The Bucs got the one they just had to have. As we mentioned last week, the victory over the Atlanta Falcons was central for Tampa Bay's playoff hopes and they got it.
The Bucs got a little help this weekend as well, with the Giants, Washington and Chicago falling victim to the upset and severely damaging their hopes (while helping the Bucs).
Unfortunately, the big one - Seattle vs. Minnesota, went decidely against Tampa Bay. The Seahawks are on a big roll. Unless they stumble, Tampa Bay is going to have to hope for a team from the NFC North to falter down the stretch.
The good news is Green Bay narrowly escaped their fifth loss in six games with a miracle hail mary play. They aren't playing good football right now.
Minnesota got exposed a bit against Seattle, took some injuries and have a pretty tough remaining schedule.
Current NFC Playoff Teams
y-Clinched Division Z-Clinched Home Field X-clinched Playoff spot
In The Hunt
Okay, so some questions you might be asking yourself about the current playoff standing
Why Are the Bucs ahead of the Falcons?
Easy, they swept the Falcons.
Why is Washington still in first place in the NFC East?
The Washington franchise has beaten both Philly and the Giants head-to-head.
Why is Philadelphia ahead of the Giants and Bears?
Philly wins the head-to-head tie-breaker with division rival New York, they best Chicago on conference record.
Why did Green Bay leap Minnesota in the NFC North?
Green Bay beat Minnesota head-to-head.
None for the Bucs.
Carolina can clinch a first round bye with a WIN OR Minnesota AND Green Bay loss or tie.
Arizona can clinch the NFC West with a WIN or TIE AND a Seattle LOSS or TIE.
Arizona can clinch a playoff berth with a WIN OR an Atlanta AND Tampa Bay LOSS or TIE OR a Tampa Bay LOSS or TIE AND a Green Bay WIN OR TIE.
Panthers - ATL, @NYG, @ATL, TB
Cardinals - MIN, @PHI, GB, @SEA
Vikings - @ARI, CHI, @NYG, @GB
Redskins - @CHI, BUF, @PHI, @DAL
Packers - DAL, @OAK, @ARI, MIN
Seahawks - @BAL, CLE, STL, @ARI
Falcons - @CAR, @JAX, CAR, NO
Buccaneers - NO, @STL, CHI, @CAR
Eagles - BUF, ARI, WAS, @NYG
Cowboys - @GB, NYJ, @BUF, WAS
Giants - @MIA, CAR, @MIN, PHI
Bears - WAS, @MIN, @TB, DET
Best Scenario for the Bucs
The Buccaneers win out to get to 10-6 - then one of these teams - Green Bay, Minnesota or Seattle also finish at 10-6. Tampa Bay owns the conference record tie-breaker on each of these teams.
As you see above, Seattle has two teams at the bottom of the AFC North, the reeling Rams and then a Cardinals team that may not be playing for anything and resting starters in the season finale left. Anything can happen (look at the Eagles shocking the Patriots last week), but Seattle is playing some great football right now. Barring a major injury, its difficult to see them losing again.
Now as I mentioned above, Green Bay or Minnesota could be Tampa Bay's route to the post-season. Green Bay has been struggling mightly the last month as injuries mount for them. Minnesota has been solid until Sunday and they have four games against teams fighting to stay in the playoff race.
If the Bucs Lose A Game
Seattle winning in Minnesota put a hurt on the Bucs chances here. They would need to lose twice OR Minnesota or Green Bay would need to lose 3 times.
On the bright side, as I mentioned yesterday - the Bucs could clinch at 9 wins before Week 17 if this happens -
The Bucs have to beat New Orleans, St. Louis and Chicago. Not a murderer's row but for a young team like Tampa Bay, no game is a gimme. Then they need Seattle to lose two games (unlikely the way they're playing), or BOTH Green Bay and Minnesota to lose two games.
Now the latter is a bit more doable. Here me out. Minnesota is on the road at Arizona, home to the Bears and Giants. Green Bay is home against Dallas, on the road in Oakland (not an easy road trip) and on the road in Arizona. Green Bay and Minnesota play each other in Week 17. If each enter that game 9-6 and the Bucs are 9-6, the only way Tampa Bay would not make the playoffs is if that game ends in a tie. The winner would be NFC North Champion (and the Bucs likely opponent in the playoffs), the loser would be out.
Why? The Bucs conference record. Unlike previous seasons where the Bucs were behind the eight ball when it came to conference record, Tampa Bay has a very strong one. They're currently tied with both Green Bay and Minnesota in conference record.
But here's the beauty. Minnesota only has NFC games left. 3 of Green Bay's last four are NFC opponents. If both lose twice in the next three weeks, they'll take at least 1 conference loss and the loser of the matchup at the end of the year will get another conference loss.
It's a longshot but it could indeed happen. By the way, is it meta to quote yourself in an article? I digress.
Bottom line is the Bucs could still lose their season finale at Carolina and get in if one of the other three teams are at 9-7 as well.
Of course, Atlanta can't win out or it screws everything up (they likely won't).
If the Bucs lose 2 games
Its near impossible for the Bucs to make the playoffs. First, neither of the losses can come against Chicago, they would own the tie-breaker over the Bucs. Each of the 5-7 teams would need at least one more loss. Atlanta couldn't finish better than 8-8. Seattle would need to lose 3 of their last four or either Minnesota or Green Bay would have to lose out.
It would be a huge, jumbled mess but again, the Bucs conference record helps them.
3 or more losses for the Bucs
There isn't really a scenario for the Bucs to make the playoffs at 7-9 or 6-10.
Who to root for this weekend and why
Bucs to beat the Saints - Duh.
Cardinals to beat the Vikings - We're all going to be huge Arizona Cardinals fans the last month of the season, folks. Another loss for the Vikings edges them closer to collapse mode.
Bills to beat the Eagles - Essentially ends the Eagles chances in the wildcard (but not in the NFC East)
Bears to beat Washington - Keeps one of the two teams the Bucs lost to out of the wildcard picture.
Panthers to beat the Falcons - Keep Atlanta reeling. Although if the Falcons do win this game, it might help the Bucs chances in the finale. Panthers won't have much to play for.
Ravens to beat the Seahawks - Yeah, fat chance, but that's why they play the games.
Cowboys to beat Green Bay - Dallas is a non-factor in the wildcard race, their only route to the playoffs is the NFC East title. Keep the Packers reeling!
Dolphins to beat the Giants - The other playoff contender that owns a tie-breaker on the Bucs, keep them down and out.