Bucs fan primer: What to root for in Week 13
Here we go again, helping Bucs fans understand which outcomes they should be pulling for to maximize the Bucs' chances of finding a spot in the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
Tampa Bay, at 6-5, is one game back of the Falcons for the NFC South lead and a half-game back of the Redskins for the second NFC wild card. The Cowboys' (narrow) win Thursday over the Vikings helped the Bucs, as Minnesota was at 6-5 and a close challenger for that last wild card, but now they're 6-6 and the Bucs can move ahead with a win Sunday in San Diego.
The New York Times' "Playoff Simulator" has the Bucs around a 31 percent chance to make the playoffs right now -- win Sunday, that improves to about 41 percent, but lose, and it drops to about 19 percent. And even if the Bucs win and all six of the following games go the right way, their chances only increase to about 46 percent. Still ...
Chiefs at Falcons, 1: A Kansas City win would be huge for the Bucs, who could pull even with Atlanta with four games to play. The Falcons have an easier path ahead, with their next two at the Rams (4-7) and home against the 49ers (1-10), so Bucs fans need them to lose the hard games. Kansas City, just a wild card even at 8-3, has much to play for, as the AFC has a 7-4 team missing the postseason right now.
Lions at Saints, 1: Both could be considered competition for the Bucs' postseason hopes, but it's probably better for Detroit to win here. The less the Saints feel like they have something to play for, the better as the Bucs face them twice in the next three games after this weekend. If the Bucs can sweep those two games, they'll take care of New Orleans all by themselves, but if Detroit falters down the stretch, you'll wake up Green Bay's playoff hopes a little more, which would be bad.
Houston at Green Bay, 1: The Packers are one game removed from a four-game losing streak, but Aaron Rodgers is still daunting in the rearview mirror. A Houston win would set them back, with Seattle coming in next week as well. Perhaps Jason Licht's pal Bill O'Brien can help him out with a win -- the Texans, only a half-game up on the Titans, need the win for their own reasons as well.
Eagles at Bengals, 1: Cincinnati is 1-5-1 in its last seven games and will be without top receiver A.J. Green, but Philadelphia is a woeful 1-5 on the road, so a Bengals win could help the Eagles be a less dangerous fourth-place team. They still have a full lap through the NFC East remaining, but all three games are at home for the Eagles.
Redskins at Cardinals, 4:25: Arizona didn't help the Bucs out last week in losing to Atlanta, but they can offer wild-card assistance here. Arizona is still technically alive at 4-6-1, but the Cards still have games at Miami and Seattle on their schedule, so Bucs fans would rather have them win here and knock the Redskins -- who right now have the last playoff spot ahead of the Bucs -- down a peg. Washington is in the middle of a three-game road swing that ends at Philadelphia next week.
Giants at Steelers, 4:25: You'd think the Giants are in good shape at 8-3, two games up on the Bucs, but lose here and they're facing the Cowboys next week and could easily be 8-5 with three to play, with Detroit left, then games at Philly and Washington. Pittsburgh could really use this one, tied with Baltimore atop the division at 6-5, closer to a home playoff game than they are a wild card.
The biggest outcome, of course, is the Bucs winning in San Diego. If that happens and they've won four straight, you won't care as much how these six shake out ...