Right now, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are sitting at 6-5 and are in seventh place in the NFC. If the playoffs started today, then Greg Schiano’s squad would narrowly miss out on January football to a team in the opposite corner of the country.
Even though Tampa Bay, Seattle and Minnesota are all just above .500 with a 6-5 record, the Seahawks would punch a ticket into the NFL postseason based on a better winning percentage in conference games than the Buccaneers. Additionally, Russell Wilson and company would win the tiebreaker over Minnesota based on Seattle's 30-20 head-to-head victory.
But the games aren’t quite over yet. And this hungry Bucs team will be looking to make a statement as the season winds down.
In the race for the National Football Conference’s No. 6 seed, one can all but count the Vikings out of the running. Things won’t get any easier for a squad that has lost three of their last four games. They will play Green Bay twice, clash with the division-leading Chicago Bears, and then visit Saint Louis and Houston to close out the season.
I see them winning one of those games, maybe two. At best, the Vikes would finish the season with a 8-8 record. No way would that record push them into the playoffs.
So that leaves Seattle as the main obstacle for Tampa Bay to overcome in their quest for postseason play. Let’s take a look at what will happen with these two squads.
Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll takes his team far from home in a Chicago-bound road trip. The suffocating Bears defense is able to slow down Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, while Jay Cutler finishes off Seattle.
The ‘Hawks drop to 6-6 and it isn't even close.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This will not be pretty. The Denver Broncos, as well as being an incredibly balanced team, have been on an absolute tear as Peyton Manning and his crew have won their past six contests. Nothing changes this time, either.
The Bucs head back to Florida at .500 with a 6-6 record.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seattle secondary breathes a huge sigh of relief as rookie Ryan Lindley comes into town. The Seahawks did drop a game to the Arizona Cardinals, but that was back in Week 1; they lost by four points on a last-second heartbreaker. Also, Kevin Kolb was still the starting quarterback.
The team up North will have a much easier time this go round and advance to 7-6.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The NFL's number one ranked run defense shuts down any rushing attack the Philadelphia Eagles throw at them, and forces Nick Foles to air it out. Andy Reid (if he’s still around) and the Philly faithful moan a collective, familiar sigh of anguish.
The Bucs move to 7-6.
Seattle Seahawks: If the trip across America doesn’t do this team in, then they should have no problem disposing of the lackluster Buffalo Bills. "Beast Mode" should have a field day going up against the NFL's 31st ranked run defense en route to a 8-6 record.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This is the make and break week for Tampa. If they are able to beat the New Orleans Saints in Drew Brees’ backyard, then the rest of the way gets much easier. If they lose, however, they need the Seahawks to lose out while the Bucs win out.This isn't unheard of, but it would be much more beneficial for them to put themselves in the collective driver's seat.
And the Bucs will.
It won’t be easy, but Brees looked shaky against the Falcons. (Granted, Atlanta is blessed with a much better secondary.) This game is too huge for Josh Freeman and company not to give it everything they got.
In the end, the Bucs are sitting pretty at 8-6.
Seattle Seahawks: While a win against the San Francisco 49ers seems unlikely, it isn’t impossible. They lost to the Niners, 13-6, back in Week 7, but that was in the Bay Area.
With the 12th man aiding Seattle, a highly contested game seems plausible. Sadly, it won’t be enough as Colin Kaepernick drops the Seahawks to 8-7.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I said it gets much easier after that win over the Saints, and I didn’t lie. The Bucs get the struggling Rams at home and will have a breeze of a time in a victory.
This could be a trap game, but in a season that already feels like the playoffs, Coach Schiano will rile the troops up and kiss his wife after getting to 9-6.
Seattle Seahawks: They face the Rams at home. No matter how much the Buccaneer faithful dislikes the Emerald City at this point, the Seahawks will end their season on a strong note. Wilson should only get better when facing a decent secondary.
This an up and down Seahawks squad, but there is no reason they shouldn’t dismiss the Rams and end up with a 9-7 record.
But will it be enough?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: You might think that a game against Atlanta is unwinnable. But consider this: Atlanta should have easily secured the No. 1 seed and won’t want to injure any players in the final week of the season. The starters will be rested for the Birds, and Tampa Bay will take advantage of that en route to a win and a 10-6 final record.
In this projection, your Tampa Bay Buccaneers will indeed make the playoffs. Will it be easy? No, not at all. But they will fight hard enough to avenge a horrible 2011 season and continue playing football.
Will the team be able to beat the projected No. 3 seed in the Chicago Bears?
Well, that’s an article for another time.