The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their Wild Card matchup with the Washington Football Team, 31-23, on Saturday night, moving one step closer to the ultimate goal of playing in Super Bowl LV in their own home of Raymond James Stadium. With the Los Angeles Rams also winning on Sunday, the Buccaneers could actually be back on their home field sooner than expected.
The Buccaneers, seeded fifth in the seven-team NFC playoff field, eliminated the fourth seed on Saturday night. Meanwhile, the sixth-seeded Rams defeated the third-seeded Seattle Seahawks, 30-20, earlier on Saturday evening. That leaves just one game remaining in the NFC Wild Card round, as the Chicago Bears play at the New Orleans Saints on Sunday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:40 p.m. ET.
That is the matchup of the seventh and second seeds, and it's outcome will determine whether the Buccaneers' Divisional Round game takes place in New Orleans or Tampa Bay. The latter would be an unprecedented outcome in NFL playoff history.
If the favored Saints win Sunday, that would make the Rams the lowest remaining seed in the NFC and send them to Lambeau Field in the next round to play the Packers, who had the conference's only first-round bye as the top seed. The Buccaneers would then go back to the Superdome to face the Saints for the third time this season.
If the Bears upset the Saints in the Superdome and complete a sweep by the NFC Wild Card teams, the Bucs would, amazingly, be coming home for the Divisional Round. They would play host to the sixth-seeded Rams while the seventh-seeded Bears go to Green Bay instead. That's how the Buccaneers would make league history.
Under the previous NFL playoff format, with two teams in each conference receiving a first-round bye, it was not possible for a fifth or sixth seed to play a home game in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The only way that a fifth seed could host a playoff game would be if the two Wild Card teams each won in the first two rounds, setting up a home game in the Conference Championship Game for the fifth seed against the sixth seed. That has never happened. The lowest-seeded team ever to host a playoff game was the Arizona Cardinals in 2008. Arizona, the NFC West champions, got the fourth seed, won an opening-round game at home and a divisional round game on the road before hosting the NFC Championship Game against the sixth-seeded Philadelphia Eagles. Arizona won that game to advance to Super Bowl XLIII, which was coincidentally played at Raymond James Stadium.
Either outcome on Sunday will set up a rematch for the Buccaneers and a chance for revenge on a bigger stage. A trip to New Orleans would be another game between the two top teams in the NFC South, as the Saints won the division with a 12-4 record and the Buccaneers were right behind at 11-5. However, two of Tampa Bay's five losses were at the hands of the Saints, who won in New Orleans in Week One, 34-23, and again in Tampa in Week Nine, 38-3. The Buccaneers and Saints have never before met in the postseason.
A home game against the Rams would not only be a rematch of L.A.'s 27-24 win at Raymond James Stadium in Week 11, it would also mark the third time the two teams have met in the playoffs. The previous two were both conference championship games, with the Rams winning in Tampa in 1979, 9-0, and in St. Louis in 2002, 11-6. That latter game was a famous matchup between the Buccaneers' swarming defense and the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf offense, and Tampa Bay held a 6-5 lead until late in the fourth quarter.