Bucs in a need of a little (playoff) help
The Bucs didn't exactly help their playoff aspirations by losing the Falcons on Sunday, and now Tampa Bay finds itself in a situation where it probably needs some help from other playoff contenders.
The Bucs fell to 7-5, three games behind the NFC South-leading Falcons (10-2) with their 28-24 loss. The Saints are in second place in the division at 9-3.
Given the situation, let's concede the NFC South for the purposes of this exercise and turn our attention to the more attainable wildcard berths.
Two wildcards from each conference will qualify for the playoffs. While the AFC wildcard race has a handful of teams with mediocre records, the NFC race is full of 9-3 and 8-4 teams. The Bucs will be paying particular attention to the Giants (8-4), Packers (8-4) and Saints over the next couple of weeks. Those teams are each in second place in their respective divisions and are the most likely to be competing with the Bucs for playoff spots.
The problem is, because the Bucs have the worst record in the bunch, they're pretty much out of luck if all these teams finish strong.
So, how do the Bucs get in? For one, they have to finish like gang busters. They have to shake off this 2-3 stretch in which they're mired and tear through the Redskins, Lions and Seahawks in their next three. No margin for error there. Doing that would set up a showdown with the Saints in the Superdome on the final day of the season that could determine whether Tampa Bay gets in the postseason.
But remember, they need help. If the Giants, Saints or Packers fisish in a tie with the Bucs, the Bucs would currently lose the tiebreakers. So, Tampa Bay likely needs to finish ahead of those teams to make the playoffs, meaning the Giants and Packers (or the Bears if the Packers win the NFC North), need to falter. A 2-2 finish by those clubs would at least make things interesting for the Bucs. A 3-1 finish for those teams probably knocks the Bucs out.
But the bottom line is that the Bucs don't have their fate completely in their own hands. They are in a fight and they have one hand tied behind their figurative back.
That said, they are by no means out of the race. And maybe that, in itself, is the biggest news about this surprising season.