Back in the last few days of September, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured a rousing 55-40 victory over the Rams in Los Angeles to start a six-game swing away from home and even their record at 2-2. Unfortunately losses at New Orleans and to Carolina in London (technically a home game) followed, putting the Buccaneers a bit behind the eight-ball in the NFC South and NFC conference playoff races.
The Bucs took that 2-4 mark and the sting of defeat into their bye week, but they'll get a chance to rest, rejuvenate and clear the mind over a long week away from the field. And if they so choose, they can watch a full day and night of football on Sunday, a rare treat. It's still relatively early in the playoff hunt, which is why the Buccaneers and the eight other two-win teams in the NFL still have reason for hope. The Bucs may need help in the long run, though, which is why it's never too early to start rooting for outcomes that will further Tampa Bay's interests.
So let's do this game by game for Week Seven, starting with the Thursday night game in Denver:
Kansas City (4-2) at Denver (2-4), 8:20 p.m. ET Thursday
You can take it easy on Thursday night and just enjoy some good football because it's hard to see how this game will have much of an effect on the Bucs' playoff chase. If your instinct is to hope for an entertaining show from reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes – maybe a no-look pass or two, or an effortless flick-of-the-wrist 30-yard touchdown – go with that. The Chiefs are in a mini-slide, having lost two in a row after starting 4-0, and Mahomes is banged up and has looked almost mortal in those two contests. It would be good to see him and the Chiefs offense get back into a groove because their next opponent is Green Bay, at Arrowhead Stadium. The Packers play in what may be the NFL's best division, top to bottom, and even though they're in first in the NFC North at the moment they could eventually be overtaken by Minnesota or Chicago and then they would be a competitor in the Wild Card race. So every loss the Packers take is potentially good for the Bucs. The Broncos have already lost to the Packers.
Verdict: MVP! MVP! Go Chiefs!
L.A. Rams (3-3) at Atlanta (1-5), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
This one is a little tougher of a call than it looks at first blush. And by that I mean the kneejerk reaction is to say, "Lose Falcons!" no matter who they are playing. Atlanta losses are like tasty morsels of manna from heaven. But we may need to fast this week because the Falcons are less likely to be a threat to the Bucs' playoff hopes (I mean, other than the two upcoming head-to-head games in which the Falcons could very directly be a threat to the Bucs' playoff hopes) than are the Rams. Atlanta is very unlikely to win the NFC South at this point, so they're only a worry in the Wild Card race. The Buccaneers can take care of the Falcons directly with those two upcoming games but will need others to keep the Rams down. Los Angeles has lost three in a row and the Bucs would like to see that skid continue. With a head-to-head victory over the Rams, the Buccaneers don't need to pass them in the standings, just catch them.
Verdict: /hold your nose…Go Falcons. Ugh.
Miami (0-5) at Buffalo (4-1), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
You know how those old '72 Dolphins pop champagne every season when the last undefeated team in the NFL loses? Yeah, that's annoying. Maybe we should all pop champagne in Week 17 if the Dolphins finish off an 0-16 campaign. Karma.
Verdict: Go 0-16!
Jacksonville (2-4) at Cincinnati (0-6), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Man, there are a lot of struggling AFC teams. Cincinnati only has one game left against an NFC opponent, the Rams in Week Nine. It's probably too much to hope for the Bengals to rise from winless to some form of a threat against Los Angeles that quickly. However, the Jaguars have two games left against NFC opponents…including the Buccaneers. That's still seven weeks away, which is plenty of time for the Jaguars to fall into a proper tailspin. I'd like to see the Bucs playing a reeling team when they get to Duval County on the first of December, so let's start that descent here with an embarrassing loss to a winless Bengals team.
Verdict: Who Dey Think They Gonna Beat Dem Bengals! Not Jacksonville! (hopefully)
Minnesota (4-2) at Detroit (2-2-1), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Here we go, some relevant NFC action. This one is a close call. It's a little early in the season to know which one of these teams is going to be the bigger threat to the Bucs' Wild Card hopes. Do you want Minnesota to bury Detroit early, or do you want the Vikings to be drawn back to the pack a bit? You want both? Sorry, you can only have one. Them's the rules. Let's go with the Vikings because we don't want to see Green Bay and Minnesota both finish with really good records, as that would necessarily make one of them a Wild Card team. But there's a better reason to root for a Detroit win here and now: The Buccaneers can take care of their own business with the Lions. They travel to Detroit in Week 15, and if Wild Card positioning is hanging in the balance the Bucs could control their own fate. They have no such opportunity against the Vikings.
Verdict: As Motown's The Temptations said, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." Go Lions, please!
Oakland (3-2) at Green Bay (5-1), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
The easiest rooting decisions come in interconference games like this one. The Packers may or may not be an obstacle for the Bucs in the long run but they might as well take the L here because an Oakland victory is pretty irrelevant to Tampa Bay's interests. Can't old Bucs pal Jon Gruden do us a little favor here?
Verdict: Go Raiders! Pirates gotta stick together!
Houston (4-2) at Indianapolis (3-2), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
The Buccaneers play both of these teams at home in December. It's probably not going to matter much which one wins this game in October. Deshaun Watson seems to be heating up, and that makes Houston the scarier of those two challenges. Let's hope he starts to cool off, beginning this Sunday. Fantasy football owners with Watson and/or DeAndre Hopkins in their lineup will be permitted to disagree.
Verdict: Go Colts! Or Texans, I guess. Let's not get too hung up on this one.
Arizona (2-3-1) at N.Y. Giants (2-4), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Speaking about quarterbacks starting to heat up, how about the rookie in Arizona? Kyler Murray is coming off his best game in a win over Atlanta and now he takes his sizeable talents to the bright lights of New York (well, New Jersey). These are two teams right in the same area of the NFC standings as the Buccaneers, and there's probably only room for one of the teams in that area to make a run. So we want both the Cardinals and Giants to stay down, but we can't have both this week. The difference is, the Giants already own a tiebreaker edge on the Bucs due to their Week Three win in Tampa, while the Tampa Bay-Arizona game awaits in a few weeks. Root for the Cardinals to push the Giants down and then the Bucs will have to do their own dirty work against Arizona.
Verdict: Go Kyler!
San Francisco (5-0) at Washington (1-5), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
It's probably best for the Buccaneers if the 49ers keep winning and take the NFC West title. The Bucs have already lost to the 49ers but they've beaten the Rams and still have a shot against the Seahawks and Cardinals. From a tiebreaker standpoint, Tampa Bay would least like to see the 49ers in the Wild Card mix at this point. Plus, as long as the Niners keep winning it will improve the Buccaneers' strength-of-schedule figure, which is a down-the-list tiebreaker for playoff spots.
Verdict: Go John Lynch's crew!
L.A. Chargers (2-4) at Tennessee Titans (2-4), 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday
Okay, after you've consumed a loaded plate of 1:00 p.m. games, lay back on the couch and get ready to do some advance scouting work with this one. The Titans are the Bucs' next opponent after the bye, and this week they will be turning to a new quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. What you want to see here is chaos, any sign that the Titans are coming apart at the seams with what could be five losses in their last six outings. Okay, chaos is probably a bit too much to ask for from a team with strong leadership like this one, so how about just some general incompetence? Anything to make the Titans feel less confident a week from now.
Verdict: Go Chargers!
New Orleans (5-1) at Chicago (3-2), 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday
This looks like the game to watch on Sunday, and either outcome does offer some benefits to the Buccaneers. You obviously want any team above you in the division standings to lose, and the Bears seem like a prime Wild Card competitor. So which do we root for here? Well, beside the fact that it always feels good to root against the Saints, it is too early to give up on the NFC title chase. Yes, the Bucs are three games back of the Saints, but they still get New Orleans at home in November and they also have two division games left against the 1-5 Falcons. Let's think big.
Verdict: Go Bears!
Baltimore (4-2) at Seattle (5-1), 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday
Actually, this might be the game of the day. It certainly has the more entertaining quarterback matchup with MVP candidate Russell Wilson going against mold-breaker Lamar Jackson. Let's hope Jackson runs all over the Seattle defense because this is an easy call for Bucs fans. We've already given the NFC West title to John Lynch and the Niners above, so we need every Seahawks loss we can get. Plus, the Bucs are headed to Seattle soon so we'd prefer they not get on any more of a roll.
Verdict: Go AFC!
Philadelphia (3-3) at Dallas (3-3), 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday
Before you ask if you can root for the proverbial meteor, no that is not an option here. I think it's too early to know which outcome will be best for the Buccaneers. It's highly likely that one of these two teams is going to win the NFC East, making the other one a Wild Card competitor. So, ideally, whichever team wins this game will continue to do well while the other one tanks. With that in mind, I took a look at the remaining schedule for each team after this weekend, and it looks tougher for Dallas. Both teams have to play the Patriots and Bears, but the Eagles get both at home while the Cowboys will be on the road. Dallas also has to play Minnesota and the Rams, while the Eagles have already played the Vikings and didn't draw the Rams (they got Seattle instead, but at least it's at home. And the Eagles still get to play the Dolphins, a gimme the Cowboys have already collected. Oh, and the Eagles-Cowboys rematch in Week 16 will be in Philly. So if this is going to be the point at which the Cowboys and Eagles diverge and one begins a long crash-and-burn, let's give that honor to Dallas.
Verdict: I have to root against the Cowboys? Oh, say it isn't so!
New England (6-0) at N.Y. Jets (1-4), 8:15 p.m. ET Monday
Are you Saint Jude? No. Then you don't need to waste your time rooting for the Jets. (Look it up.) I mean, the Jets ending the Patriots' mind-numbing perfect season would be nice, sure, but the football gods aren't often nice. Fortunately, this one doesn't have any real relevance to the Bucs, so if the Patriots are rolling again you can safely switch over to Corky Romano on HBO2.
Verdict: Go Corky, you plucky little veterinarian-slash-mobster!