There are six weeks and five games left in the Buccaneers' 2020 regular season, and Tampa Bay is in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt even after Monday night's loss to the Los Angeles Rams. It's time to start taking a weekly look at how the postseason hunt is shaping up in the conference.
New this season, there are seven playoff spots up for grabs in the NFC. That's the four division winners plus three Wild Card entries. If the season ended today (spoiler alert: it doesn't), here's how the NFC field would shake out:
1. New Orleans (8-2)
The Saints won their seventh straight game on Sunday despite playing without Drew Brees, as Taysom Hill led New Orleans to a relatively easy win over the Altanta Falcons. The Buccaneers' loss to the Rams puts the Saints in very good position to win their fourth straight NFC South title, as they have a 1.5-game lead in the division and an iron-clad tiebreaker with their season sweep of Tampa Bay. The Saints were also surely thrilled to see Green Bay lose in overtime to Indianapolis, since the Packers hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over them.
2. L.A. Rams (7-3)
Monday's win was a huge one for Los Angeles, which is suddenly a much more relevant NFC Super Bowl contender. The Rams came into Week 11 as the sixth seed in the conference, as part of a three-way tie atop the NFC West. With the Cardinals' loss to Seattle, the Rams not only took over first in the division (thanks to a head-to-head win over the Seahawks) but also moved ahead of Green Bay in the overall standings due to a better conference record.
3. Green Bay (7-3)
The Packers remain very much in the driver's seat for the NFC North title and their loss to the Colts wasn't terrible in terms of tiebreakers if they end up in the Wild Card hunt instead. The Packers would currently be behind the Seahawks (also 7-3) if they were in a Wild Card race but they're two games up on Chicago and three up on Minnesota in the division.
4. Philadelphia (3-6-1)
There is no surer lock in these conference standings than the NFC East champ will be the fourth seed. Every team in the division has exactly three wins, but the Eagles were smart enough to toss a tie in there to stay a half-game ahead of the field. This seed will be a constant source of irritation for NFC teams fighting for a spot with nine or 10 wins, but division titles still matter in the NFL, no matter how putrid the division is.
5. Seattle (7-3)
The Seahawks could move dramatically up the list on any given week, given that they're actually tied with the Rams for first place in the incredibly competitive NFC West. The Rams hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, as noted above, but the two teams meet again in Week 16. And while Los Angeles has already feasted on the entire NFC East for four of their seven wins, the Seahawks still get to play Washington, Philadelphia and the New York Giants…not to mention the Jets.
6. Tampa Bay (7-4)
Monday night's loss made the Buccaneers' road to a division title much bumpier, and it also cost them one spot in the overall standings, as they were the top Wild Card a week ago. While the Buccaneers want to avoid falling to 7-5, obviously, the upcoming game against Kansas City on Sunday is actually the least important one remaining on their schedule. The Bucs' 4-4 record in conference play is the worst of all seven teams currently holding playoff spots, as well as Chicago, which is in the eighth spot and has a head-to-head win over the Buccaneers. After the Chiefs game, the Bucs get a bye week before closing out with four NFC opponents.
7. Arizona (6-4)
The Cardinals' incredible Hail Mary win over Buffalo in Week 10 temporarily put them in control of the NFC West, but they lost it last Thursday by falling to the Seahawks. Arizona's 4-3 record in conference play is only slightly better than that of the Buccaneers. The good news for the Cardinals, potentially: They still get to play the Rams twice.
On the outside…
8. Chicago (5-5)
The Bears have lost four in a row and have quarterback woes, but their bye in Week 11 might have been perfectly timed to get them back on track. However, they come back to action in Green Bay this coming weekend, one of two remaining games against the Packers. That's an opportunity to pick up ground in the NFC North fast, but it could also be the Bears' death knell if they can't overcome their division rivals. The Buccaneers do not want to see Chicago in any sort of Wild Card tiebreaker scenario, given their loss to the Bears in Week Five.
9-10-11. Minnesota (4-6), Detroit (4-6), San Francisco (4-6)
Any one of these teams needs to pick up two games in six weeks on the final Wild Card spot, and the Bucs have a three-win edge on all of them. The Vikings and Lions are both coming off disappointing losses against losing teams in Week 11, while the 49ers had lost three in a row heading into their bye and have been absolutely decimated by injuries. If either Minnesota or Detroit catches the Buccaneers in the standings, it will be Tampa Bay's own fault, as they have the Vikings in Week 14 and the Lions in Week 16.
What Lies Ahead for Tampa Bay:
Again, the hardest remaining game on the Bucs' schedule, at least on paper, is this Sunday's date with the defending Super Bowl Champs, but that visit from the Chiefs is also the least important one in terms of tiebreakers. Of course, in a broader sense, every win down the stretch is going to be crucial so the Buccaneers would like to get back in the win column before heading into their bye. After the break, it's two games against the Falcons, who had been on a roll before their lackluster performance against New Orleans, plus a home game against the Vikings and a trip to Detroit. With the Bears needing to go 5-1 to get to 10 wins and the Vikings needing to sweep their final six for the same goal, three wins in the last five games would likely put the Buccaneers in the postseason.