The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already locked up the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoff bracket, as well as their second straight NFC South title, but there’s still plenty for them to play for in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Atlanta Falcons.
Here are the top storylines for the Bucs heading into Week 18:
To Start or Not to Start
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Regardless of the outcome Sunday, the Bucs will still be the NFC’s No. 4 seed in the playoffs, thanks to clinching the NFC South with last week’s win over the Carolina Panthers. That leaves the Bucs with a decision to make about whether or not to play their starters, and for how long.
Bucs head coach Todd Bowles already confirmed his healthy starters will play, including quarterback Tom Brady. If Tampa Bay builds up a comfortable lead early enough, we could see the starters head to the bench, but don’t be surprised if they stay in as long as the game is in doubt.
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In Week 15 of last season, the Bucs lost Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Godwin to a torn ACL. After making a miraculous recovery in time to be back in the starting lineup for Week 1, Godwin has quietly put together an impressive bounce-back campaign, and he’s close to clearing a couple of impressive milestones.
Godwin needs just two receptions to eclipse 100 for the season, and he’s only 32 yards short of a 1,000-yard season. Fellow Pro Bowl pass-catcher Mike Evans told the media earlier this week that Godwin should be up for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award, and it’s hard to argue.
The GOAT and the Dirty Birds
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That sounds like a rock quartet that just won the local Battle of the Bands, but this is really about Tom Brady’s perfect career record against this week’s opponent.
Tampa Bay’s star quarterback is 11-0 all-time against the Falcons, including his iconic comeback win in the Super Bowl during his twilight years with the New England Patriots. If anything, Brady will want to make sure the Bucs get a win Sunday to ensure that tally stays unblemished with a twelfth victory.
(AP Photo/Alex Menendez)
Five players have been ruled out for the Bucs: Cornerback Carlton Davis III (shoulder), defensive lineman Vita Vea (calf), offensive tackle Donovan Smith (foot), outside linebacker Carl Nassib (pectoral), and safety Logan Ryan (knee).
Cornerback Jamel Dean (toe), wide receiver Julio Jones (knee/illness), and safety Mike Edwards (hip/hamstring) are all listed as questionable).
For the Falcons, offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson (calf) is the only player ruled out, and they’ve got no other players with injury designations for Sunday’s game.