TAMPA — The Bucs' loss to the Cowboys on Sunday night means they no longer control their playoff destiny, but the Bucs are far from out of the playoff chase, both for the NFC South title or a wild-card berth for their first postseason appearance in nine years.
Here are the various scenarios ahead for the Bucs in the final two weeks of the regular season, which have Tampa Bay playing Saturday at New Orleans then finishing the season at home Jan. 1 against Carolina.
NFC SOUTH TITLE: The Bucs (8-6) are a game behind the Falcons (9-5) for the NFC South title, but if the Bucs can simply win one more game than Atlanta in the final two weeks, they'll win the division and host a playoff game.
Both teams close the season with division games. Atlanta goes to Carolina then has the Saints at home, while the Bucs flip-flop that, playing at New Orleans then at home against Carolina. If the Bucs win out and Atlanta splits, both will be 10-6, but Tampa Bay will be 5-1 in the division while Atlanta would be 4-2, and on that tiebreaker, the Bucs win the division. The same is true if the Bucs win one game and the Falcons go 0-2.
NFC WILD CARD: The Bucs need help. Washington losing one of its final three games would allow Tampa Bay to stay ahead of it by winning its final two.
From there, the Bucs need to outpace the lesser of the Lions and Packers, who will meet in Week 17, likely with the NFC North title on the line. In both cases, it could go to several tiebreakers, including strength of schedule, which factors how all opponents for both teams fare on the season.