Yes, we've been here before, not long ago.
Being alive in the NFL playoff race is great, mostly in that it's better than not being alive in the playoff races. For a team down the standings a bit, their chances can be described as "slim," or "shrinking," or "unlikely," or "check back with us in Week 17 you irrational fools." But as long as they aren't "zero," that team will continue to fight for its spot. That's where the 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are with one quarter of the season to go.
Full disclosure, when I was tasked with writing this viewing guide, this was the first draft I turned in:
We need the Vikings to lose. A lot. The end.
I stand by that brilliant football analysis but I'm told by my editors that it is "insufficient" and "an obvious attempt to leave the office at 2:00 p.m." and "forcing us to use quotation marks too often." So, like RGIII, I'm being forced back into the game with my leg hanging halfway off and I'm going to do the best I can. To wit, your Week 14 NFL Viewing Guide, presented to Buccaneers fan who wants to know exactly who to root for to keep their team's hopes alive.
View some of the top photos from the Buccaneers' Week 14 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Dallas Cowboys (6-6) at Chicago Bears (6-6), 8:20 p.m. ET Thursday
Anyone want to see a 6-10 division winner in the playoffs? I do. A lot. Let chaos rule in the NFC East. That said, for the Buccaneers sake, we need to root for, ugh, America's Team in this one. It really doesn't matter who rises out of the putrid, slow-moving pool that is the NFC East to win the division; no team in that quartet is going to get a Wild Card. That's all the Bucs care about. The Bears are a minor threat in that regard, another team the Buccaneers would have to leap-frog in order to get in. What we're hoping for here is a really encouraging game for Chicago – Mitchell Trubisky completes multiple passes to his left! Khalil Mack wreaks havoc! A kicker kicks good! – but a close loss at the end. See, we want the Bears to still be invested for their Week 17 game in Minnesota.
Verdict: If I can root for the Cowboys, you can too. It's just one weekend. We'll get through it.
Carolina Panthers (5-7) at Atlanta Falcons (3-9), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Gonna throw you a curveball here. Be careful, it might hit you in the head. My control isn't very good.
It's quite obvious that Bucs fans should be rooting for Atlanta in this one. The Falcons have been eliminated already while the Panthers, with or without a head coach, have the same record as the Buccaneers. So root for the Falcons, right? Sure that's a fine strategy but the reality of it is that the Panthers are no threat to the Bucs. Tampa Bay already needs a wild combination of results to get in; if the Panthers have any kind of shot at the end the Bucs surely will not. So let's root for another NFC South team to continue its struggles, with an eye towards 2020.
Verdict: Listen, do your own thing here. It's not going to matter. But I'm rooting for Carolina.
Baltimore Ravens (10-2) at Buffalo Bills (9-3), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
If you bemoaned the death of Deadspin like I did, you probably remember Drew Magary's Jambaroo, in which, among other strange things, he would rate the viewing enjoyment of each game of the week. And you remember that some of the write-ups would have absolutely nothing to do with the actual game at hand. In that spirit, let's rank all of Edgar Allen Poe's poems…ah, forget it. I'm no Drew Magary. RIP Deadspin.
Verdict: This looks like an awesome game to watch. So do that, and root for whichever team suits your fancy.
Washington Redskins (3-9) at Green Bay Packers (9-3), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Remember: All we want is Minnesota losses. If the TV tells you that there's a blizzard bearing down on Minneapolis which could shut down the city and make it difficult for the Vikings to prepare for the next game, we are Team Blizzard, baby. So here's the Packers, who are one game up on the Vikings. Do we want them to run away with the division? No, we do not. We want them supremely motivated in Week 16 when they head to Minneapolis for a showdown with the Vikings. We want Aaron Rodgers foaming at the mouth, which I'm sure he would do nonchalantly. We want invading Packers fans poking their foam cheese fingers into the spokes of that annoying Minnesota biker guy's bike.
Verdict: Go Washington, you unwitting pawn in our grand scheme.
Cincinnati Bengals (1-10) at Cleveland Browns (5-7), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Denver Broncos (4-8) at Houston Texans (8-4), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Miami Dolphins (3-9) at New York Jets (4-8), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Los Angeles Chargers (4-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8), 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday
Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) at New England Patriots (10-2), 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday
Tennessee Titans (7-5) at Oakland Raiders (6-6), 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday
I already pulled my Drew Magary gambit; I've got nothing. All of these games pit AFC teams against each other and thus, you know, don't really mean much to the NFC standings. Yes, there is a "strength of schedule" and "strength of victory" element to some potential tiebreakers, which means every game is potentially relevant, but I'm not even going to pretend I know which ones matter with four weeks left to play. I suppose you could root for the Jaguars to improve the Bucs' strength of victory, but that's kind of like planting an acorn in the Sequoia National Park.
Verdict: You can switch right over from the Bucs game to the Chiefs-Pats contest for some good football, but don't worry too much about what it means.
Detroit Lions (3-8-1) at Minnesota Vikings (8-4), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
In David Blough we trust! I'd love to make some kind of reference about him "blow"-ing the Vikings down, but apparently it's pronounced like "bough." So, um, maybe it's time for the Vikings to "bow" down to their new Lions conqueror? That's a real stretch. Let's go out on a limb (that's a bough joke, try to keep up) and say that the Lions' young quarterback plays like he did for a good portion of his Thanksgiving debut against the Bears. He's got some pretty great receivers in Kenny Golladay, who is Detroit's version of Chris Godwin, and Marvin Jones. He's got Danny Amendola doing his New England stuff in the middle of the field. He's got Barry Sanders at running back (shhhh, don't disrupt my fantasy, I'm trying to win here).
Verdict: GOOOOOO LIOOOOOONS! WE NEED YOU!
San Francisco 49ers (10-2) at New Orleans Saints (10-2), 1:00 pm. ET Sunday
Well, I'm guessing this game will have a big audience and that most Buccaneer fans will be rooting for the 49ers. The real winners here are the 30 teams that don't have to play in the NFL's most obnoxious stadium. The Saints have already clinched the NFC South, so they'll definitely start the playoffs with a home game and could end up with a first-round bye. If the Buccaneers make the playoffs, it would necessarily be as the six-seed, so they would play the third-best division winner in the NFC. Right now, that would be Green Bay. It's early January; would you rather go to New Orleans and that jabbering nightmare of a New Orleans above-ground tomb or a possible frozen tundra in Green Bay? Realistically, it's probably the Superdome, where the Bucs won as recently as 2018. Therefore, we want the Saints to lose.
Verdict: Geaux 49ers!
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Arizona Cardinals (3-8-1), 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday
I've searched through the rosters and statistics of these two teams and I can find no mention of the Minnesota Vikings, so this is probably irrelevant to the Bucs' playoff chances. That said, if you are pathologically obsessed to assign meaning to everything then let's listen to some Beatles records on reverse and root for the Cardinals, since a win would add a few nano-bits to the Bucs' strength of victory rate.
Verdict: I'm a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fans so I will happily say, "Go Cardinals." Fight me.
Seattle Seahawks (10-2) at Los Angeles Rams (7-5), 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday
The Buccaneers' path to the playoffs has to thoroughly trample over the Vikings, but we can't forget that the Rams are also sitting there in between. The good news is that the Bucs have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Los Angeles thanks to their Week Four win. That means that the Buccaneers "only" have to pick up two games over the next four weeks on L.A. to put them into the playoff dumpster like a victim in a Harry Bosch novel.
Verdict: Go Seahawks.
N.Y. Giants (2-10) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7), 8:15 p.m. ET Monday
Are you ready for some football?! Some Monday Night Football?! Um, I guess, if there's nothing else on, Mr. Announcer Guy. Sure, why not, even though this game sucks. Hey, I get it, it's a tough job being an NFL scheduler, but this particular matchup aged as well as those parents' decisions to name their babies Daenerys. Daenerys ignored the bells and burned down King's Landing anyway. Let's hope the Giants ignore the Liberty Bell and burn down the Eagles' Wild Card hopes.
Verdict: Go Daenerys! Sick Drogon on the Eagles!