To stand a chance in the playoffs, the Falcons need all hands on deck.
I know what some of you are saying before you even say it, so let me address the two concerns you likely have after reading this headline.
- Regular season injuries happen all the time! When guys are jogging, even!
I recognize what you're saying. It is obvious that the Falcons need to keep starters healthy and on track to start playoff games, or a depleted team could easily run into trouble. It's equally obvious that unless the team is willing to sit its starters entirely, every game is a risk for injury. That's football.
With a 12-2 record, a playoff spot sewn up and homefield advantage exceedingly likely, the Falcons don't have a lot left to play for except pride and matching their best record ever. Both of those are admirable enough and we certainly would like to see the Falcons get two games in the Georgia Dome, but there's extenuating circumstances for these last two games.
This is relevant for a couple of reasons. Both teams have had somewhat disappointing seasons, and both are really just kicking around to play spoiler at this point. Both still have ample talent, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, so that spoiler thing isn't just a pipe dream. And both teams have players, at minimum, who have shown a willingness to play what some might call overly physical football.
That's true in Detroit, where Ndamukong Suh has gained a reputation as a cheap shot artist and offers scary strength and pass rushing ability up front. It's true in Tampa Bay, where Greg Schiano has instructed players to rush the passer on clear kneel downs. Even if these guys don't deliberately go after the Falcons, the potential for injury is certainly there.
I stop short of recommending sitting starters—Caleb Rutherford made a nice case for that the other day, in case you missed it—and I don't think the coaching staff has any interest in doing so unless homefield advantage is a slam dunk. So they need to ensure they're cautious, block well up front and be wary of what might happen, especially if games get out of hand. I'm not calling either of these teams dirty because I know how much that label sucks, but given the circumstances and drawing on those couple of examples, it's worth being cautious.
These are the weeks where I'd like to see them go conservative and perhaps even pull starters with a healthy lead, regardless of what the blowback from fans and media types might be.
What are your thoughts?