The NFL playoff dice are rolled every weekend here in December, and they keep coming up sixes for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A loss to Kansas City in Week 12, a bye in Week 13, a win over Minnesota in Week 14…nothing changes. Tampa Bay seems locked into the sixth seed in the NFC playoff race and that is indeed the most likely outcome when it's all said and done. But there are still three weeks to play and the Buccaneers have a lot of work still to do. Two wins in those final three weeks will guarantee Tampa Bay its first playoff berth since 2007, and Buccaneers players and coaches are focused sharply on the next game on the schedule, at Atlanta. As fans, however, we can hope for some help from other teams around the league over this final stretch.
The NFL's Week 15 schedule features only one game pitting two teams with winning records against each other, but it's a doozy: Kansas City at New Orleans in the late-afternoon slot on Sunday. The closest thing to a battle between two playoff contenders in the same conference is Bears at Vikings early on Sunday. Still, there are plenty of entertaining contests on tap, and an opportunity for the Buccaneers' playoff odds to get even stronger.
So which teams should you be rooting for, other than the Buccaneers in Atlanta on Sunday? We've got some suggestions. This is your Week 15 Viewing Guide.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 14 matchup against Minnesota.
Los Angeles Chargers (4-9) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-6), Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET
Buffalo Bills (10-3) at Denver Broncos (5-8), Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET
There is Thursday AND Saturday football this week (yum) but the first two games are all AFC. The two games feature teams that are still in the hunt in Las Vegas and Buffalo against two teams that aren't but that are coming off impressive wins in L.A. and Denver. The Bucs have beaten both teams in the Thursday game, so the outcome won't affect their strength of victory number. If you're worried about that coming into play, you should root for Denver on Saturday afternoon, but it's a long shot that this outcome will matter.
Verdict: Go…shopping! That's right, go get your last-minute holiday shopping done and then come back for the NFC action on Saturday night.
Carolina Panthers (4-9) at Green Bay Packers (10-3), Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Thanks in part to the Buccaneers win over Minnesota on Sunday, the Packers have clinched the NFC North, and they also took over the top spot in the conference standings after the Saints' loss in Philadelphia. What does that mean? Well, the Buccaneers won't be catching the Packers in the seeding unless the near-impossible happens and the Saints lose out, coupled with a three-game run by Tampa Bay. Let's just assume the NFC South title isn't happening. In that case, the jockeying for position between the Packers, the Saints and possibly the Rams only matters to us in terms of where Tampa Bay is headed in Week One of the postseason. Yes, the Bucs demolished Green Bay in Week Six, and that's extremely encouraging, but are you really rooting for a Round One trip to frosty Lambeau? If you want that, you can get it in Round Two after the Bucs beat one of the other division winners. Yes, a win by Carolina would hurt their spot in the 2021 draft order, which is a good thing, but we just can't support an outcome that helps the Saints get the top seed in the conference.
Verdict: Go Aaron Rodgers and your 8,000 State Farm commercials!
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12) at Baltimore Ravens (8-5), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Houston Texans (4-9) at Indianapolis Colts (9-4), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
New England Patriots (6-7) at Miami Dolphins (8-5), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Another block of AFC action early on Sunday afternoon, but you'll probably be paying more attention to the Bears-Vikings or Seahawks-Football Team tilts at that time. The Buccaneers have not and will not play any of these six teams, so their outcomes don't affect strength of victory or strength of schedule. How about we just root for the home state?
Verdict: Go F-L-A!
San Francisco 49ers (5-8) at Dallas Cowboys (4-9), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
One of our least favorite things in these Viewing Guides is advising you to root for the Cowboys, but we're afraid that's where we are right now. The good news is that it probably doesn't matter. Dallas is of no relevance to the Buccaneers and it would take a three-week collapse for the 49ers to matter. Still, there's no reason to take any chances. Right now, it's all about eliminating one team after another behind the Bucs in the standings, and it's your turn, San Francisco.
Verdict: Go Cowbo…blergh…Go Co…huurrgge…Go Cowboys! Man, that was tough to get out.
Chicago Bears (6-7) at Minnesota Vikings (6-7), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Alright, let's get this out of the way up top: The absolute best outcome for the Buccaneers in this game is a tie. That's the only result that, paired with a Bucs victory, would clinch a playoff spot for Tampa Bay in Week 15. Just so you know, the Bears and Vikings have met 118 times and have tied exactly twice, and the last time was in 1967. Feel free to root for a tie if you want and feel free to believe that your spouse is going to have a Lexus with a giant red bow waiting for you in the driveway on Christmas morning, like those commercials suggest year after year. I mean, anything can happen. In the land of reality, we'll be rooting for Minnesota and the reason is obvious: The Bucs lost to Chicago in Week Five but beat the Vikings in Week 14. If the Bears lose and the Bucs win this coming weekend, Chicago is officially no longer a problem for the Bucs and we can officially forget Week Five (except for that roughing call).
Verdict: Skol Vikings! (Did I do that right?)
Detroit Lions (5-8) at Tennessee Titans (9-4), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
It might seem a bit mean to root against the Lions right now, given that they've already fired their head coach and their quarterback is dealing with sore ribs. But it's the right thing to do at this moment in time. There's the obvious AFC-vs.-NFC factor here, with a Tennessee win meaning nothing to the Buccaneers. More important, though, is the fact that the Bucs play in the Motor City in Week 16. An interim coach, an aching quarterback with no real reason to keep playing this year (just a suggestion, Mr. Stafford), a holiday weekend…it's a potential recipe for a team not playing at the top of its game. Do we expect this to happen? No. We expect the Lions to be a formidable opponent in Week 16. But you never know.
Verdict: Go Titans!
Seattle Seahawks (9-4) at Washington Football Team (6-7), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
The NFC West has painted a confusing picture in recent weeks in terms of the Bucs' rooting interest, but this one is pretty easy to call. The Bucs are one game behind Seattle in both the overall NFC standings (9-4 to 8-5) and the results against conference opponents (6-3 to 5-4). The Buccaneers will happily enter the dance with the sixth seed, if that is what is meant to be, but they could still claim the fifth seed and what looks like its advantageous matchup against the eventual NFC East champ. What's interesting is the "common games" intersection between the Bucs and the Seahawks, particularly Seattle's recent loss to the Giants. The Buccaneers beat the Giants in Week Eight. Both teams have beaten Minnesota and the Seahawks also have a victory over Atlanta. Both teams have lost to the Rams. But the Bucs have two games left against Atlanta and the Seahawks still play the Rams again. Confused? Us, too. But there is a scenario in which the Bucs and Seahawks tie and the common games tiebreaker goes in Tampa Bay's favor.
Verdict: That was a whole lot of information to get to an obvious choice: Got Football Team! Football better than the Seahawks!
Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1) at Arizona Cardinals (7-6), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
Another easy one. It was extremely entertaining to watch the Eagles snap the Saints' nine-game winning streak (and keep the Bucs' faint division title hopes alive), and we would like a repeat in Week 15. The Cardinals pulled out of a mini-slump with last week's easy win over the Giants and now they have a second straight NFC East opponent. This year, that's usually a good thing. But maybe Jalen Hurts will follow up his impressive debut with another upset, which would push down the team just behind the Bucs in the overall standings. Losses by the Bears and Vikings are actually more important to the Bucs' playoff chances than a Cardinals' loss, but when you make a Christmas list you really want everything on that list, right? This would be a bonus.
Verdict: Last week, our Eagles-Saints verdict said, 'Go Jalen Hurts.' Cut. And. Paste.
N.Y. Jets (0-13) at Los Angeles Rams (9-4), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
Remember that time Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson in Tokyo? Anything is possible, but in this case we need to be rooting for the Mike Tyson in this fight. Tampa Bay's chances of moving up one spot from the sixth to the fifth seed are significantly better if it is battling with Seattle, given its head-to-head loss to the Rams. Basically, Tampa Bay has to pick up two games on Los Angeles in three weeks to jump the Rams in the standings, whereas a one-game improvement against Seattle bring a lot of potentially helpful tiebreakers into play.
Verdict: Go Rams! Watch that uppercut to the chin.
Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) at New Orleans Saints (10-3), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
So we mentioned last-minute holiday shopping earlier, and there's a chance your significant other will want to do some on Sunday. If so, get an early start, because you want to be in front of the TV for this one. There's no mystery here; Bucs fans want the Saints to lose. But in a broader sense, it will be interesting to see how competitive this game is. Given the very real possibility that the Buccaneers will face the Saints for a third time in the postseason, it would be nice if New Orleans doesn't look like a beast against the defending champions, who won by three in Tampa in Week 12.
Verdict: Go champs!
Cleveland Browns (9-4) at N.Y. Giants (5-8), Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
The Browns are coming off a heartbreaking loss in the game of the year last Monday night; will that motivate them to a stronger performance in Week 15? Let's hope so. This isn't particularly important, as somebody is going to win the NFC East and it probably won't matter to the Bucs in the long run.
Verdict: Go Browns, if only to make the fascinating AFC playoff race more crazy.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1), Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Chances that this game matches up to this past week's epic Monday-nigther? Nil. This game is inconsequential to the Bucs, so let's just root for added AFC chaos.
Verdict: Go Bengals!