The Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to win a squeaker against the Carolina Panthers, and another win means they're one game closer to the playoffs. But how close are they, and can they realistically make it?
Tampa Bay is in excellent position at the moment, but they're still on the outside looking in. They're tied with the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings at a 6-4 record for the final Wildcard spot, but the Bucs' 3-4 conference record keeps them out of the playoffs for now. They'll have plenty of opportunity to improve that record over the final six games, as their only non-conference opponent is Denver.
A few factors play in Tampa Bay's favor, though. The Green Bay Packers currently own the other Wild Card spot, but they have a tough record, with games against the Giants, Vikings (twice), Lions and Bears remaining. You'll notice a lot of NFC playoff contenders in that schedule, and that's representative of the schedule of almost every NFC playoff candidate. Those teams will feast on each other, which will give Tampa Bay some opportunity to get in.
The biggest obstacle to Tampa Bay's playoff aspiration is still their schedule, however. Of their six remaining opponents, three have winning records and a fourth is the Saints, whom they will face in New Orleans.Obviously, if they win all of their games they'll make it in. But that's not realistic given the strength of their schedule and the simple variance of NFL games. They're likely to drop a few games.
One upside for the Buccaneers: the Atlanta Falcons have repeatedly come close to dropping games, and their luck can't hold forever. If the Bucs manage to beat the Falcons this week and in the final game of the season, they would be just one game behind Atlanta. With games against the Saints, Giants and Lions remaining, the Falcons don't have the easiest schedule and could see the division title slip from their grasp. It's not likely, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility.
Meanwhile, the Bucs currently hold the 19th overall pick in the NFL draft.
NFC Playoff Picture
Green Bay Packers (7-3-0)
Seattle Seahawks (6-4-0)