The more things changed the more they stayed the same for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they watched the NFC playoff race move forward during their Week 13 bye. Tampa Bay has a new team just ahead of them in the standings and a new team just behind them, but they still occupy the sixth-overall seed and control their own postseason destiny with four weeks to go.
With all 32 teams now having played 12 games, the two conferences are about to sprint to the regular-season finish line, with a good 22 clubs in realistic playoff contention. As it turns out, Week 14 is going to shine a brighter light on the AFC race, particularly in the end of the week prime-time games. There are a total of four games on the ledger that pit a pair of AFC teams with winning records against each other, including Kansas City at Miami and Pittsburgh at Buffalo.
In contrast, the only game in Week 14 that features two NFC teams with records of .500 or better is…well, it's the one you definitely don't need help knowing for whom to root. The 6-6 Minnesota Vikings visit the 5-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday with the sixth NFC seed on the line; as Head Coach Bruce Arians said, it's a "huge game."
View pictures of the cleats and foundations represented by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during week 14.
That said, there are some other games in Week 14 that could have significant consequences on the Bucs' attempt to lock down a playoff spot. We're here to offer some friendly suggestions as to who to pull for as you soak in another weekend of stretch-run NFL football.
This is your Week 14 Viewing Guide
Los Angles Rams (8-4) at New England Patriots (6-6), Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET - Update: The Rams won 24-3
On the surface, this one seems easy – just apply the NFC-vs.-AFC rule. Generally speaking, you want AFC teams to take down NFC teams because the AFC standings don't really matter to us and a loss by an NFC playoff contender is a good thing. However, the picture gets a little murkier when we consider this game in tandem with another one. Specifically, the Seattle Seahawks have a home game against the winless New York Jets on Sunday and the 'Hawks are two-touchdown favorites. Yes, Seattle did just lose at home to the New York Giants in a rather big upset, but forgive us if we don't think there's much chance of the Jets doing the same as their New Jersey co-tenants. So let's assume for a moment that the Seahawks win and the Rams lose; now you have first place in the NFC West changing hands for the fifth week in a row and the Rams bumped to the Wild Card battle, with possibly the same record as the Buccaneers. Since L.A. has an iron-clad head-to-head tiebreaker over Tampa Bay, this is not a great scenario for the Buccaneers. So are we suggesting that you defy the NFC-vs.-AFC rule in this case? Almost, but not quite. Let's remember that the Rams and the Seahawks play each other in Week 16, and that Los Angeles has already beaten Seattle once this year. There's a very good chance that the winner of that game will win the division, even if the Rams come into it a game behind. So let's kick this can down the road a bit and just get an NFC contender another loss.
Verdict: It's a Super Bowl LIII rematch and a repeat outcome is what we want, even if it means rooting for the Death Star.
Denver Broncos (4-8) at Carolina Panthers (4-8), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
The Buccaneers have beaten both of these teams but, crucially, they've beaten Carolina twice. No, it's not often that a Wild Card tiebreaker comes down to the 'strength of victory' or 'strength of schedule' categories, but it is possible. Right now, the Buccaneers are actually doing quite well in both of those categories, but it would get better if Carolina added to its win total. So wait…we're ignoring the NFC-vs.-AFC rule again? Sure, why not. Let's get wild. Consider this: The Bucs are done with the Panthers this year and have no concern about them in the playoff race, so isn't it better if Carolina wins a couple times and makes it's eventual draft position worse? Yes, it is!
Verdict: Remember, you don't actually have to watch this game. If a Broncos-Panthers score pops up on your scrawl and it's going Carolina's way, just mutter, 'Okay, that's fine,' and move on.
Houston Texans (4-8) at Chicago Bears (5-7), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
If you've been rooting against the Bears ever since their Week Five win over your Buccaneers, you've probably been enjoying yourself quite a bit. Chicago followed that game with a Week Six win over Carolina, which at the time seemed just fine, then embarked on a six-game losing streak that reached its nadir last week in a last-minute collapse against a Lions team that was doing so poorly it had just fired its head coach. The Bears are reeling, and with games left against Minnesota and Green Bay, are now a long shot to make the playoffs. But a long shot is still a shot, and the Bears are one of the main teams the Buccaneers would like to see eliminated before we get to the end. Right now, we're Kreese telling Johnny to sweep the leg and put Daniel out of his misery; hopefully the Texans do a better job of that than Johnny did.
Verdict: Get him a body bag! Go Texans!
Dallas Cowboys (3-9) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-9-1), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
It seems like we're supposed to care about everything having to do with the Cowboys at all times, but's really hard to devote much attention to this game. It would be one thing if this was a matchup of Dak Prescott and Joe Burrow, but fate cruelly took both of them away from us well before the season was over. We say this without much passion, but it is an interconference matchup and it is the Cowboys so…
Verdict: Go Bengals. Sigh.
Tennessee Titans (8-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-11), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Kansas City Chiefs (11-1) at Miami Dolphins (8-4), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
The Titans could really use a bounce-back win after their Week 13 loss to Cleveland, but the second game here is far more interesting. Are you aware that the Dolphins have won seven of their last eight games, despite not seeming to be completely settled on who they want to play quarterback on a week-to-week basis? Sure, three of those wins came against the Jets, Jets and Bengals, but a win is a win in the NFL and the Dolphins are very much in the thick of the playoff race. Taking on the defending champs is a great way to show us how real their contention actually is. Meanwhile, the Chiefs are licking their chops after Pittsburgh's surprising loss to Washington as they eye the number-one overall AFC seed. None of it means much to the Buccaneers but it is definitely interesting.
Verdict: If you're flipping over to CBS during commercials in the Bucs game, hopefully they're showing the Chiefs and Dolphins. How about we show some state pride and say, Go Jags and Phins!
Arizona Cardinals (6-6) at New York Giants (5-7), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
If the Buccaneers can climb up to the first Wild Card spot over the next four weeks – definitely a very attainable goal – they could end up very interested in the Giants, who have won four in a row and just took down the Seahawks. The Buccaneers have a head-to-head win over New York but a tiebreaker won't come into play between the division winners and the Wild Card teams. Maybe we don't want to see Joe Judge's crew get too hot. That said, it's far more important to keep the Cardinals on their downward trend. The Bucs know they can get in by winning out, and will probably be good with wins in three of four, but just to be safe let's get a little more distance over the Cardinals, who could still go on a run if Kyler Murray gets hot again.
Verdict: Go G-Men!
Indianapolis Colts (8-4) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-5), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
Here's another compelling game between AFC playoff contenders, with the Colts currently holding the seventh seed and the Raiders just behind, one spot out of the dance. If you have a particularly rooting interest for either of these teams, feel free to stick with that. Otherwise, it's slightly better for the Bucs if the Raiders win, in terms of the strength of victory tiebreaker.
Verdict: Go G-Men! (As in Gruden.)
New York Jets (0-12) at Seattle Seahawks (8-4), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
This one is easy. I mean, it's easy for us. For the Jets, not so much. We want Seattle to lose to help the Buccaneers move up the Wild Card standings. It seems awfully greedy to hope for the winless Jets to take down the Seahawks in Seattle, but then again the one-win Jaguars took the Vikings to overtime last week. Oh, and these very Jets were seconds away from a win over the Raiders last Sunday, too. It's the NFL, any given Sunday, et cetera, et cetera. The one thing we know for sure is that if New York does somehow get a lead on the Seahawks late in this Sunday's game, it won't be sending an all-out blitz on Russell Wilson in the closing seconds.
Verdict: Come on, you don't need Trevor Lawrence that badly, do you Jets? Let's get this big win!
Green Bay Packers (9-3) at Detroit Lions (5-7), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
The Packers essentially have the NFC North wrapped up, so the Buccaneers head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay isn't going to mean anything. In that case, there's no point in rooting against the Pack unless you're worried about overall conference seeding and where a playoff-bound Bucs team might have to go in the first round. It's too early to figure all of that out, so let's instead hope for a poor showing by Detroit, the Bucs' Week 16 opponent. The Lions won their first game under interim Head Coach Darrell Bevell but hopefully won't get a sudden boost of motivation down the stretch.
Verdict: Go Packers! It's the Brotherhood of the Bays.
Atlanta Falcons (4-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-9), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
We told you last week that it was okay to root for, or at least grudgingly accept, the Saints beating the Falcons. Which they did, though Atlanta made it close at the end. And that's the problem: Raheem Morris's group continues to look frisky and that's not what the Buccaneers want to see with Atlanta on the schedule in Weeks 15 and 17. The Chargers are coming of a horrible drubbing by New England that seemed to put Head Coach Anthony Lynn's job security in jeopardy. You know what, Anthony Lynn seems like a pretty swell guy! We don't want him to lose his job. So once again, let's root for a poor showing by Atlanta, and hopefully not the last one of the season.
Verdict: Root for the team with the best uniforms. We hope we don't have to tell you which one that is.
New Orleans Saints (10-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-8-1), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
So, where would you rather the Buccaneers go in the first round of the playoffs, the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field to face a team they demolished in October, or the dome-controlled climate of the Superdome to take a third crack at the Saints? Those are only two of the potential options if Tampa Bay wins a Wild Card berth, but one of them is likely to be off the table with either the Saints or Packers getting the top seed and the first-round bye. That's the only real reason to care about what the Saints do the rest of the way, unless you just want them to lose every game in principle, in which case we salute you. You know what, that's good enough for us!
Verdict: Go Jalen Hurts!
Washington Football Team (5-7) at San Francisco 49ers (5-7), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Washington just gave Pittsburgh it's first loss so…? You tell me if you can figure out this 2020 season. Anyway, these two teams have identical records but Washington has a much better chance of making the playoffs thanks to their residence in the NFC East. According to Football Outsiders, the Football Team's odds of making the dance are 46.8%, compared to 11.9% for the 49ers. Of course, 5-7 is good enough for a tie for first in the East and dead last in the West. So which one do we root for here? Well, according to that same odds page, Washington's Wild Card odds are only 1.9%, maybe because its next game is against Seattle. Therefore, let's give the 49ers the hit and take them out of the Wild Card race.
Verdict: If you're going to root for a football team this weekend, let's make it this Football Team.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) at Buffalo Bills (9-3), Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at Cleveland Browns (9-3), Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Wow! What a prime-time finish to Week 14. If this was an article about the AFC playoff race, we would have a lot to say about these two very fascinating games. But it isn't, and by this point everything that would affect the Buccaneers' playoff hopes in Week 14 will have every happened. So just sit back on Sunday and Monday night and enjoy the action.
Verdict: Who cares? It's great football!