Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) at Atlanta Falcons (13-2)
I can’t handicap week 17 games like I do other games (maybe that’s a good thing because I’ve had a rough few weeks), because one of the things I do is look for upcoming distractions and dynamic changes on their schedule. In week 17, I can’t do that, so instead I have to look at what this game means do these two teams. The Falcons have clinched the #1 seed, so this game is meaningless to them. However, I’m hearing they’ll play their starters for at least a half, as they did in 2010 after they had clinched the #1 seed and they held a 21-0 lead at the half against the hapless Panthers.
I’d suggest they treat this like a real game. They seem to have finally hit their stride and they are playing their best football of the season after that loss in Carolina woke them up and it wouldn’t make sense to take their foot off the gas at all, especially with a week off before their next game. There’s a reason that Super Bowl teams tend to come from Wild Card weekend, while teams that get first round byes tend to lose their first home game, including these Falcons in 2010.
Regardless of what Atlanta does in this one, the Buccaneers are playing terrible football here and this game might be even more meaningless to them than the Falcons. The Falcons at least have the playoffs to tune up for. The Buccaneers’ season is over and they don’t even get to play spoiler at all with the Falcons having already clinched the #1 seed.
I’m not saying they’re as bad as the 2010 Panthers or the 2011 Buccaneers, against whom the Falcons took a 42-7 halftime lead last season during week 17. However, the Buccaneers have lost 5 straight, which is especially bad news for such a traditionally streaky team. Two close losses to the Falcons and Broncos weren’t that concerning, but their home loss to the Eagles was and once they lost that game and effectively had their season ended, they seem to have mailed it in for the 2nd straight season.
At best, they’re a streaky team on a very bad streak, with the streaky Josh Freeman going 88 of 174 (50.6%) for 1082 yards (6.2 YPA), 5 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions in his last 5 games, including a 1:8 TD/INT ratio in his last 2 games, a combined 69-13 loss. At worst, they’ve quit. I’m laying the points and taking the Falcons. Mike Smith is 3-1 ATS week 17, including 4-0 SU by an average of 14.0 points per game (against an average line of -10.5).
Public lean: ?
Atlanta Falcons 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17
Pick against spread: Atlanta -3.5 (-110) 4 units