With five weeks remaining in the NFL season, there are some teams that are virtual locks to be in the playoffs (See: Saints, Rams, Patriots, Chiefs Etc.). And, there are teams that are virtual locks to miss out (See: Raiders, Jets, 49ers, Cardinals).
And then, there are a whole bunch of teams vying to get in either as a division winner outright or snag one of the two conference wild-card spots.
And, despite a four-game losing streak that put them at 3 and 7 two weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could play their way into playoff relevancy starting with a win this week over NFC South rival Carolina.
Before you snicker at that last sentence, consider the case and what’s at stake Sunday at 1 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium:
After their 27-9 win over the 49ers last week put them at 4 – 7, the Bucs are now within two games of Carolina, Seattle, Dallas, Minnesota and Washington (all with 6 wins) in the win column, for the two wild-card spots that will be up for grabs in the NFC.
Since beating the Bucs badly in Charlotte in early November to go 6-2, the Panthers have proceeded to lose three straight games to drop to 6-5. So, obviously with a Buccaneer defeat Sunday, they would be amazingly back to .500 at 6 – 6.
More importantly for Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers would pull within a game of the Panthers with the December stretch run coming.
Now some realities:
The Redskins, who are at the moment two games in front of the Bucs, also have the head-to-head tiebreaker after their November win at Raymond James Stadium 16 – 3.
Another reality is the Seahawks, who beat the Panthers last week in Carolina, will play the same lowly 49ers at the Bucs beat last week at home and will likely get a seventh victory Sunday afternoon.
Further, teams like Philadelphia Green Bay and Atlanta are also lurking with either 4 or 5 wins going into this weekend and hoping to do the same thing the Tampa Bay can do and that’s get to nine victories at the end of the year. Philly can win 10-the most Falcons and Packers can now win is 9 games.
Another point to make is: there are several NFC teams vying for division win or wild-card spot that can still get to ten victories with 5 remaining and the Buccaneers obviously cannot reach 10.
Still, the Buccaneers have hope at the moment.
If they play better and beat the Panthers, they are at least in the conversation heading into the third of three straight home games with the first place Saints coming Sunday December 9th.
And yes, the Bucs do have two difficult road games back to back at Baltimore, who will be vying for an AFC wild-card spot and then at the Cowboys, who will be battling for a division win or a wild card spot themselves, right after playing New Orleans.
However, if you want to be a playoff team, you’re going to have to prove it by winning out under the current circumstance, anyway.
That starts with Sunday and a rematch with Cam Newton and Co.
A win and Tampa Bay is still in the NFC playoff conversation for another week
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