I did this last year and felt foolish for doing so. I was really obligated to because at 2-8, the Buccaneers were still in the NFC South division race (hell, Carolina was 3-7 and would go finish 7-8-1 to claim the division crown).
This year is a bit different. The Bucs are a much better team with realistic playoff aspirations. They took a tough loss in Indianapolis and missed a golden opportunity to take over the final playoff spot.
Still, its all there. They just have to win football games.
Before we start, please familiarize yourself with the NFL Playoff Tiebreakers. It will help you understand the craziness we're about to go through.
Current NFC Playoff Teams
In The Hunt
Okay, so some questions you might be asking yourself about the current playoff standings.
Why are the Redskins ahead of the Giants?
The two teams split their season series, the Redskins claim the NFC East because they have a better division record (2-1 vs 2-3).
Why are the Bucs currently ahead of the Giants - they lost to New York?
Yes, but the Bucs are currently in a three way tie with the Giants and Bears. If you're in a three way tie (and you're not in the same division), the head-to-head is thrown out UNLESS one team has beaten the two other teams. The Bucs haven't played the Bears yet, so you go to the third tie-breaker, conference record, which the Bucs own the higher winning percentage.
Panthers - @NO, ATL, @NYG, @ATL, TB
Cardinals - @STL, MIN, @PHI, GB, @SEA
Vikings - SEA, @ARI, CHI, @NYG, @GB
Redskins - DAL, @CHI, BUF, @PHI, @DAL
Packers - @DET, DAL, @OAK, @ARI, MIN
Seahawks - @MIN, @BAL, CLE, STL, @ARI
Falcons - @TB, @CAR, @JAX, CAR, NO
Buccaneers - ATL, NO, @STL, CHI, @CAR
Giants - NYJ, @MIA, CAR, @MIN, PHI
Bears - SF, WAS, @MIN, @TB, DET
Best Case Scenario For the Bucs
It's actually pretty simple. If the Bucs win out, they hang losses on playoff competitors Atlanta, Chicago and Carolina. They'll need Seattle to lose at least once in their final five games. Seattle has two games against winning teams on their schedule. If Seattle lost two games, the Bucs would need the Giants or Redskins to drop one of their remaining 5.
If Seattle beats Minnesota this weekend, keep an eye on the Vikings. They would suffer their fourth loss but still have some tough games left with multiple playoff contenders.
If the Bucs lose another game
It can't be to Atlanta or Chicago. They have to win those two games or risk losing tie-breaker advantage. Losing to New Orleans, St. Louis or Carolina would hurt but not as badly as losing to Atlanta or Chicago. Those are must wins. Seattle would need to lose two games, the Giants or Redskins would need to lose at least one (preferably two).
If the Bucs do lose to Atlanta, it will complicate matters but it doesn't eliminate them. They will be severely damaged though and their playoff hopes take a significant hit.
If the Bucs lose two more games
It gets really difficult. Again, the Wins must come against Atlanta or Chicago. Seattle would need to lose 3 of their last five or Green Bay would have to lose 3 of 5 or Minnesota would have to lose out. The Giants would need to lose at least two games. Atlanta would have to lose another game. Chicago Would need to lose another game. Then the 4-7 teams might come into play as well (Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis and Philadelphia).
Three or more losses
Act of God. Everyone basically would need to collapse down the stretch. With that many teams lumped together, its unlikely.
Who to Root for this Weekend and Why
Bucs over Atlanta - Of course.
Detroit over Green Bay - Would hang a fifth loss on the Packers. While it keeps the Lions alive, it puts the Packers in play for the Bucs. If Green Bay wins, it essentially ends Detroit.
Jets over Giants - Keep the G-men losing.
Cardinals over Rams - Eliminate the Rams from contention.
Vikings over Seahawks - A Seahawks loss is needed for the Bucs playoff hopes and the Vikings are one of two games against winning teams left.
49ers over Bears - Unlikely win on the road for San Francisco but it would sting the Bears and hurt their chances.
Saints over Carolina - Yeah, we all know this isn't happening but we need Carolina to take a loss before Week 17 or they won't be resting players. Still, a Carolina win essentially ends the Saints season.
Cowboys over Washington - Keep the NFC East from being a factor in the Wildcard race.