Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

How the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can put themselves in the playoff picture

The Bucs will hit the halfway point of their season Sunday in Oakland, and a victory there would give Tampa Bay a 4-4 record. And that would be good enough put the Bucs right in the thick of the playoff pack.

Too early for that kind of talk? Maybe a little. Way too many assumptions made about a Bucs team that is still below .500? Perhaps. But we don't get many chances to talk about the Bucs and the playoffs, so we might as well take advantage of the opportunity.

Anyway, this isn't so much about the Bucs as it is about the rest of the NFC. It's not as good as you think. Not so far. Any team at .500 midway through the season is in decent shape. When you think about it, that's pretty much how the landscape is in today's parity-driven NFL.

So let's look at this thing.

Tampa Bay is not going to win the division. The undefeated Falcons are running away with the NFC South. Let's assume the Giants will win the NFC East (they have a two-game lead) and the Bears will win the NFC North (they, too, have a two-game lead). San Francisco should win the NFC West.

If you're a Bucs fan, it's a good idea to keep rooting for those division leaders to continue winning.

If we can agree to concede the first wild-card spot to the Packers, that leaves the Bucs fighting for the second wild-card spot with several teams in the same neighborhood as Tampa Bay.

Here's a look at how all of this could shake down.

Bucs (3-4)

The schedule isn't a cakewalk, but it seems as if it can be navigated with some success. Let's say the Bucs win home games against the Chargers, Eagles and Rams and road games against the Raiders and Panthers. That certainly seems possible. The Chargers just lost to the Browns, for crying out loud, and the Eagles are a mess.

Let's count both games against the Falcons as losses, as well as a trip to Denver. That leaves the big swing game against the Saints in New Orleans on Dec. 16. The Bucs should have beaten the Saints here and have won in New Orleans two of the past three seasons. A win there is possible.

If all these things happen, the Bucs would be 9-7 and would have a chance.

Vikings (5-3)

The Bucs exposed this team Thursday with a dominating victory. Plus, Minnesota's schedule gets brutal in the second half — two games each against the Bears and Packers and trips to Houston and Seattle. Plus, did quarterback Christian Ponder give you any indication he can win games when it's up to him to win games?

Cardinals (4-4 after Monday's loss to the 49ers)

Arizona won its first four games then watched its season spiral out of control. The second half is loaded with land mines — Packers, Falcons, Seahawks, 49ers. Heck, I can't even keep track of who Arizona's quarterback is.

Seahawks (4-4)

If Seattle could play every game at home, it would be a playoff lock. The Seahawks are 3-0 at home, including victories against the Packers and Patriots. They are 1-4 on the road, beating a bad Panthers team. Seattle figures to be the best bet to get to nine victories. The Seahawks have five home games left and should be favored in at least four of them. The road games could be tricky — at Miami, Chicago, Buffalo.

Lions (3-4)

Here's what you need to know about the Lions: They are 3-1 against teams with a .500 record or worse. They are 0-3 against teams with winning records. Of their nine remaining games, only Jacksonville has a losing record.

Cowboys (3-4)

Losing that head-to-head matchup with Dallas could come back to haunt the Bucs, but the Cowboys are headed in the wrong direction. They've lost three out of four and have a tough schedule. Plus, quarterback Tony Romo alone is good for another blown game or two, don't you think?

Eagles (3-4)

The Eagles have lost three in a row, including two at home. Quarterback Michael Vick might be benched and coach Andy Reid seems on his way to being fired if the season continues to head south. They still have five road games left, including showdowns against all three of their division rivals. The make-or-break game to circle is Dec. 9 at Tampa Bay.

Redskins (3-5)

Last in the NFL against the pass. Two games left against the Cowboys. Games against the Giants and Ravens. Forget it.

Saints (2-5)

Bountygate appears to have taken its toll on the Saints. They're 2-5 and still have two games left against undefeated Atlanta, plus have to take trips to the Giants and Cowboys and have a home date against the 49ers. This just doesn't seem like their year. Anyway, they are still a game behind Tampa Bay.

Bottom line

There is still more than half a season left. The Bucs could go out to Oakland this weekend and get smoked, putting this conversation on hold for a while. The scenarios will change by the week. Heck, the Bucs might win two games the rest of the season.

But it's more fun talking about this than the latest Bucs player to get popped for Adderall.

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