By Matthew Asher
Week 13 has come and gone in the NFL. Finally, the NFL Playoff picture has begun to come into focus with four teams already qualifying for the postseason. Three qualifying teams have already won their division: the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons. The Houston Texans apparently reside in the toughest division this year because with their 11-1 record, tied for best with the Falcons, Houston has only clinched a playoff berth,
As the only NFC team to clinch a playoff spot so far, the Falcons appear to be sitting pretty atop their conference. But just because they know they’re going to the playoffs does not mean Atlanta is taking the final four regular season weeks lightly.
For the Falcons, having the NFC South title won is nice, but it means nothing if Atlanta continues to lose their opening round of the playoffs. Sean Weatherspoon has only been in the league since 2010, when Atlanta won their last NFC South title, but his attitude towards the Falcons clinching of their division has changed drastically. “The last time we won the division I was too amped,” Spoon wrote in a tweet. “This time, it’s just like… Ok, now let’s accomplish the next goal!”
What is the next goal that Spoon is talking about? Getting either the number one or number two seed in the NFC Playoffs. While the top seed is always prefered, either of these come with a bye week to rest up and prepare for your next opponent.
WIth a commanding lead in the NFC, Atlanta will likely need to win just two of their final four games to guarantee one of the two top seeds. But Smitty isn’t interested in the Falcons playing just 50-50 football to close out the regular season at 13-3.
“Ultimately, the number one thing for us is that we want to win as many football games as we can in the fourth quarter (of the season),” Smith said. “Then there will be sub-factors that we’ll concern ourselves with. Most importantly, we want to make sure that we go out and we play every game to win. We need to win. We need to win them all. We need to go 4-0 in the fourth quarter.”
One of the big questions every year at the end of the season is will the top teams rest their star players in the final few weeks to avoid injuries. Smitty has no plans of resting his guys if they are healthy enough to play.
“If guys are healthy then we’re going to play them,” Smitty said. “I think we have the same type of mindset that we’ve had for the first three quarters of the season. We’ve still got a lot of football to play in this fourth quarter.”
For Smith, the only thing about practice that will change is no more practices will take place with pads on. Due to the new collective bargaining rule, teams are only allowed three padded practices after the 11th week of the season. Smitty said that during the first 11 weeks Atlanta didn’t even use all of their allotted padding days. Some of those practices the Falcons had in pads were for half a practice. Smitty hopes this move will keep players fresher during games and to avoid any unusual injuries, but not because Atlanta has already clinched the division.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.