Will the Bucs rest their starters in Week 18?
The Bucs closed out the NFC South on Sunday afternoon, defeating the Panthers 30-24 in a dramatic New Year’s Day game at Raymond James Stadium. And because Tampa Bay is a division winner at 8-8, it sits as No. 4 in the NFC and cannot move up or down in the playoff picture. That means, whether you win or lose next week in Atlanta, the Bucs will receive the No. 5 seed two weeks from now at Wild Card Weekend.
With that in mind, could the Bucs decide to rest one of their starters next weekend when they face the Falcons?
“We’ll see what the injury situation looks like and we’ll get together as staff this week and talk,” head coach Todd Bowles said after Sunday’s win. “We’ve talked about a few things, but we’ll talk more about it and see where we stand in terms of people by function.”
Tampa Bay has had a lot of injury problems this season, mainly in the secondary but also in the trenches. Jamel Dean and Antoine Winfield Jr. played through injuries on Sunday, as Donovan Smith returned from a foot injury and Tristan Wirfs continued to battle his ankle problem. The Bucs have a chance to finish the season on a high note with three straight wins, but making sure their stars are ready for the playoffs is of more importance.
Quarterback Tom Brady is clearly someone the team would like to rest in Week 18. After Sunday’s game, he was asked if it would bother him to watch next week’s game from the sidelines.
“It’s always up to the coach, but yeah, that would bother me,” said Brady. “I have not missed a game other than my ACL and in 2016 I missed the first four games. But apart from that I’ve played them all.”
Of course, the four games he missed to open the 2016 season were due to his controversial “Deflategate” suspension. Brady later joked that he was well mannered when he called those four games.
“I was very polite there, just so you know,” he said. “It takes a lot to be polite.”
How Bucs handles Week 18 will be interesting to follow
What the Bucs decide to do with regard to their starters in Week 18 will follow this week as a whole. But what they do in the quarterback position will be especially intriguing. Brady always wants to be there, and the team must win if the legendary quarterback is to maintain his streak of never having a losing season. So telling him to sit out all the way may not be in the cards.
Perhaps Bowles decides to do what his predecessor Bruce Arians did in 2020 when he gave Brady the first half of the Week 16 game against the Lions before relieving him with Blaine Gabbert. That was indirect, of course, as the Bucs opened up a 34-0 halftime lead in Detroit. Even still, maybe it will give him enough satisfaction to let Brady get some reps early in the game and then rest up for next week’s playoff game.
And, of course, whoever the Bucs decide to go below center if Brady doesn’t play the entire game against the Falcons will also be a compelling subplot all week. Will Gabbert, the number 2 on the team, just fill in for Brady? Or do the team decision makers want 2021 second-round Kyle Trask to get some game action?
It certainly wouldn’t hurt to see what the former Florida Gator is up to as he has yet to make his NFL debut. He’s usually a healthy inactive on game days, but maybe Week 18 will give the team a chance to dress him up and see his first slice of regular NFL season action.
Although, if there is any inclination that Brady could be eyeing a return for the 2023 season, maybe the Bucs are waiting to bring Trask into action. There are layers to this situation that will maintain some interest in a Bucs-Falcons matchup that is otherwise low stakes.
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