TAMPA, Fla. - The winner will finish second in the NFC South.
That’s enough to keep the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8) and Atlanta Falcons (6-9) motivated for the final game of a season in which neither team will finish with a winning record.
“For us 8-8, tastes a whole lot better than 7-9,” coach Bruce Arians, completing his first season with the Bucs, said. “Any time you can spend the offseason remembering when you won, it’s a lot different to come to work every day - as a player and a coach.”
The Falcons, who’ve won five of seven following a 1-7 start, could be playing their last game under coach Dan Quinn and maybe general manager Thomas Dimitroff, as well. Ultimately, the decision rests with owner Arthur Blank, who’ll determine if a strong finish is enough to save their jobs.
“I don’t worry about all of those other things as much as just trying to get the job done this week,” Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We know we are playing a good team, a team that is playing really well. Their second half of this season has been very similar to ours. They have been operating at a very high rate ... and that is what we are focused on.”
The Bucs, also 5-2 over their past seven games, are a year removed from their fifth coaching change in a decade. They’ve already surpassed their victory total for each of the past two seasons, when they went 5-11.
Quinn took the Falcons to the Super Bowl for the 2016 season, but hasn't come anywhere close to replicating that success. Win or lose Sunday, Atlanta will finish with a losing record for the second straight season.
Nevertheless, Arians is impressed with the way the Falcons have performed down the stretch.
“There’s (an) accountability factor. They want to win for Dan. Dan’s a heck of a coach, heck of a guy, so they’re giving it everything they’ve got,” the Bucs coach said. “Defensively I think they were simpler and playing faster the last time we played them. They’ve gotten a little more complicated and they’re still playing fast.”
Tampa Bay won a matchup between the division rivals 35-22 on Nov. 24. A Falcons win this time would leave both teams at 7-9, however, Atlanta would finish in second place because of a better record within the NFC South.
“It’s for second place in the division,” Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston said of what it would mean to close on a positive note. “We’re going to go out there and try our best to play good football because they’ve been playing really good football. ... 8-8 is better than 7-9 any day.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.