The bad news is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' comeback attempt against the Kansas City Chiefs fell just short in Week 12, leading to a second consecutive 27-24 loss and a record of 7-5. The good news is that the teams directly above and below Tampa Bay in the NFC playoff seeding also lost in Week 12. In addition, the Bucs' loss to the Chiefs, while certainly not helpful, did not particularly hurt them in terms of tiebreakers since Kansas City was an AFC opponent.
The big winner in the NFC action in Week 12 was Minnesota, which has a good chance of coming to Tampa in Week 14 just one game behind the Buccaneers. But for now, the Bucs are on a bye week and here's how the NFC standings currently shake out:
1. New Orleans (9-2)
The Saints got their eighth straight win rather easily, dominating a Denver Broncos squad that was playing without any actual quarterbacks thanks to COVID rules enforcement. That allowed them to stay a game ahead of Green Bay and Seattle. New Orleans also has the best record against NFC teams, at 7-1, which would be the first tiebreaker for seeding against the Seahawks. However, the Saints lost to the Packers in Week Three and thus do not want to be in a head-to-head tie with Green Bay. New Orleans still has to play the Chiefs and a resurgent Vikings squad.
2. Seattle (8-3)
Last week we noted that the Seahawks, then in the fifth spot in the conference standings, could move quickly and dramatically up this list since they were actually tied for first in the NFC West, and that's exactly what happened. Seattle beat Philadelphia on Monday night after the Rams had fallen to San Francisco on Sunday. So now the Seahawks are alone in first in their division and facing an upcoming three-game stretch of both New York squads and the Washington Football Team. Seattle still has an excellent chance of earning the only conference first-round bye.
3. Green Bay (8-3)
The Packers had no trouble with the Bears on Sunday night, and four of their last five games come against teams that currently have losing record (including the Bears one more time). The only remaining Green Bay opponent with a winning record is Tennessee, and while that will be a challenge at Lambeau Field in Week 16, it is also the least important game left on their slate in terms of tiebreakers. Both Green Bay and Seattle have 6-2 conference records, so the next tiebreaker is record in common games. Seattle has a slight edge in that but still has to play San Francisco again while the Packers still have to play Philadelphia.
4. N.Y. Giants (4-7)
It's not a matter of which division winner will be in the four seed when it's all said and done but which NFC East team can rise from the unsightly battle of four teams well below .500. Last week, Philadelphia was in this spot but now it's the Giants after New York slipped past Cincinnati before the Eagles' Monday night loss. Washington also won in Week 12, absolutely crushing Dallas on Thanksgiving Day and pushing the Cowboys to last place in the overall conference standings. New York and Washington are tied with 4-7 records but the Giants swept the season series (which accounts for half of their total wins!). Both teams have fairly daunting schedules left over the last five weeks.
5. L.A. Rams (7-4)
The Rams loss to San Francisco in Week 12, which completed the 49ers' season sweep, dropped Los Angeles out of the NFC West lead. However, with a 7-4 record and a 7-2 mark in conference play, the Rams are still positioned very well in the postseason hunt. Their spot directly ahead of the Buccaneers in the standings is troubling, given their head-to-head win in Week 11. The Rams do still have to play Arizona twice and Seattle once, so they have an opportunity to take the division lead back but also could fall in the overall standings if they can't beat their division foes.
6. Tampa Bay (7-5)
The loss to Kansas City didn't hurt the Bucs in terms of tiebreakers or knock them down a spot in the standings, but it did put the NFC South division title almost completely out of reach. After the Saints play the Falcons in Week 13, the Buccaneers will be either two or three games behind New Orleans, with four to play and with the Saints holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. That makes the Bucs' more immediate concern teams that are just out of the playoff picture heading into the final month. That starts with a game against the Vikings at Raymond James Stadium in Week 14. Minnesota plays the 1-10 Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 13 and a win would improve them to 6-6.
7. Arizona (6-5)
With consecutive losses to Seattle and New England, the Cardinals have gone from first place in the NFC West to a tenuous hold on the last conference playoff spot. While the Cardinals seemed to be flying high just a couple weeks ago, they've actually lost three of their last four, with the only win courtesy of the "Hail Murray" miracle win over Buffalo in Week 10. The Cardinals have two games left against the Rams, which will probably decide their playoff fate.
On the outside…
8. Minnesota (5-6)
Again, the Vikings were the big winners in the NFC Wild Card race with the Rams, Bucs, Cardinals and Bears all losing. Minnesota has won four of its last five and still has games left against the faltering Bears and Lions. The Vikings' 4-4 record in conference play isn't great, but it's the same as the Buccaneers and only slightly worse than the Cardinals' 4-3 mark. Minnesota is ahead of Chicago in the standings due to a head-to-head victory, though the teams meet again in Week 15.
9. Chicago Bears (5-6)
The Bears are still just a game out of the last playoff spot but seem to be heading in the wrong direction with five straight losses, the most recent one a 41-25 thrashing by the Packers that Head Coach Matt Nagy called "flat-out embarrassing." Still, four of Chicago's last five games are against teams that currently have losing records (the fifth is a Green Bay rematch) and it's 5-4 record is better than that of Tampa Bay, Minnesota and San Francisco. Given their loss in Chicago in Week Five, the Bucs would prefer that the Bears keep sinking in the standings.
10. San Francisco 49ers (5-6)
The 49ers are last among the three 5-6 teams due to a 3-5 record in conference play but they feel like a legitimate threat after beating the Rams last weekend. Their final five games are a mixed bag, with two games against the depressed NFC East (Washington and Dallas) but also meetings with Buffalo, Arizona and Seattle.
What Lies Ahead for Tampa Bay:
The Bucs will get a week off to watch the NFC playoff field shake out a little more, then return for a four-game run to the finish, all against conference opponents. The Bucs will have their fate in their own hands, as there are only seven NFC teams that can conceivably reach 11 wins, where Tampa Bay would finish with a last-month sweep. Even three wins is likely to get the Buccaneers in, given that Minnesota, Chicago and San Francisco would all need to run their respective tables to get to 10 wins. The Buccaneers would help their chances greatly with a win over the Vikings upon their return from the bye.