The Buccaneers have plenty going on, but there is good news on the horizon. You have key players returning to action - Leonard Fournette, Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Lavonte David - and the Bucs will be hosting their first playoff game since 2008. The question is, who will they host?
If the NFL season were over today, as it would have been last year, the Bucs would have finished 12-4 and the number three seed in the NFC. The Green Bay Packers locked up the top seed, bye, and homefield advantage yet again with their win over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday night, leaving the Bucs and the Los Angeles Rams battling for the second seed. With the Rams holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Bucs would have lost out on the two but avoided the fourth seed thanks to the Arizona Cardinals.
So, that being said, the Bucs would be hosting the sixth seed San Francisco 49ers as of right now. However, there is plenty about to change on that front.
With the 49ers and Rams facing off in week eighteen, a 49ers win means the Bucs - given the Bucs win - would move ahead of the Rams and become the two seed. In that scenario, it would be the Philadelphia Eagles coming to Raymond James in the two/seven matchup while the Rams would host the 49ers for the second consecutive week. Well, that is unless the Cowboys beat the Eagles on Saturday in which case the Cowboys move up to three to face San Francisco and the Rams drop to fourth and face the Arizona Cardinals.
But wait! There’s more!
Speaking of the Arizona Cardinals, if they were defeat the Seattle Seahawks in addition to the Cowboys, 49ers, and Bucs winning, the Cardinals move to three and win the NFC West, the Cowboys drop to four, and the Rams become the five.
Let’s throw more wrenches into the mix; let’s say the Saints beat the Falcons, the Rams beat the 49ers, but the Bucs, Cowboys, and Cardinals all still win. That puts the Bucs at the three seed - still hosting the Falcons - while the Rams would host the New Orleans Saints and the Cowboys in the four-five matchup would host the Cardinals.
Here’s the long and short of it; regardless of any outcomes on Saturday and Sunday, the Buccaneers only have three possible opponents in the wild card round - Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Arizona. To get to these results, there are three key games outside of the Bucs vs Panthers we have to focus on - Philadelphia vs Dallas, Arizona vs Seattle, and Los Angeles vs San Francisco. In order for the Bucs to face Arizona there are two scenarios; in both, the Bucs would have to lose to the Carolina Panthers. On top of that, other winners would have to be the 49ers over the Rams and Seahawks over the Cardinals.
In order to face the 49ers, the Bucs have to finish as the three seed. There are numerous scenarios where that is possible, but they boil down to the Rams and Falcons winning or the Eagles, Panthers, and 49ers all winning - and these results don’t change based on the result of the Bucs and Panthers game.
As far as playing the Eagles, they would square off with a loss but wins from the Rams/Saints or Bucs/49ers or by a win as well as a win by the Rams.
So, out of 32 possible outcomes between the Bucs/Panthers, Rams/49ers, Eagles/Cowboys, Falcons/Saints, and Cardinals/Seahawks, the Bucs would face the Eagles in twenty of them, the 49ers in ten of them, and the Cardinals in two.
The only thing that matters for the Bucs this weekend is to beat the Panthers. The rest is out of their control - but Bucs fans are going to be adopting the 49ers as their second favorite team for a day so the Bucs can lock up the two seed.