Things have gotten a little bit weird for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022.
Over 47 seasons, the Buccaneers have had years when they've been way better than expected (1979, 2005); they've had campaigns that didn't come close to living up to expectations (1998, 2003); they've had weird blips of success amid a run of tough seasons (2010); and they've had seasons that seemed destined for something big only to fizzle (2008).
However, I'm pretty sure they've never had a year in which they were expected to be Super Bowl contenders and, after 11 games, were both under .500 and still in the driver's seat for a playoff spot. Welcome to 2022!
Tampa Bay lost a heartbreaker in overtime in Cleveland last Sunday, dropping the team to 5-6 but not knocking them out of first place in the NFC South. That's because the Atlanta Falcons also lost to the Washington Commanders to fall to 5-7, which is, as you can see, a bit worse than 5-6. As I noted in this week's Playoff Push review, it has become exceedingly unlikely that the Buccaneers will make the playoffs via any other route than winning their division. The same is obviously true for the Falcons or any other upstart team in the division that wants to make a run.
That has made our weekly viewing guide a much simpler proposition. There's not a whole lot that matters to the Buccaneers over the next six weeks besides what happens within the NFC South. Nevertheless, we will power on with our weekly suggestions for who to pull for on Thursday, Sunday and Monday.
As to that, here are my suggestions for which teams to root for in Week 12, with the games presented in chronological order. This is your 2022 Week 13 Viewing Guide.
Buffalo Bills (8-3) at New England Patriots (6-5), Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET
This one is more fun than your typical Thursday night affair but it isn't particularly relevant to us, the most important people in the world. I guess if one were to gaze far enough off into the distant and unknowable future, if the Buccaneers somehow right the ship enough to be Super Bowl contenders, we'd rather see the more vulnerable contender that Buffalo has been in recent weeks. Yeah, it's a stretch. Just enjoy the game.
Verdict: Go Tom Brady-less Patriots.
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-7) at Atlanta Falcons (5-7), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Hey, guess what I'm going to write here! Root against the Falcons. That's kind of the only thing that matters this week, besides the Bucs' own tilt with New Orleans. Atlanta just lost to the white-hot Washington Commanders in Week 12 but they weren't overwhelmed, and they will get the advantage of a bye week after this game against the visiting Steelers. After that, their next three games are against the Saints, Ravens and Cardinals, which is a bit of a mixed bag but certainly not an oppressive run. There's also this: The Buccaneers lost to Pittsburgh in Week Six. If Atlanta wins this, they will have wins over two teams that beat our boys (also Cleveland) and that could be critical in the "common games" tiebreaker, which is third in the order after head-to-head record and divisional record. This is a surprisingly important game for the Buccaneers.
Verdict: Go team coached by Mike Tomlin, who started his NFL career in Tampa and very obviously owes us one. Come on!
Denver Broncos (3-8) at Baltimore Ravens (7-4), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Cleveland Browns (4-7) at Houston Texans (1-9-1), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
You might run into these highlights in the early afternoon on the Red Zone Network but there's no reason to spend much time thinking about the outcomes. It's all-AFC and it really only includes one contender. If you want, root for the Ravens and Browns because the Bucs played those two teams and their wins would improve our strength of schedule tiebreaker by some small amount.
Verdict: Go Red Zone Network!
Green Bay Packers (4-8) at Chicago Bears (3-9), Monday, 1:00 p.m. ET
I think this is where you just root for chaos. There is no reasonable scenario where these two teams and the Buccaneers have competing Wild Card aspirations, so who really cares? So maybe look ahead to next year. Both teams have injured quarterbacks who want to play, but their futures at that position are wildly different. Maybe the best case for the Buccaneers and the rest of the NFC is that as many quarterbacks as possible end up playing in this game.
Verdict: Go chaos!
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7) at Detroit Lions (4-7), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
New York Jets (7-4) at Minnesota Vikings (9-2), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
There's not a ton of cross-conference competition this weekend, but here we have two NFC North teams diving into AFC action. That always makes things easy. Obviously, we're rooting for the Jaguars and the Jets, though the stakes aren't very high. There's no real reason to hate on the Lions, given the Wild Card standings and Dan Campbell's raw emotions. There is an extremely small possibility that the Buccaneers can still challenge for the #2 seed, so root against the Vikings. That's pretty easy to do anyway.
Verdict: Go Jets and Jags!
Washington Commanders (7-5) at New York Giants (7-4), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Washington has won six of seven and suddenly looks like a much more serious contender than the Giants, who were the early-season phenom. New York still has the higher seed in the playoff standings but that could change in a hurry on Sunday. If you're a Bucs fan you're thinking about potential Wild Card matchups at the start of the postseason. That's still most likely to be the Cowboys for whoever wins the NFC South, but you never know. Given how well Taylor Heinicke and Washington played the Bucs at the beginning of Tampa Bay's 2020 Super Bowl run, I think I'd rather see the Giants.
Verdict: Go Gigantes!
Tennessee Titans (7-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-1), Sunday, 1:00 p.m.
The Bucs aren't catching the Eagles, so the outcome of this game isn't particularly crucial. That said, if Tampa Bay does make the playoffs, they will likely be the fourth seed. That means, if they are able to win in the Wild Card round, they would be headed to Philly (here we go again) in the Divisional Round. That's a whole lot of "ifs," but if we go down that rabbit hole we'd like to find an Eagles team that has had some struggles. Let those struggles start now.
Verdict: Go Titans!
Seattle Seahawks (6-5) at Los Angeles Rams (3-8), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
This is a tough one. Obviously, you want to root for every team above you in the overall standings to lose. But the vanishingly-small chances of the Bucs making it in as a Wild Card team make that less of a consideration here. Given that the Buccaneers handled the Seahawks pretty well in Munich, maybe we should root for the Seahawks to go on a run and potentially get the top Wild Card spot in the conference, setting up a potential rematch in Tampa. Nah. The Bucs beat both of these teams so the strength of victory tiebreaker is out the door. I go back to the top: Just root for everybody above the Bucs to lose.
Verdict: Go Rams!
Miami Dolphins (8-3) at San Francisco 49ers (7-4), Sunday, 4:05 pm. ET
The 49ers are rolling and their defense looks incredible. This is an issue for the Buccaneers, who will be headed out to San Fran in Week 14 after their Monday-nighter against the Saints. It's an AFC-NFC thingee so, yeah, you know. But this one is perhaps a bit more important. Let's root for the Dolphins to not only knock the 49ers down a peg but also to maybe provide a bit of a defensive blueprint as to how to stop San Francisco's amazingly versatile array of offensive weapons.
Verdict: Go Phish!
Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Chargers (6-5) at Las Vegas Raiders (4-7), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
This is a really nice slate of late-afternoon AFC action. It just doesn't matter much to the Buccaneers. The Bucs will be playing the Bengals soon, so perhaps root for disfunction on their part, but that's a stretch. Just enjoy Mahomes, Burrows, Herbert and Carr.
Verdict: Go late-afternoon excitement!
Indianapolis Colts (4-7-1) at Dallas Cowboys (8-3), Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
Yes, the Buccaneers' chances of catching Dallas if they fall into a Wild Card race are slim, but they do exist. And Tampa Bay has a head-to-head win over the Cowboys in case there is a tiebreaker situation. It's a long shot, obviously, but we should be rooting against Dallas right now. And, really, shouldn't we be rooting against Dallas at all times?
Verdict: Go Colts!