FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- In their last six games, the Falcons have played four teams that either are or have been recently among the projected playoff field in the NFC. Now, with a game against the 4-9 Buccaneers standing between Atlanta and a two-game stretch against the Saints and Panthers, some people outside of the Falcons' practice facility are ready to mention the phrase "trap game."
Inside of the locker room, however, it's business as usual for the Falcons (8-5), who control their own playoff destiny with only three games remaining.
With matchups against each of their three NFC South rivals, the Falcons will not only secure a spot in the playoffs if they win the final three games, they will repeat as division champs. Those three wins won't come easily, though, as coach Dan Quinn noted during his press conference on Tuesday.
"You always keep an eye out, in terms of our own division," Quinn said. "That's really where our focus and our mindset goes. We love it as competitors and it's a battle for it here in the last three weeks, but we kind of even get it tighter than that to say we know this week at Tampa, it's going to be a battle. That's where our focus lies, and we'll see how much better during this week [we can get] in the things we want to improve upon. We know, for us, it has to come back to us."
Although the Buccaneers (4-9) aren't anywhere close to where they had hoped to be at this point in the season, and injuries have plagued some of their best players, the Falcons aren't treating this game any differently.
After a big Thursday night win over the Saints, the Falcons enjoyed a mini-bye week to recover and prepare for the upcoming Monday night clash with the Bucs. The time off seems to have paid off for Atlanta, as Quinn said he was pleased with how fast his team looked during walkthroughs Tuesday.
While the Buccaneers don't seem to pose nearly the same threat as the Falcons' recent opponents, their roster is still comprised of NFL players who are as talented as any in the league. Anything short of their best, and the Falcons may be left on the wrong side of a stunning outcome.
Knowing that, Quinn and his team are treating their next opponent like any other and preparing for a hard-fought game against a division rival. "No, just division games," Quinn said when asked if he looks at Tampa Bay any differently. "And that's how we always go about approaching it. Knowing that, you watch the start of the last game, the energy's right, they're though, they're committed. Anytime you're playing a division team, it's just a battle. It's just how it ends up working out, it always is. We expect nothing different, we know it's going to be a heck of a fight."