New England’s Bill Belichick is the only head coach with a better regular-season record over the past five years than Smith (56-23). The Falcons, though, lost their opening playoff game in three of those seasons and didn’t qualify in the fourth. Hoping to keep momentum going into January, Smith played his starters throughout a Week 17 loss to Tampa Bay despite the outcome having no bearing on the team’s No. 1 NFC playoff seeding. The move almost backfired as defensive end John Abraham (ankle) and cornerback Dunta Robinson (concussion) suffered injuries. Smith, though, said both players will be back for the team’s January 13 second-round contest. - Alex Marvez
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