The Bucs have a 4-6 record. They are in third place in their division. They've lost games to the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, both of whom seem destined for a Wild Card berth. Their 3-5 in-conference record won't win them many tiebreakers either And despite that, Raheem Morris still believes the Bucs have a shot at making the playoffs. Of course, he has to say that: to give up now would be to give up on the season altogether, and as long as there is mathematical chance of making the playoffs he can't give up.
Realistically speaking, though, it will be very very difficult for the Bucs to get to the playoffs. The best way for the Bucs to make it to the playoffs would obviously be to win the division, but that goal seems entirely out of reach now. The Bucs are three games behind the New Orleans Saints and two games behind the Atlanta Falcons. With just six games left in the seasons, the Bucs would need the Saints to drop four games and the Falcons to drop three games while themselves winning all six remaining games to win the division. That seems extremely unlikely, and I think we can very safely write off any chance of that happening.
But what about a Wild Card spot? There is a little reason for hope on that front, but not much.
The first thing the Bucs would have to do is win at least five of their last six games. The rest of the Bucs' schedule isn't overly tough, with games against the Titans, Panthers (2x), Jaguars, Cowboys and Falcons remaining. Those are all eminently beatable teams, but the Bucs cannot afford to drop more than one game - and even losing one game may be too much to overcome.
The reason for that is simple: there are currently ten NFC teams with a better or equal record to the Bucs' record. Four of those teams will win their division and won't be a problem for the Bucs, but that leaves two NFC East teams, two NFC North teams, one NFC South team and one NFC West team the Bucs need to outperform by significant margins over the next six weeks.
The easiest team for the Bucs to catch is the Atlanta Falcons. They are currently sitting pretty at 6-4, two games ahead of the Bucs. But the Bucs can catch up with them by beating them in the final week of the season, and the Falcons losing one other game. With games remaining against the Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints that should not be unlikely.
Then there are two other teams the Bucs can catch somewhat easily: the 4-6 Philadelphia Eagles and the 4-6 Seattle Seahawks. The two teams will play each other in Week 13, so at least one of them will drop one game. With games against the Bears and 49ers remaining for the Seahawks it seems extremely unlikely that they'll present much of a threat, while the Eagles have to beat the Patriots, Jets and Cowboys. If the Bucs do their duty and win six remaining games, they can essentially count out these two teams as competition.
That leaves four teams the Bucs really have to worry about: the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants, the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears. Looking at the NFC East, the Bucs do have a shot there. Both the Giants and Cowboys are 6-4, but one of those two teams will its division, which would leave only one team for the Bucs to beat.
The Cowboys and Giants play eachother twice, which means the Bucs can make up at least one, and possibly two games on the non-division winner automatically. With the Giants having a history of late-season collapses and facing a very tough schedule including the Packers, Saints and Jets it seems likely they will drop a number of games. Meanwhile, the Bucs can make up another game on the Cowboys by beating them in week 15. While it won't be easy, the Bucs getting back in the Wild Card race ahead of the NFC East teams does not seem unlikely at this point.
But the NFC North does present a major problem for the Bucs. The Packers are 10-0 and have essentially won their division, but the Lions and Bears both sit at 7-3 and both have crucial tiebreaker wins over the Buccaneers. The Bucs need either the Bears or Lions to lose four games down the stretch if they want to make the playoffs. Interestingly, the Lions could actually do that.
While Detroit looked very strong early in the year they have slowed down over the past weeks, losing games to the 49ers, the Falcons and the Bears. To make matters worse for them they have two games against the Green Bay Packers, one against the New Orleans Saints and games against both the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers remaining. The Lions have weaknesses, and they could lose any of those games, although the Bucs need them to lose almost all of those games.
Meanwhile, the Bears will be without their star quarterback during the stretch. That has to hurt their chances of winning many more games as well. Unfortunately, their schedule is fairly easy. The Raiders and Packers really present the only challenges for this team. But a team without its starting quarterback is always vulnerable, and they could certainly lose a number of winnable games down the stretch.
Ultimately, it remains extremely unlikely that the Bucs make it to the playoffs this year. They need either the Detroit Lions or the Chicago Bears to experience a late-season collapse, as well as the second-place team in the NFC East. In addition they need the Atlanta Falcons to lose at least one game before the final week of the season. And finally, the Bucs need to do the seemingly impossible for this inconsistent team: win six straight games.
It's not impossible and there's a shred of hope for the team and fans to cling to. I'll try to analyse the Bucs' playoff hopes every week from here on out, but the focus will slowly shift to possible off-season improvements. Just like it will for the Bucs' front-office.