Last week the Buccaneers could afford to lose one out of the last three games and still have a shot to make the playoffs. Well, they've certainly lost that one game after being defeated 23-20 in overtime by the Detroit Lions. Now, the Bucs have to win out to have a shot at the playoffs. So that's the situation now: beat the Seahawks, beat the Saints and they have a shot. Lose either game, and the team is done for the year. However, winning out doesn't guarantee a playoff spot anymore. So what needs to happen for the Bucs to get to the playoffs this year?
The Saints-Falcons game this weekend holds the key to two scenarios. If the Saints lose that game, they would finish 10-6, losing to the Bucs in the last game. the tiebreaker of best win percentage in common games would give the edge to the Bucs in this case. However, the Bucs are still not guaranteed a playoff spot in this case. Only if the Packers lose one of their next two matchups against the Giants and Bears, or if the Giants lose both of their matches against the Packers and Redskins. As you can see, several possibilities for the Bucs to make the playoffs remain if the Saints lose to the Falcons.
Now, if the Saints beat the Falcons the Bucs will need additional help. The Saints and Falcons would both finish ahead of the Bucs in the NFC South, which leaves only one Wild Card spot for Tampa Bay to take. None of the NFC West pose a danger for the Bucs in that respect, but the NFC East and NFC North teams do.
First, the NFC North. The Chicago Bears have clinched that division, and the Green Bay Packers are the only ones that can win a Wild Card there. Fortunately for us, The Packers are at 8-6 and need to win both their next 2 games to get to 10-6. Unfortunately for us, if they win their next two games they beat the Bucs on tiebreakers. So the Packers need to lose one of their next two games for the Bucs to make the playoffs.
Then there's the NFC East. The Eagles are at 10-4 there and need just one more win to clinch the division, which they are likely to do as they face the Vikings and Cowboys over the next two games. In case they do not do so, though, the Bucs actually hold a tiebreaker over the Eagles. Unfortunately, the Bucs do not hold a tiebreaker over the Giants. With the Giants at 9-5 they only need to win one more game to clinch a playoff spot. If that happens, the Bucs can still grab a Wild Card. If the Eagles lose out, that would make the Giants the division winners, and the Bucs would grab the last Wild Card as they have a better conference record than the Eagles.
Sadly, it's also possible for the Bucs to win the next game yet still be eliminated from the playoffs. If the Giants, the Eagles and the Saints win their week 16 matches, Tampa Bay cannot win a Wild Card no matter what the results will be during the last regular season weekend.
With all that said, there are some clear rooting interests for next week. If you're a Bucs fan, the first rooting interest lies with the Saints-Falcons game. The Bucs need the Saints to lose that game, though they are not eliminated if it doesn't happen. Similarly, the Bucs want the Eagles to lose to the Vikings, even though it's not a big problem if that doesn't happen.
Finally, when the New York Giants face the Green Bay Packers, a Packers loss would be most beneficial as that would eliminate them from playoff contention. That comes with one caveat: if the Saints do beat the Falcons, we need the Giants to lose. Of course, the Saints don't play until Monday night, so we won't know in advance who to root for. Since it seems most likely that the Saints will lose to the Falcons, I'm going to root for the Packers to lose their match.