NFL Week 18: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Game Preview

Atlanta Falcons
Jamie Lamor Thompson /

Two teams heading in different directions will conclude their season against one another on Sunday, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face the Atlanta Falcons in Week 18. Tampa Bay was able to outlast the Carolina Panthers in Week 17, defeating them by a final score of 30-24. Meanwhile, Atlanta was also able to find its way into the win column last week, notching a last-second 20-19 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

This will be the second matchup between these two NFC South foes, as the Buccaneers won the first game 21-15 in October.

Let’s take a closer look at three keys to this contest.

Rest vs Rust

Last week’s victory against Carolina was huge for Tampa Bay, as it allowed them to clinch the division heading into the final week of the season. The Buccaneers have not played very well down the stretch, but seemed to find an extra gear when it mattered most. Quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Mike Evans seemed to re-locate their connection against the Panthers, and they’ll both need to play well if the Bucs have any chance of advancing in the NFC playoffs.

As a result, this game is essentially meaningless for Tampa Bay, as they are locked into the number four seed in the NFC. Head coach Todd Bowles has said that he plans to play his starters against Atlanta, but we’ll see how long they’re on the field. It took a long time for the Buccaneers to hit their stride, so balancing the health of his players versus the desire to maintain momentum will be a delicate act.

A New Era

During their bye week, Atlanta elected to get a glimpse of their future down the stretch of the season by starting rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder. This Sunday will mark Ridder’s fourth start in the NFL, and his play so far has been a bit of a mixed bag.

On the positive side of things, he has done a good job of avoiding turnovers. Ridder has not yet thrown and interception, and his only giveaway in three games was a fumble against the Cardinals last week. The Falcons haven’t exactly been marching up the field, but Ridder’s ability to protect the ball has given Atlanta a chance to win each of their three games with him under center. It’s possible that the team will follow a similar script on Sunday.

Is The Seat Getting Warm For Smith?

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith will finish his second NFL season on Sunday, and it’ll be intriguing to see whether his name comes up in the coaching carousel rumors that will begin this weekend. Smith was hired to bring a fresh offensive perspective to the franchise, as he was the maestro behind Tennessee Titans offenses that found ways to score despite limited talent.

He’ll finish under .500 for the second year in a row, and will have overseen an uneven performance from quarterbacks Matt Ryan, Marcus Mariota and Ridder during that stretch. It’s unlikely that a win on Sunday will do anything to drastically change the perception he has, but it might help Smith end the year on a positive note.