A lagging offense
Tom Jones, @tomwjones: The offense hasn't been as great as you might think and they'll need offense in the coming weeks
If you dive into the past three games — victories against Kansas City, Seattle and San Diego — you'll see large chunks of time when the Bucs didn't do a whole lot offensively. The Chargers game was essentially won because of a great punt and pick-six. Jameis Winston has been good, but the running game has disappeared and that could show up in the final month. With games against high-scoring teams such as the Saints and Cowboys, Tampa Bay will need to put up some points to win and it has been trending down. And here's a stat that's not so encouraging: only two teams in the NFL have winning records while giving up more points than they have scored. One is Miami. The other is Tampa Bay.
Lack of depth
Thomas Bassinger, @tometrics: NFL games sometimes come down to who is left standing. The Bucs have weathered injuries to key players — such as Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and Robert Ayers — but you get the sense they're playing with fire, particularly at receiver. In the first half Sunday, they lost Cecil Shorts (knee, out for the season) and Adam Humphries (concussion), as well as tight end Luke Stocker (ankle).
The Bucs also are perilously thin along the defensive line. With offseason acquisition Ayers back in the fold after suffering an ankle injury earlier in the season, Tampa Bay suddenly has the makings of a pass rush. Ayers generated 10 pressures against the Seahawks and seven more against the Chargers, according to Pro Football Focus.
A tougher schedule
Rick Stroud, @NFLStroud: The Bucs remaining schedule is much tougher than Atlanta's.
Tampa Bay has a much steeper road to the post-season, even as a wildcard. They almost certainly have to win three of the next four games, including two against the Saints, sandwiched around a Sunday night game on NBC at Dallas. They finish up at home against the Panthers, who will have no ambition. But the Falcons travel to Los Angeles and host San Francisco. Neither of those teams can put up enough points to beat Atlanta. They are then at Carolina and finish at home vs. the Saints.
Martin Fennelly, @mjfennelly: No playoffs since 2007. Decembers can be cruel to the Bucs. Football seasons can be cruel to the Bucs. Raheem Morris got them to 10-6 in 2010, but no playoffs. Other than that, it has been scorched earth since the last playoff season, all those years ago.
Lovie Smith had the Bucs at 6-6 last season and the Bucs folded from there. This crew keeps passing tests, keeps checking boxes on the list. But these injuries have not helped. And I don't trust the kicker. All Roberto Aguayo would have to do is miss one kick at one key moment in one game and it could cost this team, dearly.
Greg Auman, @gregauman: Because they haven't been in a pennant chase like this, how well equipped are they to handle the mounting pressure that will come each week until Jan. 1? They've gone very quickly from a team learning how to win to a team trying to sustain a very high level of play. There's limited margin for error in that. This defense is facing the NFL's No. 1 offense in New Orleans twice in the next three weeks, with perhaps the best team in the NFL — on the road in Dallas — sandwiched in between.
And the wild-card challengers include teams like the Packers and Giants, with quarterbacks much more accustomed to the grind of postseason football and the push to get there. Jameis Winston is trying to catch Eli Manning while knowing that Aaron Rodgers is in his rearview mirror, so he must continue this improved stretch of limited turnovers and continue not only as a playmaker but as a crucial, central leader of this team.