It's hard to believe the Buccaneers have reached their bye week and as such, the effective halfway point of their season. With 17 games this year, it's not technically the midpoint but indulge me as we take a look around the top-heavy NFC to see where the Bucs would fall among their peers as it relates to the postseason.
That's the biggest thing to note right now. Tampa Bay may be a big fish given that they're the defending Super Bowl champions, but they're in a pretty darn big pond too, which means a lot of competition. They currently have the third-best record in the NFC at 6-2 and to put that in perspective, the Tennessee Titans lead the AFC with the same win-loss total.
The Bucs sit in the fourth seed behind the Packers, Cardinals and Cowboys, in that order. Green Bay slid to the top after being the ones to finally hand the streaking Arizona Cardinals their first loss of the season. Both teams sit at 7-1 while Dallas is 6-1 after pulling off a dramatic win in Minnesota this past weekend.
You may be wondering why the 7-1 Los Angeles Rams don't fall somewhere ahead of the Bucs, especially with the fact that one of Tampa Bay's two losses on the season came in LA during Week Three. That's simple. The Bucs are still on top of the NFC South despite their loss in New Orleans this past weekend, which puts them up over the Saints, and priority seeding is given to division leaders. Said Saints sit just behind Los Angeles with a 5-2 record and under them is the Carolina Panthers at 4-4, putting three of the four NFC South teams 'in the hunt' heading into Week Nine and in the playoffs if the season were to end today.
Think about that. The NFC South has more current playoff teams than the NFC West.
So not only are the Bucs trying to get out of the toughest conference, they might be the ones trying to stay ahead of the toughest division.
Now, whether that's how the rest of the season plays out is another story. This is obviously very early to be coming to any conclusions about what will happen come January.
However, the Bucs have a pretty smooth path to get there. According to ESPN NFL prognosticator Mike Clay, the Bucs have the third-easiest remaining schedule in the league. Their next three conference opponents are Washington, New York and Atlanta, who have a combined record of 7-16 – a win percentage of just 30.4%. The Bucs will face the 3-5 Indianapolis Colts in there, too, before getting a Week 13 test at home against the Buffalo Bills, though that won't have much bearing on their NFC standing.
And just making the playoffs is seemingly a question mark of the past. Teams that start the season 6-2 make the playoffs 82.3% of the time. They win their division 53.9% of the time and have won the Super Bowl 9.2% of the time.
Let's not forget either that at the bye week last season, in which the Bucs did win the Super Bowl, they had a 7-5 record – a win percentage of just 58.3%. Their current win percentage is 75%. Where the Bucs lost three of their four games leading into their Week 13 bye last year, the Bucs have won four of their last five at this season's juncture, with a favorable schedule moving forward, at that.
They should get some cushion in the NFC South, too. The Saints have a major question mark at quarterback with Jameis Winston tearing his ACL in Sunday's game against the Bucs. And the other current NFC South playoff team? The Panthers have the second-toughest remaining schedule by opponent win percentage. The bigger question mark will be how the Packers do in a struggling NFC North, if the Cardinals and Rams fall victim to some tough inner-division competition and whether or not the Cowboys are for real (we ask that every year though, don't we?).