The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can clinch their first division title in 14 years as soon as this Sunday, and all they need is a combination of three game outcomes, one of which is their own victory over the Buffalo Bills at Raymond James Stadium. And since that Buccaneers-Bills extravaganza doesn't kick off until 4:25 ET in the afternoon, Bucs fans watching at home can actually see the first two pieces of the puzzle (hopefully) snap into place before the real show begins.
The three teams currently holding Wild Card spots in the AFC are all 7-5, and the teams with the last two spots in the NFC are each 6-6. So if one were to consider any team that currently has at least six wins a real contender for the playoffs, then there are six games this weekend that pit two of those contenders against each other. Those games are highlighted by Bucs-Bills and the Monday night matchup of the Rams and Cardinals, but all of them, plus a couple more, could and probably will impact the two conference playoff races. More importantly, they could impact the Buccaneers playoff hunt.
And that's what we're here to discuss. Below are 13 games – because the 14th game is Bucs-Bills and you know who to root for there, obviously – and my suggestions as to which teams you should pull for in order to help the ol' home town team. They are presented in chronological order. This is your 2021 Week 14 Viewing Guide.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-7), Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET
There's not much meat on this bone for Buccaneer fans. The Vikings have fallen to the fringe of the NFC race and could only possibly affect the Buccaneers if they got red hot and Tampa Bay somehow slumped into the Wild Card race. The Bucs don't play either of these teams so there's no strength of schedule implications. A Steelers win would add to the AFC chaos, which would be fun. And there's this: if Minnesota loses and Green Bay wins this week, the Packers will clinch the NFC North. That's inevitable anyway, so perhaps it's best that the Packers get it early and potentially relax a bit in the final month. Yeah, it's thin, I know. If nothing else, just root for an AFC team to beat an NFC team.
Verdict: Go Steelers. The excitement is palpable.
Atlanta Falcons (5-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-7), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Okay, this is an important one. Remember those three pieces that need to snap into place for the Bucs to wrap up the division this week? Well, Atlanta beating Carolina is one of them. Both of these teams – and the Saints, for that matter – are 5-7, but the crucial point is that Tampa Bay has already beaten Atlanta twice. That's an ironclad tiebreaker that means as soon as the Bucs' lead in the division and the number of games left are equal, the Falcons are eliminated. And that would happen if Tampa Bay and Atlanta both win in Week 14. Meanwhile, that same combination of results would eliminate the Panthers, who would be five games back with four to play. Depending upon your personal level of vitriol towards the Falcons or Panthers, this is either a very easy assignment or one that will have you gritting your teeth Sunday. No matter; don't watch the actual game, just pay attention to the final outcome.
Verdict: Let's go A-T-L! Make Samuel Jackson happy!
Baltimore Ravens (8-4) at Cleveland Browns (6-6), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Las Vegas Raiders (6-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-4), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10) at Tennessee Titans (8-4), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
These are the three games in the one p.m. hour that feature two AFC teams and thus aren't particularly relevant to the Buccaneers' playoff prospects. The Buccaneers have not and will not play any of these teams so there's no possible "common games" tiebreaker issue stemming from any of these results. I mentioned the idea of AFC chaos above, just for the fun of it, and that would be compounded exponentially by wins for the Browns, Raiders and Jaguars. Maybe you don't want the Buccaneers to face, say, the Chiefs or Ravens in a Super Bowl, but that's being awfully presumptuous at the moment. Honestly, just enjoy these games for what they are and, if you're like me, root for the underdogs.
Verdict: Go…throw these games into a blender and come out with an AFC smoothie of approximately 15 seven and eight-win teams.
Seattle Seahawks (4-8) at Houston Texans (2-10), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
The only way the Seahawks could matter to the Bucs' playoff chances is if they won out, the Buccaneers lost out and a bunch of other teams all ended up muddled in the middle. I'm going to assume that's not going to happen. With that in mind, I'd actually suggest rooting for Seattle so that their draft position gets worse.
Verdict: Go Russ! Let's start cooking again!
New Orleans Saints (5-7) at New York Jets (3-9), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Aaaaaand here's the final piece of the three-part puzzle to make the Buccaneers' NFC South champions. If the Falcons can take care of Carolina, the Jets could put the Bucs in position to clinch in the late afternoon by beating New Orleans in the early window. The Saints have lost five games in a row, and a sixth would eliminate them from division contention. It's as simple as that. As if I needed to tell you to root against the Saints, anytime, any place, any parallel universe.
Verdict: J-E-T-S! JETS! JETS! JETS!
Dallas Cowboys (8-4) at Washington Football Team (6-6), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
This one actually required a little bit of deliberation. On first blush, the answer is obvious – the Buccaneers are currently the three seed in the NFC race and the Cowboys are the four seed, so gaining some more separation from them is a good idea. So we want a Dallas loss, right? Well, if that happens Washington would pull within a game of Dallas in an NFC East race that just a couple of weeks ago looked like it was over. Those two teams also play again in Week 16, so the Football Team would have a very real shot at controlling its own destiny. So here's the deal: Who would you rather have winning the division, a Cowboys team that the Bucs have already beaten or a Washington squad they lost to? My thought is that Washington probably isn't going to beat Dallas twice, so the Cowboys are still the bigger issue. Let's keep Dallas down.
Verdict: Go Washington!
Detroit Lions (1-10-1) at Denver Broncos (6-6), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
This game is pretty much irrelevant to the Buccaneers, so let's root for the Lions to get on a roll. They have been through so much this year, so many losses in dramatic and debilitating fashion, that it was almost cathartic to see them win in Week 13. It might be fun if they got on a roll.
Verdict: Go kneecap-biters!
N.Y. Giants (4-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-5), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
The Giants are no threat to the Buccaneers in the playoff race, and Tampa Bay beat New York a few weeks back. So at this point wins by New York are good because it improves the Bucs' strength of schedule and strength of victory, in case it comes down to those tiebreakers.
Verdict: Go Giants!
San Francisco 49ers (6-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-5), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
We can just go by the AFC-over-NFC rule here. In addition, it might be good for the Buccaneers if the 49ers are reduced to scratching and clawing at the end of the season. If the Rams manage to chase down the Cardinals for the NFC West crown, that could potentially be bad news for the Buccaneers, who have a head-to-head loss with Los Angeles. The 49ers and Rams play in Week 17, and it would be good if the 49ers desperately need that win. Thus a loss here is helpful.
Verdict: Go Bengals!
Chicago Bears (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (9-3), Sunday, 8:20 pm. ET
This one is easy. The Buccaneers are a very good bet to win the NFC South, which means that they are going to be one of four NFC teams with either a bye or a home game to start the playoffs. The former would obviously be preferrable, and even moving from third to second would increase the Bucs' chances of a second home playoff game if they win the first one. The Bucs and Packers are currently tied for the second-best record in the conference at 9-3, but Green Bay is ahead in the standings due to their 7-2 record against conference opponents as compared to 6-3 for the Buccaneers. Not only would the Bucs have a chance to leap over Green Bay in the NFC standings if Chicago won, but they would see the Packers take a very important NFC loss. Justin Fields may be returning to the lineup this weekend; maybe the rookie passer can catch lighting in a bottle and upend the Packers.
Verdict: Go Bears!
Los Angeles Rams (8-4) at Arizona Cardinals (10-2), Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET
There is a little but of nuance here, but the answer is still pretty clear. As noted above, the Buccaneers would rather not be fighting for seeding among division winners with the Rams, who beat them in Week Three. For the most part, the Bucs will be rooting for Los Angeles to lose over the next month or so. But in this case it's more important that the conference-leading Cardinals take a loss, putting the first-overall seed more up for grabs. Both Arizona and Los Angeles have fairly challenging schedules over the season's final month, so it's probably better to see them meet in the middle this week than have the Cardinals pull farther away.
Verdict: Go Rams!