The Buccaneers clinched the NFC South title via their 30-24 win over the Panthers in Week 17. Tampa Bay overcame an early 14-0 deficit to beat Carolina and clinch its third playoff appearance in three years with Tom Brady at the helm.
Now, the team is facing a big question heading into Week 18. Will it rest its starters ahead of its Super Wild Card Weekend game?
The Buccaneers won’t be playing for anything when they square off against the Falcons in the final week of the regular season. Tampa Bay has wrapped up the No. 4 seed in the NFC; it cannot fall below that point or improve its seeding given its 8-8 record compared to the other division winners and leaders in the NFC, all of which have at least 12 wins.
Meanwhile, Atlanta is out of the playoff race and will only be playing to decide its positioning in the 2023 NFL Draft.
With all that said, it certainly seemed like the Buccaneers would at least consider sitting some of their starters to ensure they will be ready to go for their wild-card game.
However, coach Todd Bowles doesn’t appear willing to do that entirely. As such, it looks like Tom Brady and Co. will suit up for Tampa Bay’s Week 18 game against the Falcons — barring a change of plans from the head coach.
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Why aren’t the Buccaneers resting Tom Brady, starters?
Bowles told reporters Monday that he was planning to play Brady, among others, against the Falcons and explained why.
“We can get better at a lot of things, so right now, we plan on playing him,” Bowles said Monday, per ESPN. “We’ll see how the week goes going forward, but we can get better at a lot of things that we need to work on, and we don’t need our foot off the gas.”
Indeed, the Buccaneers have had their share of issues during the 2022 NFL season, especially on offense. They have averaged just 18.5 points per game — good for 24th in the league — and have often relied on Brady to carry their offense to heroic, final-drive victories in tight games.
Tampa Bay’s offense was much better against the Panthers, as Mike Evans performed well in a three-touchdown outing, so perhaps Bowles is trying to build on that while also trying to clean up protection issues for Brady behind his beleaguered offensive line.
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Brady, for one, is on board with playing. The veteran quarterback said it “would both him” to miss a game given that he hasn’t missed one since his Deflategate suspension in 2016.
“I haven’t missed a game other than my ACL (injury in 2008), and then in 2016, I missed the first four games,” Brady said, per USA TODAY Sports. “Other than that, I’ve played them all.”
So, it appears the Buccaneers will have Brady available to play as long as they want. Other starters will likely follow suit.
But is Bowles worried about the possibility of losing any of them to injury? Not particularly.
“It’s football. You can’t play 16 games and then worry about the 17th,” Bowles said, per ESPN. “You can’t play three preseason games and 16 games and practice every day and say, ‘You may get hurt on the 17th game.’ You can get hurt the first week. You can get hurt in training camp. If you worry about that, you’re probably gonna get hurt anyway.
“We signed up to play football and coach football. That’s what we’re gonna do. And everybody that loves football, that loves to play, will play the game. Injuries are gonna happen. It doesn’t mean it happens in Week 17, a playoff game or preseason. You just gotta coach it and you gotta play it. You worry about injuries, you probably don’t need to be playing a sport.”
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Will Buccaneers play Tom Brady, starters the full game?
The Buccaneers may be throwing caution to the wind by planning to play their starters against the Falcons, but Bowles didn’t rule out the possibility of pulling them from the game.
Bowles said that the Buccaneers’ coaching staff would meet during the week and discuss whether the team would consider pulling starters in the second half of the game. He didn’t reveal what might influence any decision to do so or whether he would consider pulling them from the game early.
Of course, it may be hard to convince Brady to leave the game if he does take the field. He has played 80 percent of his offensive snaps or less just four times since 2012, and all but one of those came in blowouts. The lone exception was a meaningless Week 17 game for the Patriots in 2014, when he played 48 percent of the snaps in a 17-9 loss to the Bills.
In his 10 other final-week games since 2012, Brady has played at least 85 percent of the snaps.
It’s also notable that Brady may want to keep his streak of never logging a losing season as a starting quarterback alive. He can do that with a Buccaneers win, so that may incentivize him to play deeper into this contest than most are expecting.
So, it’s too early to know whether Bowles will pull his starters. But given Brady’s history, it would be a surprise if he does so early in this contest.