That gives players around the NFL one more weekend to impress their peers, as well as the fans. The Tampa Bay will be playing in St. Louis on Sunday, the 22nd, and perhaps the Gateway City will provide the path to Honolulu for a handful of Buccaneers.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy went to the Pro Bowl last February after his breakout season in 2012. The Buccaneers' 4-10 record is likely to hurt him in the fan voting, but by all acclaim McCoy is having an even better year in 2013 and it's likely that players and coaches around the league have noticed. On Sunday, McCoy collected his eighth sack of the season against the San Francisco 49ers; Pro Football Focus continues to rank McCoy as the top defensive tackle in the NFL, and in terms of rushing the passer it's not even close.
Against the 49ers, McCoy set the tone by blasting into the backfield on each of San Francisco's first three plays. The incredible elusiveness of Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick and some full-defense containment issues kept such play from having as much impact as it could have, but it didn't escape the attention of McCoy's head coach.
"Gerald McCoy again plays at an incredibly high level, got his eighth sack yesterday," said Greg Schiano. "I look at a guy like Gerald…when I arrived here there wasn’t a heck of a lot of excitement about Gerald. That 'B-word' was even being mentioned. And all he’s done is busted his rear-end to be in great physical condition and I think play to [a high level]. Obviously last year was a Pro Bowl season; I think this year is a Pro Bowl season. He’s really doing some great things in the pass rush."
Obviously, the Pro Bowl invite last year erased any B-word talk, but it didn't cool McCoy's fire. He was determined to make 2013 even better than 2012, beginning with a focused approach to get in better shape during the offseason.
"When [the media] asked me at the beginning of the year or in the offseason, 'What is it that you want to do coming off a Pro Bowl year?' I said I didn't want to remain stagnant and I didn't want to go backwards, I just wanted to keep moving forward and build off that," he said. "I think I'm doing that but I've got two more games to finish that off. I just want to keep improving, every year, every day, every game."
McCoy also has two games to hit a statistical milestone that has some meaning for him. Two more sacks would put him into double digits on the season, which is a well-established landmark for defensive linemen, and a mark that most defensive tackles never attain.
"Definitely that is a goal," McCoy conceded. "I don't talk about myself much but I will say that is a goal. I've got two games to do it. It's going to take a lot of work but I think it's very reachable. All credit goes to my teammates. They do so much to help me and put me in great positions. I haven't done it on my own."
McCoy can get to 10 sacks before season's end and he can earn another Pro Bowl bid, but he can't get his team into the playoffs no matter what he does over the next two weeks. Nevertheless, doing all he can to help his team get a couple more wins remains his number-one motivating factor.
"I've got a name on the front of my jersey and a name on the back," said McCoy. "When I walk out there, that's my brand, that's what I'm representing. I'm one individual and I've got 10 brothers that I go out there on the field with. If I don't give it my all or be at my best, I'm letting them down, so that's what I'm playing for."
* The traditional Christmas dinner may feature turkey or ham, but thanks to the Buccaneers and Outback Steakhouse, a dozen lucky Buc fans will get a chance to add steak to their holiday menus.
The 12 Days of Christmas are underway, and the Bucs are celebrating by teaming with Outback to make it a very tasty holiday season. Beginning on Saturday, December 14, the Bucs began giving away an Outback gift card every day to one lucky fan. For the first 10 days of the giveaway, the winning fan receives a $25 gift card redeemable at Outback Steakhouse. The winning entrant from Christmas Eve (December 24) will receive a $50 gift card, while the winning entrant from Christmas Day (December 25) will receive a $100 gift card.
All Tampa Bay fans have to do to earn a shot at the 12 days of yum is show off their team pride and holiday spirit. Entry into the contest is simple – just post a Buccaneers-themed holiday photograph on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram tagged with the #itsabucslife hashtag. No purchase necessary to enter or win. A purchase will not increase your chances of winning. Read more and download the official rules by visiting the Buccaneers' 12 Days of Christmas page now.
* The Buccaneers will be home for Christmas, since it falls on a Wednesday, but they'll spend the weekends before and after on the road. Sunday's game against San Francisco concluded the Bucs' home slate in 2013 as they finish with consecutive road trips to St. Louis and New Orleans.
That's an unusual end-of-season set-up for the Buccaneers. This marks just the fourth time in 38 seasons that Tampa Bay has finished the year with two straight road games. In 1992, a loss at San Francisco and a win at Phoenix wrapped things up; in 1998, the Bucs followed a close 20-16 defeat in Washington with a 35-0 blowout in Cincinnati that nearly backed them into the playoffs; and in 2011 a rough season concluded with division losses in Carolina and Atlanta.
The Buccaneers won't make the playoffs no matter what happens in the 314 and 504 area codes the next two Sundays, but there are still some important issues to be decided. The final standings in the NFC South are yet to be determined, with the Bucs and Falcons both at 4-10, and that will affect next year's schedule. In addition, obviously, the next two weeks will finalize the 2014 draft order.
Even though most of the NFL's scheduling process is based on a rotation of divisional matchups, there are two games each year for each team that are determined by the previous season's standings. Next year, teams from the NFC South will be matched up with teams from the NFC East and NFC West based on where they finished in their respective division standings. If the Buccaneers finish third, for instance, they will paly the third place team from the West at home and the third-place team from the East on the road.
The St. Louis Rams will definitely finish fourth in the West, with the Arizona Cardinals most likely to finish third, though they could still pass San Francisco. In the East, the Giants are currently third at 5-9 with the Redskins fourth at 3-11. Thus, the next two weeks will determine whether the Bucs go to New York or the nation's capital next year, and whether they welcome a visit from St. Louis, Arizona or – less likely – San Francisco.
The 2014 draft order will be determined by the overall league standings, with strength of schedule as the sole tiebreaker between teams with the same record. There are still quite a few variables still to play out in this regard, but at the moment the Buccaneers are tired with four other teams for the third-worst record in the NFL. Since there are currently 14 teams between 2-12 and 6-8 with two weeks to play, it's hard to predict with much certainty where the Bucs will be picking next April. The team is still focused on winning its last two games of 2013, of course, but in just a short time that draft order will be sorted out.