Telling you there's a chance: How Bucs still get in
Tiebreakers are complicated things. So we (and the Bucs) legitimately thought the Bucs were eliminated with their loss to the Saints.
Then we found a string of 10 specific outcomes -- four to set up a tiebreaker and six more that had to happen to win that tiebreaker -- that would allow the Bucs to sneak in ... and the first thing that had to happen didn't, so again, it looked like the Bucs were out.
Now we have (slightly) good news, thanks to the proverbial worst Christmas gift of all: a tie.
One of the four things the Bucs needed to set up a 9-7 tiebreaker with the Packers was the Redskins losing to the Giants, but as it turns out, a Redskins tie with the Giants next week also gets the Bucs in. There's a scenario where the Bucs and Packers are 9-7 and the Redskins finish 8-6-2 (yes, two ties in one season). The league treats a tie as a half-win, so 8-6-2 is the same as 9-7. So it goes to conference record as a tiebreaker, and the Bucs and Packers would be 7-5, but the Redskins would be 6-5-1, which leaves the Bucs and Packers back in that same tiebreaker we thought the Bucs had lost.
What's tricky is that some of the things the Bucs need to set up the tiebreaker actually work against them in the tiebreaker -- if the Bucs beat Carolina next week, they take a hit on "strength of victory" because a team they beat (twice even) took a loss. Similarly, when the Lions beat the Packers to set up this tiebreaker, the Packers gain in SOV because a team they beat (the Lions) picked up a win.
So here's the wrinkle -- because the Giants get only a tie against the Redskins instead of a win, the Packers (who beat the Giants) get the tiniest dings in their strength of victory, opening the door for the Bucs to finish barely ahead: the teams the Bucs beat would be 63-80-1, the teams the Packers beat would be 62-80-2. The difference is a half-game out of 144 outcomes, but the Bucs would get in.
So here, again, is what has to happen: the Chiefs beat the Broncos tonight, and the Cowboys beat the Lions on Monday. Then next week, the Bucs beat the Panthers, the Lions beat the Packers (giving Detroit the NFC North), the Redskins and Giants tie, and the Bucs get tiebreakers boosts with the Colts beating the Jaguars, the Cowboys beating the Eagles and the Titans beating the Texans.
Those nine things happen as we explained -- including a tie (which has happened about once every 120 games this year) -- and the Bucs are in the playoffs.
"So you're telling me there's a chance," says the quote from "Dumb and Dumber," spoken by Jim Carrey as Lloyd ... Christmas.