Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Early Present

With Detroit’s loss on Saturday, the Bucs could clinch the NFC Central on Sunday


LB Hardy Nickerson relishes the Bucs' opportunity

After an early workout, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent Saturday in their homes, many of them celebrating Christmas. By the end of the day, they had a collective gift to be thankful for, as Detroit dropped a Christmas Day home game to the Denver Broncos, 17-7. That result, which dropped the Lions to 8-7, was the first of three steps that could lead to a Buccaneer division crown by the end of Sunday's action.

Tampa Bay (9-5) face the Green Bay Packers (7-7) on Sunday at 4:15 in a game that promises an NFC playoff berth for the Buccaneers if they can win. With Detroit's loss, Tampa Bay could also clinch the NFC Central title with a win, if the Minnesota Vikings (8-6) also lose a road game to the New York Giants (7-7). In fact, according to the National Football League's updated playoff scenarios, Tampa Bay could even nail down a first-round bye on Sunday if they win, the Vikings loss and the Washington Redskins lose at San Francisco. Washington leads the NFC East with an 8-6 record.

Of course, Saturday's results had little effect on the mood at the team's local hotel, and not just because the Bucs had the holidays on their minds. Tampa Bay knows that it controls its own destiny with wins in each of its remaining two games, beginning on Sunday with the Packers. Even with that setup, Sunday's scenario doesn't equal pressure for the hungry Buccaneers...it equals opportunity.

"Playing a game this late in the season with the playoffs on the line is all you ask for," said LB Hardy Nickerson. "That's what everyone is striving for when we check into training camp."

Of course, Saturday's results were also positive for the Buccaneers' Sunday opponent, as the 7-7 Packers likely need help from above to climb back into playoff contention. Detroit's loss, combined with a Green Bay win in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, could vault the Packers back into contention, particularly if the Vikings also fall. Such a scenario would result in a four-team scrum with one week remaining.

All of which is too convoluted to contemplate if you are a Buccaneer. Tampa Bay has one way in which they can make most of the above moot:

"We just have to get down to business and focus on beating the Packers," said Head Coach Tony Dungy.

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