We're down to three games remaining and nine teams fighting for six spots. The Bucs helped their cause with a close win over Washington, allowing them to keep pace with the Saints, Eagles, and Giants and picking up a game on the Bears and Packers. The Bucs are essentially staring down a third place finish in the NFC South and have to hope that it will be good enough to move them on to the elimination round.
We'll keep updating the playoff picture, but for now, hit the jump to take a look at Week 15's forecast.
Lets start by looking at the teams involved in the playoff hunt:
Philadelphia Eagles (9-4), New York Giants (9-4), Chicago Bears (9-4), Green Bay Packers (8-5), Atlanta Falcons (11-2), New Orleans Saints (10-3), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5), St. Louis Rams (6-7), Seattle Seahawks (6-7).
First off, we can eliminate either the Rams or Seahawks as neither will win the Wild Card due to tiebreakers. That moves us down to eight teams for five spots. And while it could go either way, we know that either the Saints or Falcons will win the NFC South, leaving seven teams for four spots. The other division races are still up in the air, but with three weeks left, there are still several possibilities.
To get you familiarized with the tiebreaking procedures, which we surely will rely on here's a link to NFL.com's tiebreaking procedures as well as the quick list. I'm going to ignore the divisional tiebreakers as we have no shot at the division crown.
If the tie is between two teams for the Wild Card, the order of tiebreakers is:
1 - Head to head (We either tie or lose with Saints depending on Week 17. We haven't played any other Wild Card team)
2 - Best won/loss in conference (We're in the hunt at 6-3. Ahead of GB who is 6-4, tied with Phi at 6-3 and behind NO at 8-2, NYG at 7-2, and Chi at 7-3. Have to make up some ground)
3 - Best won/loss in common games (minimum of four games). This is too ugly to even figure out right now
4 - Strength of victory (i.e. how good are the teams you beat).
We'll stop there because that will probably be our down fall.
If it's a tie between three teams, here's the shortlist of tiebreakers.
1 - Apply division tiebreaker to eliminate all but highest team in that division.
Oh boy, lets take a look at the divisional tiebreakers, because if we aren't #2 in the South, we have no shot (assuming we tie the Saints and another team for Wild Card).
1 - Head to head (if we loss in New Orleans, it's over, assuming we end up tied with either New Orleans or NO and a third team)
2 - Best won/loss in division. (We're 2-3 and the Saints are 3-1. If the Saints beat Atlanta, our Week 17 game is probably meaningless if we tie them. If they beat Atlanta, we want the Saints to beat us, I think, so that way we aren't eliminated by Wild Card procedures, assuming we're tied with 3rd team. If they lose to Atlanta, then we want to win).
3 - Best won/loss in common games
4 - Best won/loss in conference
That lays out what happens if its just us, New Orleans and a potential mystery team. But if we end up tied for the last Wild Card spot with a third team (since we've already covered what happens with two), lets look at the rest of the tiebreakers. This will ONLY come into play in a three way tie not including the Saints.
2 - Head to head sweep
3 - Best won/loss in conference
4 - Best won/loss in common games
5 - Strength of victory.
So now that we have all that crap out of the way, what does it all mean? Well we know the Bucs are playing for Wild Card only. We know that the Giants play the Packers (auto loss for one of them), we know the Saints play the Falcons (we might end up rooting for Saints in that game, tying them for Wild Card might mean elimination for us), Eagles play Giants (auto loss), Bears play the Packers (same), and of course we have the Saints.
Also to be looked at is the tough closing schedule for some teams.
Giants - vs Phi, @ GB, @ Wash. 2-1 would be pretty impressive with 1-2 being realistic
Eagles - @ NYG, vs Minn, vs Dal. Probably easy enough to clinch division.
Saints - @ Balt, @ Atl, vs Bucs. They could conceivable lose first two and with us winning our first two, we'll be tied heading into Week 17. The pro is we control our own destiny. The con is a loss and we're out. This is a better scenario than us winning in Week 17 to tie them, with a strong possibility we lose tiebreakers.
Bucs - vs Det, vs Sea, @ NO. Have to go 2-1 at minimum.
Packers - @ NE, vs NYG, vs CHI. Tough road here. They are probably outside looking in unless they pull 2 upsets and get help.
Bears - @ Minn, vs NYJ, @ GB. If they don't choke, they win division.
Based on projections, it looks like the teams we can beat in tiebreakers are the Eagles, Packers, and Bears. We have to assume the Saints probably are in (though not guaranteed).
It's a lot to take in, but here is what I take away from this. We need to take care of business. We want the Giants to beat Phily and Green Bay (we can take both in tiebreakers). We cannot end up tied with the Saints barring some huge other upsets that swing tiebreakers (not likely). The most bizarre scenario? We win our first two (10-5, the Saints win 1 of 2 (11-4). Based on current tiebreakers, we would root for the Bucs to lose that game. If we end up tied, they beat us based on division record. Of course, this is also assuming there is another 11-5 team in the mix for the Wild Card and it's based on this wording from NFL.com based on a three way tie for the Wild Card (and of course, even if we beat New Orleans, we most likely end up losing two team tiebreaker with them)
- Apply division tie breaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. The original seeding within a division upon application of the division tie breaker remains the same for all subsequent applications of the procedure that are necessary to identify the two Wild-Card participants.
So there you have it. A wild, jumbled mess. That's my take on it. Gut feeling? The Bucs get in, but of course, we have to beat Detroit and Seattle first. A loss to either one and it cripples our playoff hopes. So start rooting for the Redskins, Cowboys, Vikings, Patriots, Jets, and Ravens. Wins by them and it may be enough to sneak us in.