TAMPA — Though Tampa Bay (7-5) has an uphill climb to reach the NFC postseason, trailing Atlanta by three games in the South Division and several teams in the wild-card race, its schedule appears more favorable than some of the other playoff contenders.
The Bucs face just one winning team in the final four games (the 9-3 Saints), while their other three opponents (Redskins, Seahawks and Lions) are a combined 13-23.
By comparison, the Saints' opponents are a combined 31-17. The Bears' are 32-16, followed by the Packers (29-19), Giants (26-22) and Eagles (21-27). Either the Bears or Packers will win the NFC North, and either the Giants or Eagles the NFC East, taking the division champions out of the wild-card picture.
If the Bucs can get to 10 wins, taking three of their last four games, they'd have a little history on their side. Only four teams in the past 18 years have won 10 or more and failed to make the playoffs, and all four were in the AFC. The last time an NFC team won 10 games and stayed home was 1991.
"For us right now, it's about getting into that dangerous 'P' word, putting ourselves in position to go out and play for that thing that no one thought we could," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "So we'll go and get as many wins as we need to get into (position to make the playoffs) and give ourselves a chance to compete."
A breakdown of the other wild-card contenders and their remaining opponents:
Saints (9-3): vs. Rams (6-6), at Ravens (8-4), at Atlanta (10-2), vs. Bucs (7-5).
Bears (9-3): vs. New England (10-2), at Vikings (5-7), vs. Jets (9-3), at Packers (8-4).
Packers (8-4): at Lions (2-10), at Patriots (10-2), vs. Giants (8-4), vs. Bears (9-3).
Giants (8-4): at Vikings (5-7), vs. Eagles (8-4), at Packers (8-4), at Redskins (5-7).
Eagles (8-4): at Cowboys (4-8), at Giants (8-4), vs. Vikings (5-7), vs. Cowboys (4-8).
MONEY MATTERS: The NFL wants QB Josh Freeman to be more careful — about his tackling. The league fined Freeman $5,000 for his hit out of bounds on Falcons CB Brent Grimes, who was returning his clinching interception near the end of Sunday's 28-24 win by Atlanta. Freeman was penalized for unnecessary roughness.
MEDICAL MATTERS: Bucs rookie WR Mike Williams did not practice Thursday because of knee soreness, though Morris hopes the receiver will be ready to go Sunday against the Redskins. Williams has been the team's top receiver this season with 51 receptions for 769 yards.
"He's got a sore knee, has been fighting through it for a couple weeks," Morris said. "He's a tough guy, he goes out and he plays. Right now it's little bit sore. Just got to get him to (today) and see what he can do. Get him through Saturday, see what he can do Saturday and hopefully get him in the game."
LB Quincy Black (ankle) also did not practice for the second straight day. Morris said he's not ready to count Black out for Sunday but added that LBs Dekoda Watson and Adam Hayward would play if that's the case.
Times sports columnist John Romano and staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.