The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have eight games left and, admittedly, they are a bit behind the eight ball. A 3-5 record is not the ideal launching point into the second half of the season, but it also isn't the reason to lose all hope. Just three seasons ago, the Redskins, Texans and Chiefs all started out 3-5 but ended up in the playoffs (that same year, the Colts also went from 3-5 to 8-8).
That's not the norm, of course. None of the 3-5 teams the last two years punched postseason tickets, nor did any in 2014. But three clubs did so in 2012 and 2013. It happens. Just upstate, the Jacksonville Jaguars are 3-5 after nearly making it to the Super Bowl last year; you can bet they haven't given up hope for this season, and neither have the Buccaneers.
That said, if it's going to happen, it needs to start right away. The Bucs will play host to the Washington Redskins on Sunday in a game they almost certainly need to win to get back on track. Thirteen other games have been or will be contested this week, and many of them also have implications on the NFC playoff race and the Bucs' 2018 fortunes. That's why we're back for a second straight week with some suggestions as to which teams you should pull for on Sunday and Monday.
Yes, we're posting this on Friday, after the first game of the week, but we hope you didn't need any advice for that one. In fact, we hope you got to watch Pittsburgh roll over Carolina to the tune of 52 points. Always root against the Panthers. If it's the Panthers versus invading aliens, root for our new alien overlords.
As for the rest of the games:
View photos from the Buccaneers' practice Thursday at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Detroit (3-5) at Chicago (5-3), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
This one's a little tricky. Chicago is in first place in the NFC North, but only barely over the 5-3-1 Vikings, who are idle this week. If you think Chicago is going to win this division, it's okay to root for them here and to push one more possible contender, the Lions, to the brink of irrelevancy. If you think the Vikings are going to gradually rise to the top, then you want Chicago to lose as often as possible because the Bears own a head-to-head tiebreaker against the Buccaneers. At the moment, they are the only NFC team that really has that hammer on the Bucs; yes, Tampa Bay also lost to Carolina and Atlanta but it has one game remaining against each of those teams and probably needs to win them to make a successful run. Chicago and Minnesota still have both of their head-to-head games to play, and neither of those teams has yet to log a victory against an opponent that currently has a winning record. So pretty much everything is left to be determined in the North. Let's go with the incumbents and say Minnesota takes this division, which means…
Verdict: You know what? The Lions can be fun to watch. Matt Stafford is quietly having another very good year and the Lions have their own version of Chris Godwin in Kenny Golladay. You can root for the Lions here and maybe actually enjoy it.
New Orleans (7-1) at Cincinnati (5-3), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
As with the Thursday night game (which, again, yay!), this one is doubly easy. You almost always want an AFC-NFC matchup to go to the AFC team, and that's doubly true when the NFC team is of the South variety. And if you happen to have Alvin Kamara on your fantasy team, then just root for it to be a shootout loss. That works just as well.
Verdict: It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the fight!
Atlanta (4-4) at Cleveland (2-6-1), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
What a week. All three of the Buccaneers' NFC South foes playing against AFC teams, and all of them on the road. Cleveland already took both the Saints and the Falcons to overtime, the least they could do is play five quarters against the Falcons, too. The Browns will have to slow down a loaded Atlanta offense that just hung 38 on Washington but they've had a lot of practice against loaded offenses of late. Cleveland's last four opponents: Chargers, Buccaneers, Steelers, Chiefs. Wow!
Verdict: Cleveland deserves a break after a month of track meets. Go Browns!
Jacksonville (3-5) at Indianapolis (3-5), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Well, looky here: Two 3-5 teams going at it. Barring a tie, one of them is going to be 4-5 and feeling frisky about a run back into the playoff picture. Does it matter which one to the Buccaneers? Not so much. You can choose your rooting interest here based on what style of football you like most, offensive or defensive. The Colts are rolling up the points (albeit against the Jets, Bills and Raiders), while the Jags are going to have to lean on Jalen Ramsey and company to win games. We'll take the offense, since that's the type of team the Bucs are at the moment (seems weird to say that) and because we still want to end up as the best team in Florida.
Verdict: Go Colts! (And go find a different game to watch that matters to the Bucs.)
Arizona (2-6) at Kansas City (8-1), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Yet another AFC-NFC matchup. Root against the Cardinals, we guess, but if the Buccaneers end up worried about Arizona in this race, that's probably not going to be good news anyway.
Verdict: Mahomes, Hill, Hunt…enjoy the fireworks.
Buffalo (2-7) at N.Y. Jets (3-6), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
The Jets still have a game left against the Packers in December, and Green Bay could be one of the other teams in the NFC Wild Card hunt at the end. Let's hope that the Jets can find their footing a bit and be a worthy opponent by then. Green Bay has already beaten the Bills. Plus, it looks like our old friend Josh McCown is back in the saddle this week for the Jets. That's another reason to pull for New York.
Verdict: J-E-T-S, go Jets!
Washington (5-3) at Tampa Bay (3-5), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
The Buccaneers will be 4-5 if they win this game. They'll be 3-6 if they lose it. There, we did the math for you.
Verdict: Fire those cannons!
New England (7-2) at Tennessee (4-4), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
L.A. Chargers (6-2) at Oakland (1-7), 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday
The only possible bearing these games could have on the Buccaneers is strength of schedule concerns for a down-the-line tiebreaker, and it's nearly impossible at this point to know which outcomes would be better in that regard. If you're not from Boston, you're probably rooting for the Titans anyway, and it doesn't seem like the Raiders are all that concerned about winning right now. These feel like foregone conclusions, so don't waste your energy rooting too hard here.
Verdict: Where's the remote?
Miami (5-4) at Green Bay (3-4-1), 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday
This is our last cut-and-dried choice of the weekend, the last game pitting the AFC against the NFC. Apart from that, the Packers are a half-game ahead of the Buccaneers in the standings and, with Aaron Rodgers healthy, always a threat to go on a run. Root for Packer disfunction here (real or imagined) and hope that the schizophrenic Dolphins play one of their good games.
Verdict: Duh na, duh na na na, Go Phins, Go!
Seattle (4-4) at L.A. Rams (8-1), 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday
Finally some nuance here. The Rams finally showed a crack in the armor, albeit against the now 8-1 Saints, in New Orleans. Should we root for them to tumble back to the crowd a little bit? The Seahawks have won two of their last three, though the wins were against the Lions and Raiders and the loss was to the Chargers, so that may not be proof they've totally found their footing. Seattle is about to go on a long jaunt against other potential NFC playoff chasers – Green Bay, Carolina and Minnesota. If they were to get hot, they could help the Buccaneers by running down the rest of the field.
Verdict: Nah. Let's not get complicated with this. Go, Rams! Run away with the NFC West and push one possible Wild Card contender down a notch.
Dallas (3-5) at Philadelphia (4-4), 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday
This is a tough one. Just by the records, you'd think you should root for the team with the worse record to pull down the team with the better record. If the Cowboys and Buccaneers were to win on Sunday, all three teams would be 4-5, and then you go from there. However, we actually think it would be wise to go in the other direction. Let Philly get to 5-4; they can be reined in later, and the Buccaneers have a head-to-head tiebreaker against them so they would only have to catch the Eagles, not pass them, in most tiebreaker scenarios (it gets more complicated if three or more teams are tied). Meanwhile, a Dallas lost would put them on the brink of being (realistically) out of the race. That would be nice, and it would also be helpful if the Cowboys were to be fully unmotivated by Week 16, when the Bucs go to Dallas.
Verdict: Go Eagles. (We refuse to give that one an exclamation point.)
N.Y. Giants (1-7) at San Francisco (2-7), 8:15 p.m. ET Monday
This one probably looked a lot better to the schedule-makers in August, before Jimmy GQ got hurt and it became clear that the Giants were more than one Saquon away from turning things around. If the Buccaneers are worried about the Giants or Niners in December, they'll have bigger problems than the playoff race. Enjoy a stress-free Monday night and root for the 49ers because Nick Mullens is a cool story.
Verdict: Go Nick Mullens!