The Tampa Bay Buccaneers odds of making the postseason in 2020 took a little bit of a hit with the three-point loss to the L.A. Rams on Monday night, but they are still very much alive and well. As noted in our "Playoff Push 2020" wrap-up on Tuesday, the Bucs currently occupy the sixth out of seven playoff seeds in the NFC, with a 1.5-game edge over the team that is just out of the picture, the Chicago Bears.
For the Buccaneers, the task ahead is obvious: Win their next five games, or at least the majority of them. Obviously, the Buccaneers can't lose their playoff spot if they don't lose another game, and in such a scenario they might also be able to overtake the 8-2 Saints, who have a 1.5-game lead in the division and the head-to-head tiebreaker. More likely, Tampa Bay is fighting for one of the three Wild Card spots, and getting the top one seems advantageous as it will probably bring a first-round matchup with the winner of the depressed NFC East.
What will it take. Three wins in the Bucs' last five games is likely to be enough, as that would get them to 10 and the Bears would have to win four of their fast five to match it. Four more wins for the Bucs would get them to 11, force Chicago to sweep its last six and eliminate Minnesota, Detroit and San Francisco as problems for the Buccaneers. All of those teams could still try to stretch for the third Wild Card and seventh seed.
If you're a Buccaneers player or coach, you're focusing on your next game and not worrying about what other teams do. If you're me, or a Buccaneers fan, you're watching the scoreboard. So let's take a look at the outcomes we would like to see in Week 12 to make the Bucs' path to the playoffs a little bit smoother. This is your Week 12 Viewing Guide.
Houston Texans (3-7) at Detroit Lions (4-6), Thursday, 12:30 p.m. ET
This interconference game kicks off the three-game Thanksgiving schedule (for which I personally give thanks) and also lets me kick this Viewing Guide off with the most iron-clad rule of choosing who to root for: If an AFC team is facing an NFC team, root for the AFC team. Unless you're deep in the weeds of the strength of schedule and strength victory tiebreakers, it would be hard to find any reason to root for the team in the Bucs' conference, even if they don't seem like much of a threat. One more loss by Detroit would almost eliminate them as a threat to the Bucs' chances, but more importantly a fourth loss in the last five weeks could be demoralizing for the Lions and problematic for the current coaching staff. Detroit just got shut out by a Carolina defense that allowed the Buccaneers to score on nine straight drives the week before. It wouldn't hurt if the, uh, wheels came off in Motor City prior to the Bucs' visit in Week 16. The Lions could be out of the picture before you pull your turkey out of the deep fryer in the backyard.
Verdict: Root for the Texans because it's been a rough year in Houston and they could use something nice for the holidays.
Washington Football Team (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (3-7), Thursday, 4:30 p.m. ET
It's not often a Thanksgiving game between two 3-7 teams has serious playoff implications, but if the Bengals beat the Giants and the Seahawks beat the Eagles later in Week 12, the winner of this game will be in first place in the NFC East. This game is like cranberry sauce – nobody asked for it, but if it ends up on your plate you might as well eat it. So which of these juggernauts do we want to see in first place in the division. Well, the Buccaneers have a head-to-head victory over the Giants but that's not really relevant since New York's only way in is the division title. So ask yourself, where would I like to see the Bucs play in Week One if they can get the top Wild Card spot? Yourself should probably be answering, 'Dallas,' because that's a stadium with a roof in Texas. These Bucs can probably handle cold weather, but let's be safe and not find out.
Verdict: Root for Dallas, but don't be all enthusiastic about it. It is still the Cowboys.
Baltimore Ravens (6-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0), Sunday, 1:15 p.m. ET (Updated Game Time)
The Ravens two consecutive losses have taken a little of the air out of this marquee matchup, as it looks like the Steelers are going to run away with the division. There isn't really any reason for Bucs fans to care about the outcome, though. If you're like me, you root for the last undefeated team to stay that way (presuming its not New Orleans) just so you don't have to see those '72 Dolphins on TV.
Verdict: This one doesn't matter to us much.
Oakland Raiders (6-4) at Atlanta Falcons (3-7), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Okay, remember our mantra: Always pick AFC teams to beat NFC teams. In this case, there's the obvious reason but there's also the fact that the Bucs have a win over the Raiders in hand. That means you want the Raiders to win as much as possible so that in the unlikely event the strength of victory tiebreaker comes into play and that helps Tampa Bay's number. Also, did you notice that I listed them as the "Oakland Raiders" and not the "Las Vegas Raiders." I'd be willing to bet only about half of you did. I'm still getting use to the Los Angeles Chargers. I guess the only reason you'd pick the Falcons here is if you wanted the team with two former Buccaneers Head Coach to beat the team with just one. That would be a really strange reason and I don't know why you brought it up. The Falcons loss to the Saints probably ended their faint playoff hopes because their best possible finish now is 9-7 and there's a decent chance all three Wild Card teams get to at least 10. The Falcons would need to run the table and hope for a collapse by the Bucs or Cardinals. Plus Tampa Bay has two games left against the Falcons, so anything that reduces Atlanta's stretch-run motivation is a good thing.
Verdict: It's the Fighting Jon Grudens over the Fighting Raheem Morrises!
Los Angeles Chargers (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (7-3), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Tennessee Titans (7-3) at Indianapolis Colts (7-3), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Cleveland Browns (7-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Miami Dolphins (6-4) at N.Y. Jets (0-10), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
This is a whole bunch of AFC action, and honestly it's pretty interesting stuff. The Titans-Colts matchup is the headliner here, with the AFC South very much at stake. The two teams are tied atop the division but Indy already beat the Titans in Nashville two weeks ago, which means a win here is essentially worth two games because the Colts will have locked down the head-to-head tiebreaker. Those two teams plus Miami, Cleveland and Buffalo are five of the nine AFC teams that already have at least six wins. It's going to be a crazy finish in the AFC, which means we should be pretty happy the Bucs reside in the other conference. All of that said, not much here that matters to Tampa Bay, other than their head-to-head win over the Chargers for strength of victory purposes.
Verdict: This is a really strong slate of early-afternoon games, which you can watch before the Bucs play at 4:25. Just enjoy and save your deep feelings for the action for later in the afternoon and the evening.
New York Giants (3-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-7-1), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
This one is a bit of a tough call, though the stakes are admittedly low. You say, 'Aren't we just applying the root-for-the-AFC rule?' and I can't argue. But a win by the Giants helps the Bucs' strength of victory and strength of schedule. On the other hand, we previously decided that we'd rather face Andy Dalton and the Cowboys in a domed stadium in January, if the Bucs get the top Wild Card spot, so this would be counter to those ideals.
Verdict: Let's not worry about the strength of schedule thing right now. Root for the Bengals and their starting quarterback – checks notes – Brandon Allen.
Carolina Panthers (4-7) at Minnesota Vikings (4-6), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Do you have trouble rooting for any of the Buccaneers' NFC South rivals to win? I do. I've seen a therapist about it. If you're in the same boat, I'm sorry to tell you that you need to be Panthers fans this weekend. With five games to go for both the Bucs and Panthers, Tampa Bay is three games up on their division rival and have a hammer of a tiebreaker in their head-to-head sweep. Essentially, the Bucs are four up on Carolina with five to go. If Tampa Bay can't make that lead stand, they've got much bigger problems in their postseason pursuit. So assume for a moment that the Panthers are not a problem; that means the Vikings, who are on the fringe of the NFC race and have one more game than Carolina to make a move, are a bigger concern for Tampa Bay. Also factor in that the Buccaneers and Vikings will meet in Week 14. One more loss would presumably put the Vikings almost completely out of the playoff race and hopefully impact their motivation in the process.
Verdict: Hold your breath, pinch your nose and root for Carolina. Maybe watch a different game and just keep an eye on this score.
Arizona Cardinals (6-4) at New England Patriots (4-6), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Arizona briefly put itself in control of the ultra-competitive NFC West with their 'Hail Murray' win over Buffalo in Week 10, but a loss to Seattle last Sunday dropped them all the way to the last seed in the NFC playoff field. Kyler Murray is a joy to watch but in this case let's hope that Bill Belichick is able to dial up some sort of game plan that keeps the second-year jitterbug under wraps. The Buccaneers are a half-game up on Arizona and there is no head-to-head matchup here, but Arizona has a slightly better conference record. All things considered, we want all the teams around the Bucs in the standings to lose. I'd rather see Murray in the playoffs than Nick Foles, but let's make them fight it out to the end.
Verdict: The Patriots found a way to shut down Lamar Jackson. Let's root for them doing the same thing to Murray.
New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Denver Broncos (4-6), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
Brush your teeth twice a day. Root for the Saints to lose. Don't mess with the IRS. I mean, some advice is painfully obvious but it doesn't hurt to point it out one more time. The Buccaneers still hope to win the NFC South but will need a whole lot of help; maybe the Broncos can provide some in Week 12. Denver did just beat Miami, which has proved to be a tougher out than most expected. Taysom Hill managed just fine in his first start in place of Drew Brees last weekend but one game doesn't necessarily prove he can be the answer long-term. I mean, we can hope, right? There's a lot of AFC-NFC action this weekend, but this is the biggest one for the Buccaneers. Plus, it's a small thing ,but the Broncos getting a win helps the Bucs' strength of victory.
Verdict: I mean, you know.
San Francisco 49ers (4-6) at Los Angeles Rams (7-3), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
If the Rams go on to win the NFC West, their head-to-head win over Tampa Bay won't matter. But how sure are we that this is going to happen. The balance of power in the West seems to shift on a weekly basis. Right now, Football Outsider's playoff odds give the Rams a 46.0% chance of winning the division, with the Seahawks not far behind at 40.5%. The Cardinals, who had the division's top spot before losing to Seattle, are only given a 13.2% chance of winning the division, but they may have their fate in their own hands with two games still to go against Los Angeles. As such, we have to consider the distinct possibility that the Rams and Bucs will be neck-and-neck in a Wild Card race a month from now. If so, the Bucs will need to finish a game ahead of Los Angeles to beat them in the seeding, thanks to Monday's outcome. So the Bucs would like to see as many Rams losses as possible. The 49ers, who are the defending conference champs, could possibly get back into the race but that's a lesser concern, especially considering all of the Niners' injuries.
Verdict: Root for John Lynch. It's worked for us in the past.
Chicago Bears (5-5) at Green Bay Packers (7-3), Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
If you could tell me that the Bears would win this game and kick off a late-season siege for the NFC North, with both teams converging at nine or 10 wins in the end, I'd be all onboard with a Bears win here. The Bucs would definitely prefer the Bears to win this division, since they have a head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay but lost to Chicago. As such, if all these teams end up at around 10 wins, the Bucs would prefer to be in a Wild Card battle with Green Bay. But here's the thing: I don't think that's going to happen. The Bears have lost four straight, have had real difficulty scoring points and still have two games left against the Packers. So the alternate idea is to have the Packers run away with the division and bury the Bears so they aren't a tiebreaker problem for the Buccaneers. Let's go with the odds here and assume Green Bay takes the division.
Verdict: Go! Pack! Go! Isn't that how that annoying song in the stadium goes?
Seattle Seahawks (7-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1), Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET
This one is a little tricky. Ideally, the Buccaneers would like the Rams to win that crazy NFC West scrum, which means rooting against Seattle. On the other hand, we've already discussed the preference of Dallas winning the NFC East, in case Tampa Bay is the five seed. The Eagles are actually in first place in the East thanks to that tie – which, hey! is better than a loss – so a big win over a strong contender would definitely put them in the division's driver's seat. So, which way do we go? It's probably too early to worry about which team will win the East, particularly since it only matters if Tampa Bay wins the #5 seed. And right now, the Seahawks have that spot just ahead of the Buccaneers. It's better to rein in the Seahawks at this point, assuming they are a likely Wild Card combatant.
Verdict: Let Russ Cook…up a fallen souffle. Fly, Eagles, Fly!