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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Playoff Push 2023: Bucs Need One Win to Clinch Division

The Bucs can win a third straight division title with a home win against the Saints in Week 17, and if they accomplish that they will be locked into the fourth seed in the NFC

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers extended their winning streak to four games on Sunday with a rousing 30-12 win over the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars, a game that pitted two teams that were technically in first place in their divisions based on tiebreakers. Jacksonville remained in that position thanks to losses by Houston and Indianapolis, but the Buccaneers gained a clear advantage on their NFC South foes. Tampa Bay is now one game up on both the Saints and Falcons with two weeks to go, and they have some encouraging tiebreaker advantages to boot.

The Detroit Lions became the fourth team to clinch a spot in the NFC playoff field with their win in Minnesota, and Philadelphia is in the driver's seat in the NFC East after their win on Monday over the Giants. Still, there is still a lot left to be determined in how the seedings fall out among the division winners – the 49ers, Lions, Eagles and (barely) Cowboys all still have a shot at the first-round bye – and the final two Wild Card spots are a jumble of six teams (seven if you count the Buccaneers) with records of either 8-7 or 7-8.

Here's how the NFC playoff race stands after 15 weeks:

1. San Francisco (11-4), NFC West Champion

The 49ers lost a heavyweight battle to the Ravens, the current number-one seed in the AFC, on Monday night but they remain in the top spot in the conference despite a new three-way tie with the Eagles and Lions. When breaking a tie for seeding between three teams from different divisions, head to head record is only applied if all three teams have played each other. The 49ers beat the Eagles convincingly Week 13 but don't have the Lions on their schedule. That puts San Francisco's 9-1 conference record – which wasn't hurt by the Christmas night loss – into play, and it's two games better than Philly and Detroit at the moment. The 49ers would clinch the first seed and a first-round by in Week 17 if they win while both the Lions and Eagles lose.

2. Philadelphia (11-4), NFC East Leader

The Eagles stopped their three-game slide and moved into pole position for the NFC East title with a 33-25 win over the New York Giants on Christmas. They've got identical division (4-1) and conference (7-3) records as the Cowboys, but they also have a final-two schedule of the 3-12 Arizona Cardinals at home and the 5-10 New York Giants on the road. The Eagles can clinch the division in Week 17 if they beat Arizona and the Cowboys lose to the Lions. Philly still has a shot at the number-one overall seed in the NFC but their head-to-head loss to the 49ers doesn't help. They are currently ranked ahead of the Lions based on a superior strength-of-victory number (.479 to .436).

3. Detroit (11-4), NFC North Champion

Raise a banner, Lions! Detroit's exciting 30-24 win over the Vikings on Sunday clinched the franchise's first division title since 1993. Back then, they played in the NFC Central along with the Buccaneers, so this is officially the team's first NFC North crown. The biggest issue for the Lions now is seeding, and they didn't play either San Francisco or Philadelphia so there are no head-to-head tiebreakers there. They do have an opportunity to get a head-to-head win over Dallas next weekend, but in doing so they would eliminate the Cowboys from the NFC East race, so that's no help.

4. Tampa Bay (8-7), NFC South Leader

Turns out winning four games in a row does a lot of good for your playoff hopes. The Bucs now only need to win one of their final two contests to take the NFC South title for a third consecutive year and grab, at worst, the fourth seed in the conference playoff field. That would give them a home game to start the playoffs. The Buccaneers can take care of business on their own in Week 17 by beating the Saints at Raymond James Stadium. However, even if they fail to do so they would still win the division with a road victory over Carolina in Week 18, regardless of what the Saints do that weekend against Atlanta, thanks to a better record in common games.

5. Dallas (10-5), Wild Card #1

The Cowboys and Eagles continue to hand the baton back and forth at the top of the NFC East, but Dallas had the tougher draw in Week 16 with a trip to Miami, and a loss coupled with the Eagles' easy win over the Giants put Philly back in control. However, Dallas is not out of the running for the division title and their loss to the Dolphins didn't actually change the picture that much. They can still win the East by beating both Detroit and Washington and getting one loss from the Eagles. It doesn't matter which of the final two games the Eagles drop, either. In this scenario, Dallas would also grab the number two seed thanks to their head to head win over Detroit in Week 17.

6. L.A. Rams (8-7), Wild Card #2

The Rams are one of the hottest teams in the NFC, and while they can't win their division they might be the proverbial "team nobody wants to face in the first round" after winning five of their last six. Matthew Stafford is cooking and the Rams have averaged 32.4 points per game over the last five weeks. The New York Times playoff calculator has Los Angeles with a 67% chance of making the playoffs, and that would go up to 96% if they win their last two games against the Giants and the 49ers. That second outcome obviously seems a lot more difficult to achieve, but it's possible San Francisco will already have the top seed in the NFC sewn up by then.

7. Seattle (8-7), Wild Card #3

The Seahawks jumped into the "in crowd" in the NFC playoff hunt in Week 16 with their win over Tennessee and the Vikings' loss to Detroit. They've won two in a row – including an impressive Week 15 takedown of Philadelphia – after a four-game losing streak had put them on the fringes of the NFC race. The Seahawks did lose both of their game against the Rams, so they don't want to be in a fight with Los Angeles for the last Wild Card spot. Seattle would also not like to be in a direct tiebreaker with the Vikings, who have a path to finish with a better conference record.


On the outside…

8. Minnesota (7-8)

The Vikings got a couple of nice performances from Josh Dobbs after Kirk Cousins blew out his Achilles, but quarterback woes have now contributed to a 1-4 record over their last five games. The latest one, at home against the Lions, took the division title out of Minnesota's playoff possibilities and dropped them from the sixth seed all the way down to eight. However, the Vikings have already banked wins over the Falcons, Saints and Packers, the other 7-8 teams in the running, which puts them in a good spot if they end up in any head-to-head tiebreaker scenarios.

9. Atlanta (7-8)

The Falcons won in Week 16 to stay within firing distance of both the NFC South title and a Wild Card spot, but they're going to need help to get either one, even if they win their last two games against the Bears and Saints. Their Week Two win over Green Bay has them ahead the Packers in the overall standings. They have also beaten the Saints but would need to finish off the season sweep in Week 18 for that to matter in a head-to-head tiebreaker.

10. Green Bay (7-8)

The Packers also won in Week 17 at Carolina, holding off a furious Panthers comeback, and have five victories in their last eight outings to get into Wild Card contention. They've lost to the Falcons and the Vikings but get another crack at Minnesota this coming weekend.

11. New Orleans (7-8)

The Saints' Thursday Night loss to the Rams in Week 16 allowed the Buccaneers to take control of the NFC South and meant New Orleans is no longer in control of its own playoff destiny. The Saints can still win the division, but they would not only have to beat the Buccaneers in Tampa this weekend but would need Carolina to beat the Bucs, too, while they took care of business against Atlanta in Week 18.

What Lies Ahead for Tampa Bay:

The Bucs will try to take the drama out of the NFC South a week early, just as they did in 2021, by beating one of their closest competitors for the title in a Week 17 home game. Tampa Bay did just that against Carolina a year ago and now get a chance to wrap things up this Sunday against the Saints at Raymond James Stadium. If the Bucs do win the division, they'll be locked into the fourth seed, since they can no longer catch the 11-win 49ers, Eagles and Lions. That fourth seed does guarantee a home game in the opening round, however.

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