At 6-5, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are very much in the NFL Playoff picture as they play Sunday at San Diego. They are a half-game behind Washington (6-4-1) for the final wild-card berth.
Here's the Tampa Bay Times' Bucs coverage team's take on the biggest obstacle to the Bucs making the playoffs:
Keeping the takeaway train rolling
Rick Stroud, @NFLStroud: The Bucs are living off takeaways. In fact, they have nine in the past three games resulting in three touchdowns and a field goal. Those normally come in bunches. Meanwhile, the offense has cooled off, scoring 19 points at Kansas City and only 14 versus Seattle. To have a chance to win the NFC South, they likely will have to four of their final five games.
They're just not good enough
Ernest Hooper, @hoop4you: I picked the Bucs to lose their last two games and honestly enjoyed watching them prove me wrong. So, why stop now?
While the faithful pin their hopes on a squad that won at Kansas City and dominated Seattle, I can't escape the nagging doubts created in home losses to Los Angeles, Atlanta and Oakland. Adjustments and improved health have aided the team, but if they have to win four of the next five that makes this week's game a must win. On the west coast? Against Philip Rivers? Prove me wrong. Love the haters.
Beware the quarterback gauntlet
Thomas Bassinger, @tometrics: There are three of them actually. Their names are Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Dak Prescott. Brees might be the toughest of them all, and the Bucs have to face him twice (Week 14 at home and Week 16 in New Orleans). He leads the NFL in completion percentage (71.5), passing yards per game (326.1) and touchdowns (30). In between those games against the Saints, Tampa Bay heads to Dallas to take on Prescott, the league's best quarterback, according to Football Outsiders' DVOA and ESPN's QBR.
Not quite there
Martin Fennelly, @mjfennelly: I have no real metrics, just a feeling that this team isn't quite ready to get over the hump and into the playoffs. They trail Washington by only half a game, but Washington's tie will be problematic. So the Bucs will need to finish at least 10-6, which means going 4-1, which means beating Drew Brees twice in three weeks, unless the Bucs plan one beating Dallas in Dallas. Not thinking an undeniably improved Bucs defense is up to that. San Diego is the beginning of a reality check. I'm thinking 2-3 the rest of the way, 8-8 overall.
Are the obstacles in the rear-view mirror?
Greg Auman, @gregauman: Could it be the Bucs' biggest obstacles to making the playoffs are already behind them? The losses Tampa Bay took to fall to 3-5 would normally be mortal for the Bucs -- of the 10 Bucs teams to make the playoffs, all were 4-4 or better after eight games. But there's ample precedent for 3-5 teams making the postseason -- the Texans, Chiefs and Redskins all were 3-5 last year. The Bucs, at 6-5 now, are far ahead of last year's Redskins, who were 5-7 before winning their last four. You like that?
It's the schedule, silly
Tom Jones, @tomwjones: I still think the Bucs best path to the postseason is to win the NFC South and that could be difficult just based on the schedule. The Bucs have games at San Diego and Dallas and those won't be easy. There's also home-and-home with New Orleans, which looked scary good last Sunday. The season wraps up with a final game at home against Carolina, which is never an easy opponent. So, that schedule is tough. But first-place Atlanta, which has a one-game lead, has an easy road because of games against the Rams and 49ers.