The Tampa Bay Buccaneers pulled out a dramatic win on Christmas night in Arizona but now have an even more critical task at hand on New Year's Day.
The Buccaneers' 19-16 comeback overtime win over the Cardinals on Sunday evening preserved their one-game lead in the hotly-contested NFC South. That win became far more important after the Carolina Panthers drummed the previously-hot Detroit Lions, 37-23, the day before. The Panthers – not to mention the New Orleans Saints, who beat Cleveland, 17-10 – put the pressure on with Christmas Eve day wins that improved both teams to 6-9. The Bucs remain a game clear, at 7-8, thanks to the 45th fourth quarter/overtime comeback win of Tom Brady's career, the most in NFL history.
The Buccaneers can clinch the division title next Sunday with a win over the Panthers. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium. If Carolina wins, Tampa Bay will still be alive but will no longer control its own destiny. The Panthers would win the division in Week 18 with a win at New Orleans.
The Buccaneers' rally for the important victory on Sunday obscured a game in which the offense struggled to efficiently move the ball for most of the game's first quarters. However, Brady directed two consecutive scoring drives in the last eight minutes of regulation, then another one the first time the Bucs got their hands on the ball in overtime. In the end, Brady threw for 281 yards and running back Leonard Fournette compiled 162 yards from scrimmage in the thrilling comeback. Tampa Bay outgained the Cardinals in total yards, 396-325.
Meanwhile, Carolina ran crazy in its win over the Lions, who had won six of their previous seven games to rush back into playoff contention. The Panthers rang up a franchise-record 320 rushing yards through the efforts of D'Onta Foreman and Chubba Hubbard and now have a three-game winning streak of their own. Carolina beat the Buccaneers in Week Seven in Charlotte, raising the stakes on their Week 17 rematch.