ATLANTA -- Having already secured the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff bracket, which assures the Atlanta Falcons a first-round bye and at least one game at the Georgia Dome, coach Jim Mora is considering holding several starters, including quarterback Michael Vick, out of Sunday's road matchup with the New Orleans Saints.
Vick suffered a sprained shoulder in Saturday night's victory over the Carolina Panthers, and, while there is no structural damage, the joint is sore. The four-year veteran is one of just 15 quarterbacks leaguewide to start every game this season. If Vick does sit, and that is very likely, rookie Matt Schaub will get his first regular-season start.
At 11-3, the Falcons are cemented in the NFC's No. 2 spot. They can't move up because the Philadelphia Eagles have clinched the top spot. At the same time, Atlanta cannot fall below the No. 2 seed -- even if it loses its final two regular-season games.
So with a laundry list of injuries, and despite the annual memo from the league office that all teams must field a competitive lineup in the season's final weeks, Mora appears ready to favor discretion over valor on Sunday afternoon.
"We have an obligation to try to win every game, and that is exactly what we will try to do, believe me," Mora said. "We'll sit down as a staff and evaluate how to do that."
The move could bring Mora under some mild scrutiny from league officials, especially since embattled Saints coach Jim Haslett is one of his closest friends, but the Falcons can make a pretty strong case that Vick and others need some time off to be physically whole for the playoffs. Team officials said that, no matter the decision on Vick and others, it will not be related to Monday's news that Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens will miss the rest of the year and almost certainly the playoffs, as well.
Losing Owens certainly moves the Eagles back to the rest of the NFC playoff pack.
New Orleans, which has been bedeviled by Vick in the past, certainly won't mind having the Falcons star on the sideline. At 6-8, the Saints are still alive for the final NFC wild-card spot but probably need wins over Atlanta and Carolina, in the season finale, to have an opportunity to qualify for the postseason.
Schizophrenic New Orleans, one of the NFC's most talented but underachieving franchises, lost to the Falcons in the first meeting of the year, when Vick rallied Atlanta late in the contest, throwing a game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Alge Crumpler. Coincidentally, Crumpler, who has a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, might also sit out Sunday's contest.
In addition to Vick and Crumpler, tailback T.J. Duckett (knee), fullback Stanley Pritchett (broken thumb) and wide receiver Dez White (ankle) are among the Falcons offensive players nursing injuries. There are also several players on defense who are battling injuries and might benefit from a week off.
"We'll prepare as if everyone is going to play for them," Haslett said. "Jim will do what is best for his team, and we'll do what's best for us. But it will be different [if Vick does not play]. We won't have to worry about Schaub running around like Vick does, because he is more of a pure West Coast pocket passer."
A third-round draft pick from Virginia who won the No. 2 job over veteran Ty Detmer with a strong performance in training camp and the preseason, Schaub has played briefly in four games this year. He has completed two of seven passes for nine yards. Schaub would be the 55th different starting quarterback in the league in 2004.
Holding Vick out of the lineup could dent his chances of becoming the first quarterback in league history to rush for 1,000 yards. He has 889 yards in 14 games, and the record for rushing yards by a quarterback, set by Bobby Douglass of Chicago in 1972, is 972 yards.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.