hawaii.
“Atlanta’s star players hope to be occupied with preparing for the Super Bowl in New Orleans instead of the NFL’s all-star game in Hawaii,” the paper wrote. The Pro Bowl takes place on Jan. 27 while the Super Bowl is on Feb. 3. Pro Bowl honorees for either Super Bowl team don’t send players to Hawaii.
“I’m certainly hoping for our guys that we’re gonna be well recognized in terms of being on the Pro Bowl team,” Smith said. But, of course, he’d rather that his top players still be in the hunt for a championship come Jan. 27.
Hawley added to roster: Backup C Joe Hawley was added to the active roster Monday after serving a four-game suspension for unapproved Adderall use, one of the NFL’s banned substances. Wide receiver Kevin Cone was added to the injured reserve list to make room for Hawley. Cone’s been plagued with a groin injury all season.
For more Falcons coverage, follow Mike Singer @CBSFalcons.