The Falcons head into their final game of the season against a fitting and familiar opponent: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There was a lot of sneering and scoffing in the offseason amongst Bucs fans when I suggested that Winston’s legal troubles might end the Dirk Koetter era, but the truth is that the era will be ended by a combination of factors that all point back to one central woe: A bad football team.
The Falcons are one, too, but the Falcons are also closer to not being one. It’s not hard to imagine this Falcons team adding to the trenches and bolstering the coaching staff and at least returning to contention in 2019. It’s hard to imagine how Tampa Bay can do the same without marked growth from many, many players under a new staff, even if the nucleus of talent is easy to identify.
Vegas has taken a wary view of both teams, and depending on where you look, it’s even odds or a single point to Atlanta. That despite Atlanta’s two game win streak and Tampa Bay’s three game losing streak, even. It makes sense insofar as the Buccaneers are playing, here at the very end, for the current version of this team, with its many impending free agents and shaky coaching staff, which may be fired even if they win but may not. Atlanta playing for pride and (to a narrow extent) evaluation purposes, neither of which would seem to inspire the fire necessary to beat a desperate team on the road.
Of course, Atlanta handily dispatched Cardinals and Panthers teams in the same situation, though both of those teams have lousy offenses. Tampa Bay will be a better test for this defense in the final week of the season, and frankly I share the oddsmakers’ ambivalence about the outcome. The Falcons simply haven’t played good offenses the last two weeks, so no outcome would be truly surprising, and the team that wins is lining itself up for a very sweet draft pick, indeed.