With the holidays in the rearview mirror, the Atlanta Falcons have returned to work to prepare for Sunday's game against rival Tampa Bay. While this matchup is meaningless in terms of seeding, it's important for Atlanta to end the regular season on high note, as they will take a two week break before returning to action.
Most importantly, however, is that the Falcons avoid any injuries and walk off the field as healthy as possible.
Moore to Miss Fourth Straight Game
Speaking of injuries, William Moore has been held out of practice all week and will be forced to watch the Falcons play from the sidelines once again.
The strong safety is set to miss his fourth straight game due to a hamstring ailment that just won't go away. Given the ramifications of the upcoming contest against Tampa, there's no logical reason to put Moore on the field and risk re-injury. Now, he'll have two more weeks to heal prior to the start of Atlanta's postseason run.
For the time being, Chris Hope will continue to fill his place. Hope has looked slightly better recently, but it's hard to trust the 34-year-old against the league's best offense—some of which will surely visit the Georgia Dome in January.
“I would like for William to be ready to go but the doctors have got to make that determination,” Smith said. “We’re to a point in the process that we need to get him as healthy as can be. I would say that he’s not going to play in the game this week. That would be our take on it.”
Defense Snubbed from Pro Bowl Roster
While it was somewhat difficult to make cases for William Moore, Thomas DeCoud and several others, the absence of Sean Weatherspoon from the Pro Bowl roster makes the least amount of sense. While he missed several games with an ankle injury, he's undoubtedly a premier linebacker when healthy, and anyone who's watching him play this year will tell you that.
Meanwhile, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez were given Pro Bowl honors. Roddy White, who is having yet another fantastic year, was mysteriously left off as well.
Atlanta Playing the Waiting Game
Since the Falcons knows exactly where they'll be playing the remainder of their games this season, the suspense leading up to the playoffs is all but gone. They've done all they can to lock up home field advantage in the NFC, now all they can do is wait for the other teams to battle for a shot at joining the Birds on Georgia Dome turf.
“I don’t try to watch scoreboards,” Smith said the day after the Falcons won 31-18 at Detroit. “It’s going to fall into place. … There is a lot of football to be played. A lot of things happen this week and next week as far as who plays who and who plays where.”
Hope Plans to Appeal Fine for Illegal Hit
Even though Dunta Robinson has been well-behaved this season, another member of the Falcons' secondary has been guilty an illegal (and dangerous) play. Chris Hope, who's been filling in for Moore at strong safety, landed a helmet-to-helmet hit on Giants' receiver Victor Cruz back on Dec. 16. For this, he's been fined $30,000.
"Oh, yeah," Hope said of his decision to appeal. "I'm not looking into it right now. Pure focus is on finishing the season strong and making sure we get the big goal. Whether it was $2,500, I would've appealed."
While this particular hit wasn't the dirtiest of all time, I'm going to go ahead and assume Hope loses his appeal. Given the way the league is trying to eliminate unnecessary violence, it's hard to imagine Hope will have much of a case.
Offense Heating Up at Right Time
On paper, the Falcons have had one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL over the last several years. Unfortunately, the performance on the field hasn't quite matched up with this potential; fortunately, that's starting to change.
Under the tutelege of Dirk Koetter, Matt Ryan and Co. have brought Atlanta's scoring attack to a new level in recent weeks, and are heating up at the best possible time. While the running game remains an issue, Michael Turner continues to score touchdowns on a regular basis, and Jacquizz Rodgers has been flashing signs of brilliance almost every week.
After scoring 24 points or less in seven of nine games, the Falcons have racked up more than 30 points in each of their last two contests. Hopefully, this recent spike in offensive production is a sign of things to come.