TAMPA — The Bucs have won one game in the last 57 days. They were passed first by the Falcons, and then by the Saints in the NFC South. There are vultures circling around Todd Bowles’ office, and Mike Evans is likely working on his farewell letter to fans.
In what world would a division title and a home playoff game still be possible for a team in that condition?
Why, in the NFC South, of course.
Nutty as it sounds, the Bucs continue to control their own destiny with a 4-7 record. As long as they win the rest of their games, it does not matter what Atlanta or New Orleans do — the Bucs will have a third consecutive division title.
Now, before you get too excited, the odds of a six-game winning streak are, shall we say, remote. Even when they won the Super Bowl with Tom Brady in 2020, the Bucs did not have a six-game winning streak in the regular season.
But the fact that Tampa Bay, technically, still controls its own destiny is an indication that there are pathways remaining.
“We understand,” Bowles said Monday when asked whether it was a challenge to keep the players optimistic. “We just have to make a play. We’re just trying to win a game. We’re going to take them one game at a time and try and win a game and see where we are at the end. We’ve still got all our division games ahead of us, so we feel like we have a chance.”
So how is it that the Bucs are in better shape than the Falcons or Saints if they go on a winning streak? Well, first of all, Atlanta and New Orleans also control their own destinies if they go on a 6-0 run.
You see, as Bowles said, they all still have division games remaining. Four of Tampa Bay’s final six games are against NFC South foes, including two against 1-10 Carolina. If the Bucs win the rest of their games — which would also mean victories against the Falcons and Saints — they would be 10-7. In that scenario, the best either the Saints or the Falcons could do is also 10-7.
If it came to that, the Bucs would win a tiebreaker against the Saints because they would be 2-0 in head-to-head games.
If they finish in a tie with the Falcons at 10-7, it would be a little trickier. They would have split their head-to-head meetings, and they both would be 5-1 in the division. The third tiebreaker is common games, and the Bucs would have a 5-3 record (against Green Bay, Detroit, Jacksonville, Houston, Tennessee, Minnesota, Indianapolis and Chicago) while the Falcons would be 4-4.
Again, that’s completely farfetched. Ain’t gonna happen.
But it points out how valuable it is to have four division games remaining. If the Bucs go 4-0 against the Panthers, Falcons and Saints — unlikely, but not impossible — they could lose to Jacksonville and Green Bay and still have a shot in the NFC South if New Orleans and Atlanta both stumble.
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So unless, or until, the Bucs lose one of their remaining division games, you might ponder your best nacho recipe for the first weekend of NFL playoffs.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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