There are five weeks left in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2017 season. That's five more opportunities to win a football game, and as simple as that sounds, that's enough to keep the team focused and motivated from one week to the next.
If the Buccaneers were to successfully seize each of those five opportunities, they would finish at 9-7…and that likely still would not be enough to push them into the second season. In the Wild Card race, Carolina (or New Orleans) already has eight wins and both Atlanta and Seattle have seven. There are also five other teams in the NFC between the Buccaneers and those front-runners. Football Outsiders has the Buccaneers' current playoff odds at 0.2%.
First things first, the Buccaneers will continue to chase those slim hopes until and unless they are completely extinguished.
"It's tough, honestly, as far as playoff hopes," said wide receiver DeSean Jackson. "We all do this to make it into the tournament towards the end of the season, so right now it's not looking too good. The best thing we can do is just go out there, take it one game at a time and try to win out. That's all we can really ask for. If we do that, we will probably set ourselves up for at least hope."
Pictures of some of the Packers' top players.
Even with a realistic view on those playoff hopes, however, the Buccaneers remain intensely motivated to win the next game on the schedule, which in this case involves the Packers in Green Bay on Sunday.
"It's always important to finish strong, whether it's five games in the NFL or five points in ping pong," said wide receiver Mike Evans. "That's for me. I can't really speak for anybody else but I always want to win. That's how I've been since I got here. I always want to win and it hurts when we lose."
In fact, Sunday can't arrive soon enough for these Bucs, who had won two in a row before last Sunday's trip to Atlanta. That game was the team's best chance to get back to a truly hopeful spot in the playoff standings, and the Buccaneers rallied impressively in the second half to turn a 27-6 deficit into a one-score game. Tampa Bay even had the ball in Atlanta's red zone with a chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter before a failed fourth-down play. The disappointment of that game lingered, but a better outcome in Green Bay would help.
"The great thing is these guys have a great work ethic, they don't quit, they come and give you everything they've got and we're looking forward to getting back out there on the field," said Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith. "When you have an outing like that, the taste in your mouth is terrible and you can't wait. Sunday can't get here fast enough. I don't care if it's minus 10 [degrees] in Green Bay. We're going to go get an opportunity to play again and hopefully fix some of the issues that we've had."
Pictures from the Buccaneers' practice on Wednesday.
In addition, the current Buccaneers are well aware that there is a decent amount of turnover on every NFL roster from one season to the next. It's obvious that some spots are safer than others, but players see value in what the final five games can mean for both them and the team in 2018.
"They obviously matter," said Evans. "Jobs are on the line. Guys have got to prove themselves and it's momentum for next season. I don't know if we're knocked out just yet but most likely, yeah, so it will be momentum for next season."
Perhaps most significantly, players are motivated by professional pride and their own innate competitiveness. The 2017 season has not unfolded as anyone at One Buccaneer Place expected, and the probable lack of a playoff spot stings. In a way, that makes these next five games even more important, as it is likely the last chance for this team to prove that it is as good as it believed when the season was beginning.
"It's frustrating for sure," said center Joe Hawley. "We all had high expectations; we obviously wanted to do a lot better. But we've still got five games – we're going to show what we're made of and show the world that we're a good team."