Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

For Tampa Bay Buccaneers and other NFC South teams, NFL playoff spots don't come easily

TAMPA — Playing in the NFC South is not for the faint of heart.

It's a division in which champions are quickly relegated to afterthoughts and last-place teams consistently emerge from the ashes to claim the title the next season. It's a field of booby-traps in which missteps can be costly.

It has produced a contestant in the league championship game in five of the past six seasons.

So why doesn't anyone notice?

"I've said since realignment (in 2002) that the South has been very disrespected in terms of it being a competitive division," Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said.

"The champion changes every year. We deserve respect, and I think this year the other teams that are playing will give us a chance to have that."

The four-team NFC South is led by 7-2 Carolina, with the immensely talented Saints pulling up the rear at 4-5 and hardly out of contention. The scene is set for a furious finish, with a number of division games and marquee matchups involving division members remaining.

Currently, only the storied NFC East (24-12) has a better combined record than the NFC South (23-13).

The Bucs stand at 6-3 and in position to close strong. In their last five regular-season games, they have three consecutive division games Nov. 30-Dec. 14: New Orleans, a Monday night game at Carolina, and at Atlanta.

The tight race "makes every game that we play from here on out extremely important," center Jeff Faine said. "They're all must-wins. The good thing is that our destiny isn't with somebody else. We can control our destiny if we win. It's going to be a fun stretch."

No story line in the South is more surprising than the resurgence of the Falcons, who were down and out last season after a series of on- and off-field issues that included the unexpected departure of coach Bobby Petrino and the dogfighting plea of former quarterback Michael Vick.

"You would never have guessed (rookie quarterback) Matt Ryan could do this so soon," right tackle Jeremy Trueblood said. "And they're a good team. It's not like this is a fluke."

Another thing on the Falcons' side? Every team that has finished last in the NFC South has finished first the next season. Atlanta finished last in 2007.

Last season the Bucs clinched the division with two games remaining. No one figures to have such a luxury this season, not with three of the four division teams at 6-3 or better. Things might not be settled until Week 17.

Which is just fine.

"Competition brings out the best in everyone," Trueblood said. "You can kind of get complacent when you're doing well. It's going to (stink) for the team that doesn't get in the playoffs."

What's to come for the Bucs and others down the stretch?

"It will be a sprint to the finish," coach Jon Gruden said.

For Tampa Bay Buccaneers and other NFC South teams, NFL playoff spots don't come easily 11/14/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 15, 2008 5:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. St. Petersburg's Sebastien Bourdais vows to return for IndyCar finale

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Sebastien Bourdais was in one of the best race cars he'd ever had, so fast that most of his competitors thought he would win the pole for the Indianapolis 500.

    Sebastien Bourdais does physical therapy at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana in Indianapolis. Bourdais broke his pelvis, hip and two ribs in an accident during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on May 20. He plans to return home to St. Petersburg soon to continue therapy. [Associated Press]
  2. Yellow cards stall Rowdies offense in tie with St. Louis

    Soccer

    ST. PETERSBURG — It's not the result they wanted, but it certainly could have been worse. Neill Collins' 87th-minute header off a corner kick was the reward the Rowdies settled for Saturday night during a 1-1 draw with St. Louis before an announced 6,068 at Al Lang Stadium.

  3. Calvary Christian routs Pensacola Catholic to win state baseball title

    Baseballpreps

    FORT MYERS — Calvary Christian left no doubt as to which baseball team in Class 4A was the best in Florida this season. The Warriors defeated Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium to claim the school's first state championship in any team sport. It also solidified a 30-0 season. …

    Matheu Nelson celebrates after scoring on a wild pitch during the first inning, when Calvary Christian took a 6-0 lead.
  4. Numerous lapses add up to frustrating Rays loss to Twins

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — While the Rays made some good defensive plays, threw a couple of big pitches when they needed to and got a few, and just a few, key hits, there were some obvious things they did wrong that led to them losing Saturday's game to the Twins 5-3:

    Rays reliever Tommy Hunter says the Twins’ tiebreaking homer came on a pitch that was “close to where I wanted it.”
  5. Rays journal: Steven Souza Jr. laughing right along after comical dive

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — Souza being Souza.

    That seemed to be the best way to describe the entertaining — and comically bad — dive Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. attempted in Friday's game, and the good humor he showed in handling the fallout, including a standing ovation his next at-bat from the …

    Twitter