Rick Stroud: I would expect a highly competitive one, at least until Falcons coach Mike Smith is satisfied with the performance of most of his starters and pulls them out of the lineup. I would anticipate it taking on the feel of maybe the second preseason game. For the Bucs, who have lost five games in a row, it's a chance to end the season with a good note regardless of whether they are playing the Falcons jayvee for most of the game or not.
RR: What’s happened to the Buccaneers, who have dropped 5 straight games after winning four straight?
RS: Well, there are plenty of theories. Let's look at the games. It began with a one-point loss to the Falcons, who used a
RR: How big a game is Sunday’s game in Washington when the Cowboys and Redskins face each other with the 2012 NFC East title and a playoff berth to the winner on the line?
RS: Doesn't get any bigger than that in the nation’s s Capitol unless you’re talking about the Fiscal Cliff fight. All the credit in the world goes to rookie QB Robert Griffin III, who has shown great poise and leadership in turning that franchise around. The Redskins beat up the Cowboys pretty good at Jerry World on Thanksgiving Day night by exploiting their secondary and stopping the run. But the Cowboys are a hot team offensively and QB Tony Romo suddenly has a special hook-up with Dez Bryant. In the end, I think the atmosphere benefits the Redskins and Romo throws a late pick.
RR: Mike Smith’s Falcons are 33-6 at home since 2008 including a perfect 7-0 record this season at the Georgia Dome. They’ve outscored their last two opponents by a 65-18 margin en route to posting wins over the Giants and Lions. Do you see the Falcons improving to 8-0 at home this weekend?
RS: Wow, when you trot those numbers out there, not sure why the Bucs would show up. But seriously, the Falcons got it going on under Mike Smith. I think they are a very good football team that has learned how to win close games. The Georgia Dome is a big advantage for them with the crowd noise. More importantly, they have great players, especially on offense. Ryan has continued to improve. The key will be whether they can run away and hide on the scoreboard before Smith pulls the plug on their starters. But I like the Falcons in this game.
RR: Bucs CB Ronde Barber seemingly always plays well against the Falcons. Does Barber return for his 17th NFL season in 2013?
RS: I'm out of the prediction business when it comes to Ronde Barber. People have been saying he's played his last game for the past seven or eight years. As always, he will take a month off to let his body heal, sit down with the Bucs sometime in February, and discuss whether or not he wants to retire or continue playing. At safety, I think he could play another year or two and be impactful. Schiano has said he wants Barber back. But at what price? What role? All that has to be decided.
RR: Give us the four teams from each conference who will represent the NFL in the AFC and NFC Championship Games this year?
RS: Denver at New England in the AFC and Green Bay at Atlanta in the NFC.
RR: And finally, give us your prediction for Sunday’s Bucs-Falcons game.
RS: I think, again, it all depends on how long Mike Smith plays the Falcons starters. But I still like Atlanta in this game, 24-21.