For the third straight season under general manager Jason Licht, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to play a meaningless week 17 game (barring some miraculous turn of events).
And for the third straight season, it seems Licht is just fine with losing a meaningless game. That was most obvious in 2015, when a loss would give the then 2-13 Bucs the first overall pick in the draft (and Jameis Winston). The Bucs dutifully benched their starters in the second half, and easily lost a game that seemed very winnable in the first.
Last season, we saw a similar thing. While they didn’t bench their backups, they certainly spent most of the week leading up to the week 17 matchup against the Carolina Panthers preparing for the offseason. They placed starters Chris Conte and Vincent Jackson on injured reserve, as well as backup safety Major Wright, and gave significant playing time to their backups against the Carolina Panthers, especially on defense.
Now, the same thing is about to happen. The Bucs could get their first winning season since 2010 on the books by beating the Carolina Panthers, and there’s a tiny chance they’ll make the playoffs. Instead of going for that full throttle, the Bucs decided to place a bunch of players with short-term injuries on injured reserve, including running back Charles Sims and tight end Cameron Brate.
It’s not quite giving up, but it’s not entirely playing to the best of their ability, either.
And you know what? That’s likely the right decision. The Bucs’ odds of making the playoffs are as close to 0 as could possibly be (they need seven games to go their way, including one ending in a tie). All a win would do is lower their draft position, and produce some beneficial feelings among fans and possibly the team.
There’s no evidence that late-season wins carry over into next year, though, so there’s no real reason to believe that those feelings are good for much. It would be disappointing to end the season on three straight losses, but with all the injuries it’s understandable — and it means nothing for where the Bucs stand next year.