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How does the Bucs schedule compare to Saints and Falcons in the NFC South?

John Romano | There’s a realistic scenario where all three teams are tied for the division lead heading into the final six weeks of the season.
 
When they left the Superdome with a 26-9 win against the Saints on Oct. 1, the Bucs were in control of the NFC South. A loss at home to Atlanta a few weeks later seriously jeopardized their chances, but Tampa Bay still has an outside shot at a third consecutive division title.
When they left the Superdome with a 26-9 win against the Saints on Oct. 1, the Bucs were in control of the NFC South. A loss at home to Atlanta a few weeks later seriously jeopardized their chances, but Tampa Bay still has an outside shot at a third consecutive division title. [ BUTCH DILL | AP ]
Published Nov. 22, 2023|Updated Nov. 22, 2023

TAMPA — These are trying times for the Buccaneers. The losses are piling up, and the injuries are, too.

The most successful three-year stretch in franchise history is threatening to crash to earth before a fourth season is even complete. With just one victory in the past 50-plus days, reasons for optimism are difficult to find.

So where does a Tampa Bay fan look for hope?

In the NFC South, naturally.

As bad as things have been for the Bucs in October/November, the ineptness of the NFL’s weakest division has kept a playoff spot within reasonable reach. If the Bucs win this week and the Falcons beat the Saints in Atlanta, all three teams will be tied atop the division with 5-6 records.

Woo hoo!

With seven games remaining, the Bucs are currently tied for second with showdowns still to come against the Falcons and Saints. In fact, if the Bucs just win their four remaining NFC South games they will, at worst, finish at 8-9, which won them the division title last season.

So how likely is a third consecutive first-place finish for Tampa Bay?

Glad you asked. Here is a breakdown of what’s ahead for the Bucs, Saints and Falcons, along with relevant stats from the season’s first 10 games. Read it, digest it, extrapolate it. And then decide for yourself whether the season finale on Jan. 7 at Carolina will decide if Tampa Bay will see another playoff game at Raymond James Stadium, or whether we’ll be doing a postmortem on a season of disappointment.

Bucs

Falcons linebacker Lorenzo Carter (0) pursues Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) during the teams' Oct 22 game at Raymond James Stadium.
Falcons linebacker Lorenzo Carter (0) pursues Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) during the teams' Oct 22 game at Raymond James Stadium. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Record: 4-6

Home games remaining: Carolina, Jacksonville, New Orleans.

Road games remaining: Indianapolis, Atlanta, Green Bay, Carolina

Strength of schedule remaining: 27-43 (.386)

Schedule breakdown: Not quite as easy as the opponent winning percentage would suggest. If you take the two Carolina games out of the equation, the other five opponents have combined for a .500 record. You can probably assume the Bucs will lose to the Jaguars (7-3) on Christmas Eve. Why? Because the Bucs are 1-5 against teams that currently sport a winning record. The Bucs are underdogs on the road against Indianapolis this week and could struggle in Green Bay in the cold weather in December. That means the Atlanta game, the New Orleans game and the two Carolina games are virtual must-wins.

Ominous sign: The secondary has gotten torched in recent weeks, and cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis both left Sunday’s game in San Francisco with injuries. Throw in Lavonte David’s groin problem and the Bucs could have serious issues on defense.

Most promising stat: Bucs are fifth in the NFL in turnovers. That means Baker Mayfield is taking care of the ball and at least giving the Bucs a chance to win most games, even if Tampa Bay is not lighting up the scoreboard.

Odds: Most sportsbooks have the Bucs behind New Orleans and Atlanta.

Saints

Bucs wide receiver Trey Palmer (10) catches a touchdown pass under pressure from Saints cornerback Isaac Yiadom (27) during the teams' Oct. 1 meeting.
Bucs wide receiver Trey Palmer (10) catches a touchdown pass under pressure from Saints cornerback Isaac Yiadom (27) during the teams' Oct. 1 meeting. [ GERALD HERBERT | AP ]
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Record: 5-5

Home games remaining: Detroit, Carolina, New York Giants, Atlanta

Road games remaining: Atlanta, Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay

Strength of schedule remaining: 28-43 (.394)

Schedule breakdown: This is a friendlier schedule than Tampa Bay’s, even if the winning percentage of opponents is slightly higher. First of all, the Saints have more home games than road games. And all three of their road games are in warm sites and/or domes. New Orleans should be favored to win three of their four games in the Superdome, which suggests they could finish 9-8 if they just sneak away with one victory in either Tampa Bay, Los Angeles or Atlanta. Not exactly a tall order.

Ominous sign: Quarterback Derek Carr remains in concussion protocol after leaving the Nov. 12 loss to the Vikings. Some Saints fans had been clamoring for Jameis Winston to get another shot, but he threw two late interceptions in Minnesota after briefly rallying to get the score close. Also, the Saints are 0-3 against teams with winning records.

Most promising stat: Despite the criticism of Carr, the New Orleans offense was on an upswing before he got hurt. The Saints had averaged nearly 27 points per game in the five weeks before going to Minnesota.

Odds: Most sports books have the Saints as the favorites.

Falcons

Quarterback Desmond Ridder was the starter when the Falcons beat the Bucs earlier this season. But Atlanta has had a bit of a rotation under center since.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder was the starter when the Falcons beat the Bucs earlier this season. But Atlanta has had a bit of a rotation under center since. [ MARK LOMOGLIO | AP ]

Record: 4-6

Home games remaining: New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis

Road games remaining: New York Jets, Carolina, Chicago, New Orleans

Strength of schedule remaining: 27-44 (.380)

Schedule breakdown: Do you know what you do not see on this schedule? A team with a winning record. That’s right, the Falcons have three games against .500 teams (New Orleans, Indianapolis, New Orleans) and four games against teams with losing records. So, unlike Tampa Bay’s game against Jacksonville or the Saints’ date with Detroit, the Falcons should have some degree of confidence against every opponent remaining. There’s a fairly strong chance the division title will be at stake when the Falcons travel to the Superdome in the season finale.

Ominous sign: At a time when they should be gelling, the Falcons are flip flopping between quarterbacks. Desmond Ridder was benched after a spate of turnovers, but Taylor Heinicke went 0-2 as a starter. Reports suggest Ridder will be back in the huddle on Sunday against the Saints.

Most promising stat: The Falcons may be on a three-game losing streak, but those three losses have been by a combined 10 points. With their ability to run the ball and the ease of their remaining schedule, they should have a chance to win every week.

Odds: Most sportsbooks have the Falcons behind the Saints.

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