The New Orleans Saints lost to Philadelphia in Week 14 and thus lost the top seed in the NFC playoff race to Green Bay, at least for now. Three of the next four teams in the standings all won, however, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who began and ended the weekend in the sixth of seven spots in the conference standings. While the Bucs were unable to move up the seeding list, they did keep Minnesota from leap-frogging them and actually improved the cushion between them and the NFC teams fighting to get into the top seven.
Prior to Week 14, the Buccaneers knew they would clinch a playoff spot if they won all four of their remaining games, regardless of any other results around the league. Now they know they can clinch a spot with just two wins in the last three games. Two victories would allow the Buccaneers to finish at 10-6 and there are now only seven NFC teams that can either get to 10 wins or win a division title with fewer than 10 wins.
The Buccaneers' of course, still want to win out in the month of December, and doing so would keep their chances of jumping up to the fifth seed – or, however unlikely, winning the NFC South. Here's how the conference standings look as the Bucs get ready for that final three-game stretch:
1. Green Bay (10-3, 8-2 in NFC)
Week 14 went very well for the Packers, who took care of their own business with a 31-24 win at Detroit and surely spent a lot of time watching the scoreboard at Ford Field because the Saints and Eagles were playing in the same late-afternoon time slot. The Packers definitely enjoyed that final score, as the Eagles pulled off the 24-21 upset at Lincoln Financial Field and led to a change at the top of the conference standings. The Packers and Saints now have the same record but Green Bay has an ironclad tiebreaker thanks to their win in New Orleans in Week Three. Prior to Sunday's game, that was also the last time that the Saints had lost this year. In addition, while the Packers warmed up on Sunday in Detroit they could keep an eye on the Bucs-Vikings tilt in Tampa. Though red-hot coming into the weekend, Vikings were a long shot to catch the Packers for the NFC North lead, but the two teams split this year so Green Bay didn't have a tiebreaker edge on Minnesota. As it turned out, Tampa Bay's win and Green Bay's own victory over the Lions clinched the division for the Packers. Green Bay has a tough matchup in Week 16 against Tennessee but also get to face the 4-9 Panthers and the 6-7 Bears.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 14 matchup against Minnesota.
2. New Orleans (10-3, 8-2 in NFC)
The Saints' nine-game winning streak finally came to an end on Sunday against an unlikely opponent, as Philadelphia rushed out to a 17-0 halftime lead and then held on for the three-point win while losing one defensive starter after another to injury. New Orleans knew they had to maintain a one-game edge on the Packers to get the top seed and the only first-round bye in the conference; now they have to pick up another game on Green Bay…and their next opponent is the 12-1 Kansas City Chiefs. The Saints also have the streaking Rams breathing down their throats for that number-two seed, though that's less of an issue than dropping from first to second. Like Green Bay, New Orleans has already clinched a playoff spot and would have to lose out to have any chance of coughing up its fourth-straight NFC South title.
3. Los Angeles Rams (9-4, 8-2 in NFC)
The Rams have won four of their last five, including an utterly dominating 24-3 victory over New England this past Sunday, and are still very much alive for the top overall seed. The key for Los Angeles is that it has the same conference record as Green Bay and New Orleans and will not play either of those teams. If an eventual tiebreaker between the Rams and either of those teams (or both) gets past "common games" and to the "strength of victory" and "strength of schedule" categories, Los Angeles will be in very good shape. The Rams are well ahead of both the Packers and the Saints in those categories with only three weeks of games left. And while the Saints are about to play the Chiefs the Rams' next opponent is the winless New York Jets. However, Los Angeles does finish with head-to-head games against division foes Seattle and Arizona, so their spot at the top of the NFC West will definitely be tested.
4. Washington Football Team (6-7, 4-5 in NFC)
Washington took over the top spot in the NFC East – and thus the fourth-overall seed – with an impressive 23-15 win in San Francisco coupled with the Cardinals easy victory over the New York Giants. The Giants had won four in a row to take over the division lead and had started to look like a legitimate contender, but now it's Washington, with its own run of four straight wins, that looks like the cream of the crop in the East. However, the Football Team must maintain its lead over the Giants because New York has already beaten Washington twice.
5. Seattle (9-4, 6-3 in NFC)
Seattle had been scuffling a little bit with four losses in seven games after a 5-0 start, including last week's surprising home defeat to the Giants, but they found the other team from New York to be the perfect restorative. The Seahawks' 40-3 win over the visiting Jets kept them tied with the Rams atop the extremely competitive NFC West; the Rams technically get the top spot for the moment due to their head-to-head win over Seattle in Week 10. However, the Seahawks will have a chance to even that out, and possibly take the division back, with a second game against the Rams in Seattle in Week 16. If the Seahawks win that game but the Rams manage to still tie them in the division standings at the end, L.A.'s superior record within the conference could be the difference.
6. Tampa Bay (8-5, 5-4 in NFC)
The Buccaneers probably could have secured a playoff berth without beating Minnesota on Sunday, but they likely would have had to sweep their last three and get a little bit of help elsewhere. Had the Vikings won in Tampa, there would be a three-way tie for the sixth and seventh spots between those two teams and the Cardinals, and the Bucs would have come in third in that tiebreaker. That would have been the result of the head-to-head loss to Minnesota and a worse conference record than Arizona. Instead, the Bucs secured the sixth spot for at least another week and also improved its conference record to 5-4, which matches Arizona and is a half-game better than the 6-7 Bears. As noted above, any two wins in the last three games will clinch a playoff spot for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay would need some help to jump Seattle for the fifth seed – and a likely first-round matchup with the NFC East champion – but remains just a game behind and has closed the gap in conference record.
7. Arizona (7-6, 5-4 in NFC)
Arizona really needed the combination of results it got in Week 14. Most importantly, the Cardinals snapped their own three-game skid with a 26-7 win over a Giants team that was coming off a win over Seattle. In addition, Tampa Bay's win over Minnesota gave Arizona a shot to reclaim a playoff seed, as they have slid back into the seventh spot. Arizona has not and will not play the Bears or Vikings, so their slightly better record in conference play is helpful if the seventh spot comes down to a tiebreaker.
On the outside…
8-9. Minnesota (6-7, 4-5 in NFC) and Chicago (6-7, 5-5 in NFC)
These division rivals have the same record but the Vikings beat the Bears in Week 10. The two will meet this coming Sunday in Minneapolis, with the victor all but ending the loser's playoff hopes. The Buccaneers have a two-game lead over the Vikings and that head-to-head tiebreaker from last Sunday so it would take a three-game collapse by Tampa Bay in order for Minnesota to surpass the Bucs. Both the Bears and Vikings also have significantly worse "strength of victory" numbers than the Bucs and Cardinals at this point.
What Lies Ahead for Tampa Bay:
The Bucs have two games left against Atlanta, ending at home in Week 17, sandwiched around a trip to Detroit in Week 16. A win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this coming Sunday would put the Buccaneers on the verge of clinching a playoff spot.