When the Falcons play the Panthers Sunday, it’s possible that the only team with something to lose will be the Falcons. If New Orleans wins Sunday against the Buccaneers, Carolina cannot move up or down in the playoff seeding whatsoever, and thus you might think they’d be tempted to rest starters.
Most coaches don’t like the idea of that, though, and Ron Rivera is no exception. He told reporters that they intend to play everyone regardless of the stakes, and will delight in the opportunity to torpedo Atlanta’s playoff hopes in any way they can. I’m not at all surprised by that, though hope springs eternal.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera plans to play all of his starters and focus on beating Atlanta. "We're approaching this game to win.''— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) December 26, 2017
This approach can be extremely costly. Mike Smith rolled out all the starters against the Buccaneers in Week 17 back in 2012 when the Falcons were locked into the #1 seed, despite the lack of an obvious upside to doing so. Not only did the Falcons lose that game despite leaving the starters in, but John Abraham also suffered an injury that clearly impacted him throughout the playoffs, which made that decision incredibly costly. Rivera is potentially taking a similar risk here for a game where the Falcons are at home and cannot possibly lack motivation.
It’ll make the sledding tough, of course, but we’ll hope Atlanta’s up to the task of beating the Carolina starters. Depending on how things go in the playoffs, they may need the practice.