After Atlanta's first loss of the season in New Orleans, the NFC South title doesn't seem all that out of reach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sure, they're three games behind the Falcons with just seven games to go. Under normal circumstances that would be a nearly impossible gap to close -- but the Bucs have one major advantage: they have yet to face Atlanta this year. If they can beat the Falcons both at home and on the road, they only need Atlanta to drop one more game to catch the Falcons in the playoff hunt.
is this realistic? Well, it's certainly not easy, but Atlanta isn't nearly as good as its record would indicate. Despite an 8-0 start to the season, there were plenty of struggles along the way. They struggled against the lowly Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders as well as the better Dallas Cowboys, beating each of those teams by just one score after some late-game heroics. It takes a lot to keep winning close games, and you can't do that consistently, something they proved last night.
Still, beating the Atlanta Falcons twice will be a very tough assignment with Tampa Bay's secondary woes. More importantly, they can't really afford to drop any other games if they want to win the division title. That may be a little too much to ask, considering that road games against the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints are still left on the calendar.
A wild card berth is a lot more realistic, and Tampa Bay's chances certainly improved in that area. They still have some massive issues when it comes to tiebreakers, having a 1-1 division record and a 2-4 conference record, worse than any of their realistic competition. At the same time, they trail the Green Bay Packers by one game and the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings by half a game for a wild card berth. A 5-2 finish to the season should be enough to earn the Bucs a playoff berth, and a 4-3 finish could conceivably be enough, although winning some tiebreakers would be useful in a crowded playoff picture.
As for the draft position, that isn't improving -- but I think we can safely say that's no big deal. Regardless of what happens in tonight's game, the Bucs will be in position to get the 19th overall draft pick this week.