QB Chris Simms and the Buccaneers are pleased to be starting their playoff run at home on Saturday
A thick fog hung over Tampa on Sunday morning, obscuring the upper reaches of Raymond James Stadium.
The fog burned off, though, and by the afternoon the Bay area day was clear and bright. As was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' postseason picture.
Having already clinched a spot in the six-team NFC field with the New York Giants win over Oakland on Saturday night, the Buccaneers took care of their own business on Sunday and the playoff pieces fell into place.
The Buccaneers, who won the NFC South with their 27-13 victory over New Orleans on Sunday, will open the postseason at home against the Washington Redskins on Saturday, January 7, with kickoff scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET. It will be the first game on the NFL's playoff slate this year.
The Bucs, who finished 5-11 last year, were thrilled that their 4-1 record in December and January allowed them to take the division and move closer to the ultimate goal.
"That was one of our goals, to win an NFC South championship, and we found a way to do it," said cornerback Ronde Barber. "Regardless of what 2004 was all about, 2005 gave us a new opportunity. I think everybody jumped at it, believed in it, worked for it. It's easy when you look back in hindsight and say, 'Yeah, we found a way to get here,' but there was a lot of hard work put in by a lot of people."
Saturday's game will be televised on ABC. A limited number of tickets to the game will go on sale Tuesday through Ticketmaster.
The game will mark the second time that Tampa Bay has begun a playoff run with a home game against the Redskins. In 1999, the Buccaneers won the NFC Central and earned a first-round bye before playing host to Washington in the divisional round. The Bucs rallied from a 13-0 second-half deficit in that contest to win 14-13 and earn a spot in the NFC Championship Game. That was also the last playoff appearance for the Redskins.
The Buccaneers have won their last three home playoff games, dating back to 1997, and are 4-1 all-time in postseason games in Tampa. Obviously, home field advantage plays a big part in how the postseason usually unfolds.
"That's big for us," said tight end Alex Smith. "We wanted to play in front of our crowd. They deserved it. They've been great all year. That's where we want to be right now. That was one of our goals, to get a home playoff game. We're there now; that's the first step."
Actually, if the Buccaneers want to look ahead a little bit, their potential path to Super Bowl is fairly predictable. If Tampa Bay wins its opening game against Washington, it will head to Chicago to play the Bears in the Divisional Round.
Chicago has the second seed and a first-round bye and will be matched up against the NFC winner from Wild Card weekend with the highest seed. If the Bucs, seeded third to start the playoffs, beat the Redskins they will be the highest-seeded of the two winners regardless of the outcome of the New York Giants-Carolina Panthers contest. Carolina plays at New York on Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. ET, a game to be televised on FOX..
The winner of the Divisional Game in Chicago will go to Seattle for the NFC Championship Game if the Seahawks win their first playoff game. If the Seahawks lose their first game, the winner of the game in Chicago will host the NFC Championship Game.
The Bucs have played three of the other five teams in the NFC field. They defeated Washington, 36-35, in Week 10 then lost to Chicago, 13-10, two weeks later. A 20-10 win at Carolina in Week 14 gave Tampa Bay a split with the Panthers, their division rivals.
At roughly the same time the Bucs were finishing off the Saints, the Panthers were wrapping up a 44-11 win at Atlanta. That slotted Carolina into the fifth seed and left only the matter of the sixth seed to be decided in the later games. The Redskins held off Philadelphia to take that last seat at the dance, rendering Dallas' Sunday evening game irrelevant. Had Washington lost, then Dallas could have taken the final spot by beating St. Louis, and that would have sent the Cowboys to Tampa.
The Bucs didn't spend much time worrying about who their opening opponent would be.
"No, not really because at this point of the season it's a new year," said quarterback Chris Simms. "It doesn't matter what happened in the past, if we beat the Redskins before or whatever else, it's come to play and win or go home. We want to keep winning."