Bucs fan primer: Who to root for in Week 16
We are back for a fourth week of Advanced Scoreboard Watching, helping Bucs fans navigate the murky waters of playoff scenarios and who they should be rooting for to maximize the Bucs' chances of making the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
We are your tiebreaker sherpa, so here's the guide to what you should care about in games you normally wouldn't care about:
Giants at Eagles, 8:25 tonight: This is a point of contention. Logic says Bucs fans should pull for the Eagles -- any loss the Giants take helps the chances of the Bucs being a higher seed as a wild card, though it'd take two Giants losses and two wins by the Falcons and Bucs to pull off that scenario. In that nightmare scenario where the Lions are ahead of the Bucs as 10-6 wild cards, the Bucs still make the playoffs if the Giants are also 10-6. So by that, GO EAGLES!
But as some of you have pointed out, a Giants loss would clinch home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs for the Cowboys, which takes away some of Dallas' motivation to play everybody and go all out Monday night against Detroit, (we'll get to this in a few paragraphs) when the Bucs benefit greatly from a Cowboys win. So, maybe GO GIANTS?
Falcons at Panthers, 1 p.m.: Bucs fans can root the loudest against Atlanta, which knows it wins the NFC South if it wins out. Carolina, a Bucs' fan best friend since Monday's win against Washington, can come through again, and you'd expect Cam Newton and friends to show up for the final home game, Christmas Eve, etc. ... Again, a Falcons loss and two Bucs wins gives Tampa Bay a division title and a home playoff game. Same as last week, Bucs fans say GO PANTHERS!
Vikings at Packers, Saturday, 1 p.m.: Again, it's not cut-and-dry. If you're confident the Packers would also lose next week at Detroit, then a Vikings win helps eliminate the Packers as a wild-card threat to the Bucs -- each loss of theirs helps offset a Bucs loss in the next two weeks. But the Bucs will have to go up against the Packers or Lions as a wild-card candidate if the Bucs don't win the South, so you're left to decide which team poses a greater threat to the Bucs. Minnesota has a poor enough conference record that even at 9-7, they'd lose a tiebreaker to the Bucs, so the only harm in the Vikings winning would be if the Bucs lost out, went 8-8 and could finish behind a 9-7 Minnesota team. It's complicated, but if you think the Packers can win at Detroit next week, it's OK for them to win here, so GO PACKERS!
Redskins at Bears, 1 p.m.: Washington helped the Bucs out a ton by losing to Carolina on Monday night. But one Bucs loss and Washington can jump back ahead as a wild card by winning out, so another Redskins loss would help. Chicago couldn't take care of business helping the Bucs against Green Bay, but they can here. GO BEARS!
Cardinals at Seahawks, 4:25 p.m.: If you're so wildly confident as to still be pulling for the Bucs to get a first-round bye in the playoffs -- it's still possible -- then you need Arizona to come through here with a win. A Seahawks win would eliminate the Bucs from a possible bye. Again, this is graduate-level scoreboard watching.
Lions at Cowboys, 8:30: In theory, the Bucs could clinch a playoff berth here, if they've won and the Redskins and Packers also lost. This is probably the easiest of the four games that have to fall together for the Bucs, so we mentioned it here first for that.
If you're worried about the Bucs going 10-6 and missing the playoffs, a Cowboys win here would get rid of that possibility. If the Bucs win at New Orleans and the Cowboys win against Detroit, the Bucs will have a post-Christmas week of knowing they control their playoff destiny: A win at home against Carolina and they're in the playoffs.
If the Lions win, Bucs fans have to quickly shift to rooting for Detroit to beat Green Bay in Week 17 -- the Bucs are super-close to the Packers in tiebreakers, so they'd be at the whim of "strength of victory" tabulations that involve 11 teams across the league.
While you're rooting: While we're delving into minutiae, Bucs fans want the teams they've beaten to win when it doesn't go against the outcomes outlined above. They want the teams the Packers (or Lions) have beaten to lose, thus helping the Bucs in those tiebreakers.
Additional outcomes this week, toward that end, that help the Bucs in tiebreakers: 49ers beating Rams helps the Bucs and hurts the Lions; Chiefs beating Broncos helps the Bucs; Chargers beating Browns helps the Bucs; Titans beating Jaguars hurts Packers and Lions; Bengals over Texans hurts Packers; Raiders over Colts hurts Lions.