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Falcons vs. Buccaneers: One cause for concern, one reason for confidence in the final game

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It’s the final, mostly meaningless game of the season, so we’re not too stressed out.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

I am not going to worry about this football game. I may muster up an angry comment or two, or perhaps cheer once in joy if this team makes a big play, but for the first time in recent memory I am not going to fret about the outcome at all. If Atlanta wins, great, they’ve capped a three game streak to close out a disappointing season and give us some reason, if we squint, to see hope for 2019. If they lose, great, they’ll have a crack at an even more premier prospect than they’ll get at, say, 15.

So what’s there to worry about and feel confident about in a game with virtually no stakes at all? Let’s see.

Worry that the Falcons will take trying to win to extremes

It’s a rare circumstance indeed where I don’t want the Falcons to win a football game, and I’ll fall just short of that here. I am concerned that they will ultimately push so hard to win that they miss a small opportunity to take a closer look at their young talent.

This is not merely an academic concern, because Quinn has been adamant about the team’s desire to play these games like they would any other. Brian Hill has snuck in due to injury and the Falcons have found a way to get Isaiah Oliver on the field more often, but they haven’t done the wholesale evaluation work you might expect from a team with the lost season, and we all know they won’t do so.

That said, if this one gets out of hand early, one way or the other, the Falcons would be remiss to not take a look at Matt Gono at guard, Oliver at cornerback, Deadrin Senat at defensive tackle, and perhaps Russell Gage at wide receiver. The Falcons are about to head into an offseason with no slam dunk starters at guard—Wes Schweitzer is probably the best bet, at this point, and that says a lot—with Robert Alford potentially looming as a cut, with Terrell McClain, Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby potentially leaving town, and with no sure thing at wide receiver beyond the team’s top three options. However short the look might be at the players I’ve listed above, I’m hopeful the Falcons will take it, and I’m concerned they will not.

Feel confident that the Falcons will put up a good fight

Regardless of whether they roll with their top-end starters all game or not, the Falcons will give the Buccaneers all they can handle. This has as much to do with the Bucs as the Falcons, in case you were wondering.

Tampa Bay’s fans are, by and large, a long-suffering bunch with a pretty decent sense of humor about their favorite team. But they bristled a bit this offseason when I suggested that this current epoch of the Bucs was doomed, and indeed had been doomed for a while, with Jameis Winston’s legal troubles serving as the latest, longest ominous bell tolling for the franchise. While Winston hasn’t been the primary source of the team’s troubles this year, he’s still been pretty mediocre for a fourth-year former first overall pick, and this franchise has no certain way forward because of that. They may fire Dirk Koetter, who bizarrely tried to take away play-calling duty from bright offensive coordinator Todd Monken and has coaxed little out of his players, and they’ll certainly fire Jason Licht, a hotshot coming in who has consistently assembled an underperforming roster and presided over the brutally bad trade for Roberto Aguayo.

The Bucs, then, are a mess. There’s something in the front seven here to build on and plenty of talent on offense, so they won’t have trouble attracting new blood to the front office and coaching staff. But will top candidates forego the impossible brightness of the future in Cleveland, overlook the chance to mold a Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold, all for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade? No, probably not.

All that’s to say that this Falcons team, which has gotten its feet under it in the last couple of weeks, can at least hang with this Bucs team and give them a good game. But it’s Atlanta that heads into 2019 with 3-4 great players returning, a modest war chest of picks and cash to play with, and a refreshed coaching staff. Tampa Bay will have to start over, and if they’re not lucky and good, it’ll be another reboot that doesn’t help them find a better way forward.