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Bucs still have much at stake in regular-season finale

Tampa Bay still can earn the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed with a win at home over Carolina.
Tom Brady and the Bucs still have a shot at the NFC's No. 2 playoff seed but must defeat Carolina at home in Sunday afternoon's regular season finale.
Tom Brady and the Bucs still have a shot at the NFC's No. 2 playoff seed but must defeat Carolina at home in Sunday afternoon's regular season finale. [ BROOKS VON ARX | ZUMAPRESS.com ]
Published Jan. 3|Updated Jan. 4

Don’t look for Bucs coach Bruce Arians to rest his marquee guys — at least the healthy ones — in Sunday’s 4:25 p.m. season finale against the Panthers at Raymond James Stadium.

In terms of playoff seeding, too much remains at stake.

Though the Packers (13-3) clinched the NFC’s top seed (and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs) with Sunday night’s 37-10 romp over the Vikings, the Bucs (12-4) still can earn the No. 2 seed, which would assure them of a second home playoff contest if they win the first.

It’s all predicated on a triumph Sunday against the Panthers in a game switched to a 4:25 kickoff by the NFL.

Currently, the Bucs own the No. 3 seed, one spot behind the Rams (12-4). If the Bucs defeat Carolina and the Rams fall at home to the 49ers next Sunday, the Bucs earn the second seed. If both win, the Rams keep the No. 2 spot by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker; Los Angeles defeated the Bucs in September.

A Bucs loss makes things a bit more messy. If the Panthers pull off the upset, the Bucs fall to at least the No. 3 seed and could drop to the fourth in a couple of scenarios.

Example: If the Bucs and Rams both lose, the Cowboys (11-5) top the Eagles and the Seahawks upset the Cardinals, the Bucs, Rams and Cowboys all would finish as 12-5 division champs. Dallas would earn the No. 2 seed based on the best conference record among the three. Los Angeles would be third and the Bucs fourth.

NFC playoff standings

1. Packers (13-3)

2. Rams (12-4)

3. Bucs (12-4)

4. Cowboys (11-5)

5. Cardinals (11-5)

6. 49ers (9-7)

7. Eagles (9-7)

Still in contention: New Orleans (8-8)

* The division champions earn the top four seeds and are seeded based on overall record. The three wild-card teams are seeded fifth through seventh, also based on overall record.

* The Rams, who haven’t yet clinched the NFC West, remain ahead of the Bucs based on the head-to-head tiebreaker (the Rams defeated Tampa Bay in September).

* The Cowboys remain ahead of the Cardinals because they have clinched the NFC East. Arizona still can win its division and finish ahead of Dallas.

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