The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are officially NFC South champions for the second consecutive year. Their week 17 victory over the Carolina Panthers clinched their division crown and their spot in the playoffs. Now with one week left in the regular season the Bucs are sitting pretty going into the postseason.
The only question they have to answer is what to do about next week. Will they play their starters or rest their key players going into the postseason. Build on their momentum or try to go into the playoffs fresh?
What We Know
At this point, there’s every reason to believe that starters will play next week against Atlanta. Todd Bowles has said as much. However, that doesn’t mean they’ll play the full game.
We also know that players want to play. Tom Brady has said that he wants to play next week and it appears he will. Again, how long he and other top players will be out there is to be determined.
This is a choice that has served the Buccaneers well in the past. Let’s not forget that the team played their starters in the final week of their most recent Super Bowl run. There is something to be said about having momentum and rhythm going into the playoffs and this staff knows that first hand.
More than anything, health will determine who plays in this game. The Bucs had a lengthy injury report going into their most recent game. Getting their guys healthy will be a top priority.
Cornerback Carlton Davis and outside linebacker Carl Nassib both missed the game vs Carolina with injuries. Even if they are healthy enough to play this week it would make little sense to play them. Getting these two key pieces back at full strength for the playoffs is the priority.
You could say the same of guys like Antoine Winfield Jr, Vita Vea, Donovan Smith and Mike Edwards who were all limited last week at practice and questionable for the game. Resting them to fully recover would make the most sense. However, this seems less likely considering they all played last week.
The Sweet Spot
In a perfect world the Buccaneers are blowing out the Atlanta Falcons by halftime in this coming game. This seems possible considering the Falcons have nothing to play for at this point and aren’t a good team. If the Bucs are truly building on last week’s momentum then that would be ideal going into postseason play.
This would also give the coaching staff a chance to pull out some key starters. As much as players want to play and build momentum, suffering an injury in a meaningless game would be terrible. To prevent that, getting starters out as soon as possible after getting some work in would be the smart play.
Even if the game is close, pulling the starters at halftime seems sensible. Protect your Star players and give the young depth pieces more experience. Essentially treating this like a preseason game for the playoff push and hopefully another Super Bowl run.