The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head to Atlanta in Week 18 for the final regular season game of the 2022 season, but it won't be the end of their road no matter what happens against the Falcons.
The Buccaneers clinched the NFC South title with their 30-24 Week 17 win over Carolina and are locked into the fourth seed in the conference playoff field. They will open the postseason with a home game and will likely face whichever team does not win the NFC East between Dallas and Philadelphia. A win over the Falcons would allow the Bucs to toast their second consecutive division title with a winning record, but a loss will not change their playoff status.
Head Coach Todd Bowles said the Buccaneers' coaches will consider the injury status of the roster during the week and decide whether or not any regulars will be rested in Week 18.
"We'll see how the injury situation looks and will get together as a staff and talk this week," said Bowles. "We've talked about a few things but we'll talk about it more and see where we are as far as people in certain position."
Quarterback Tom Brady, who threw for 432 yards and three touchdowns in the comeback win over Carolina, did not sound particularly excited about the possibility of sitting out next Sunday's game.
"It's always up to coach, but yeah, it would bother me," said Brady. "I haven't missed a game other than my ACL [injury season in 2008] and in 2016, I missed the first four games. Other than, I've played them all."
Atlanta improved to 6-10 on Sunday with a 20-19 victory over the Arizona Cardinals but has already been eliminated from playoff contention. The Buccaneers and Falcons met in Tampa in Week Five and the home team came away with a 21-15, though Atlanta made a spirited rally in the fourth quarter after falling down by three touchdowns. Their quarterback in that game, Marcus Mariota, is now on injured reserve and has been replaced by third-round rookie Desmond Ridder. Ridder threw for 169 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions in the win over Arizona, and in three starts has yet to throw a TD or a pick. Emerging rookie back Tyler Allgeier ran for 83 yards and a touchdown.
The Buccaneers' 30 points against the Panthers on Sunday was their second-highest total of the season and their best mark in a victory. Atlanta, meanwhile, has held each of its' last five opponents to 21 points or fewer, including 19 or fewer in four of them. Brady rediscovered his connection with Mike Evans in Week 17 to the tune of 207 yards and three touchdowns, and the Bucs' offense as a whole would like to build on that momentum as they prepare to make their playoff berth count.
In addition, though it will make no difference in the standings, the Buccaneers could improve to 9-8 with a win next Sunday. That would mark the first time since a four-year run from 1999-2002 that the franchise has posted at least three consecutive winning seasons. It would also keep a Brady-led team from finishing with a losing record for the first time since 2002, albeit within the confines of a division-winning effort.
The Buccaneers will be going for their sixth consecutive win and third straight season sweep over the Falcons. That would match the longest winning streak by either team in the all-time head-to-head series.