We're getting down to the nitty-gritty in the NFC playoff hunt, and the next three weeks promise to be a roller coaster of shifting conference seeds and constantly changing tie-breaker scenarios. That said, the postseason picture for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers isn't particularly complicated, either in terms of winning the NFC South or improving their lot in the overall seeding.
The Buccaneers are still in the same spot they were a week ago, needing just one win or one New Orleans Saints loss to clinch the 2021 NFC South title. Last weekend, those possibilities converged, as the Bucs were hosting the Saints on Sunday Night Football, but it didn't go Tampa Bay's way in a 9-0 loss. The Saints stayed alive with that win, but any loss by them or any win by the Buccaneers over the next three weeks will settle things for good.
The Sunday night loss was much more damaging to the Buccaneers in terms of the conference seeding race, which is now very much in control of the Green Bay Packers. Still, there's hope for the Buccaneers in that hunt, and there's also a chance Tampa Bay could clinch a playoff spot this coming weekend even without winning the division. So let's take a look at who Buccaneers fans should be rooting for over the next few days as this conference race nears a conclusion. These games are presented in chronological order and here is your 2021 Week 16 Viewing Guide.
San Francisco 49ers (8-6) at Tennessee Titans (9-5), Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET
This one is easy as it pits an NFC contender against an AFC team. The 49ers are not the Buccaneers' top worry, as they are in good position to win one of the top two Wild Card spots but are an extreme long shot to win the NFC West. Still, we should be pulling for a Jimmy GaroppoloSS. (Am I the first one to make that joke? I hope so.) This is going to be the main through line of this article: The Buccaneers have 10 wins already so eliminating teams that can also get to 10 wins is a good thing. As you'll see, that's more important in relation to the current 7-7 squads, but there's no harm in knocking San Francisco down a peg, too.
Verdict: It's time to GaroppoloSE. (Doubling down on a dumb joke. Can't help it. I'm a dad.)
Cleveland Browns (7-7) at Green Bay Packers (11-3), Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET
This one is even easier. The Packers – boo! hiss! Anyone feel like going back to Lambeau Field this January or February, this time with a full crowd of Cheeseheads? Me neither. It isn't going to be easy to overtake the Packers in the race for the NFC's top seed, but it starts with Green Bay losing two of their next three. That hope would be almost completely snuffed out with a Packer win here (they get Detroit in Week 18), so come on Baker and the Browns. We need you!
Verdict: All else aside, the Baker Mayfield Progressive commercials continue to be a delight. Can we channel that energy into one big upset? Go Browns!
Indianapolis Colts (8-6) at Arizona Cardinals (10-4), Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
This one is surprisingly tough. Spoiler alert: I'm going to advise you to root for the Rams this week. The only problem with that is we also do not want the Rams to overtake the Cardinals for the NFC West lead. The Buccaneers have a good tiebreaker edge over Arizona in terms of both common opponents and strength of victory, but they lost to the Rams in Week Three. When it comes to final seeding between (presumed) division winners, Tampa Bay would rather face Arizona than Los Angeles. On the other hand, a win for the Colts further strengthens the Bucs' strength of victory number. Aargh. This one is tough. Okay, the Cardinals also play Dallas in Week 17 and we'll be rooting for them on that occasion, and they have a scuffling Seattle team to finish it off. Let's assume the Rams are going to lose one of their last three – they have a tough finishing schedule – and Arizona is still going to win the division. In that case, we want the Cardinals to get another loss for tiebreaker reasons.
Verdict: Go Colts! (I think.) (Maybe.)
Detroit Lions (2-11-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-8), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
The Falcons may remain alive in the NFC playoff hunt but they can't knock the Bucs out. This one doesn't really mean much for Tampa Bay and it's been awfully fun watching the Lions get kind of frisky at the end. I hope I don't have to try hard to convince you to root against the Falcons.
Verdict: Go Lions!
Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-6), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Chargers (8-6) at Houston Texans (3-11), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (9-5), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) at New York Jets (3-11), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Wow, that's two wildly entertaining matchups and two likely duds, but the points is they are all AFC-only matchups. The Bucs beat the Bills and Patriots but they're playing each other so the strength of victory number will be the same either way. Tampa Bay still has the Jets in Week 17, so maybe a loss to the Jags will get New York thinking about the value of – I don't know – not winning their last two games. That would be nice. Otherwise, just enjoy the football.
Verdict: Go Jaguars and…yeah, whatever.
Los Angeles Rams (10-4) at Minnesota Vikings (7-7), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
New York Giants (4-10) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-7), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
I already revealed that I was going to ask you to illogically root for the Rams, and here's why. I have grouped these two games together for a reason. The Buccaneers obviously hope to win the NFC South on Sunday with a victory in Carolina, and even if they don't they have a great chance of locking up the division over the next three weeks. Still, there's no harm in having a Plan B, and at the moment, this is it. The Buccaneers can lose in Charlotte and still lock up a playoff berth if both the Vikings and the Eagles also lose. The reason: With those results, only seven NFC teams could end up with 10 wins by season's end, and the Bucs already have 10 wins. There are only seven playoff spots. 10 wins = a playoff spot if the Vikings and Eagles lose. So even though the Rams pose some potential existential threat to Tampa Bay's final playoff seeding, getting into the dance first is the most important thing. Just take my word for it.
Verdict: Go Rams! (This week only.)
Chicago Bears (4-10) at Seattle Seahawks (5-9), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
It's hard to get too worked up over this one in case you happen to despise the Bears or want to see Justin Fields succeed. Weirdly, I'm kind of in both groups, so maybe I'll try to tune in after the Bucs' game. Tampa Bay did beat Chicago earlier this year, so a Bears win helps their strength of victory. That's enough for me.
Verdict: I'm not proud of this but, Go Bears!
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Denver Broncos (7-7) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-7), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
It's hard to imagine two games more irrelevant to the Buccaneers than this pair. Personally, in such cases I root for chaos.
Verdict: Go Steelers and maybe could the Broncos and Raiders tie? That would be sweet.
Washington Football Team (6-8) at Dallas Cowboys (10-4), Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
The Buccaneers' Week One win over the Cowboys should be a hammer of a tiebreaker but it's complicated by the possibility of three-way ties. As such, it would be pretty nice if Dallas got taken down a notch or two over the next three weeks. Who knows who will start the next game at quarterback for the Football Team, but hopefully he can pull of an upset.
Verdict: Go WFT.
Miami Dolphins (7-7) at New Orleans Saints (7-7), Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET
Miami started the 2021 season by beating New England (didn't seem like a big deal at the time) and then losing seven straight games, including one to the Buccaneers. The Dolphins' season seemed lost until they subsequently won their next six straight. What?! Who does this? Well, keep it up 'Phins! At this point, I could probably give you one thousand reasons to root for the Saints and you would still not sign up, and neither would I. But this one is also very simple: No matter what the Bucs do on Sunday, if the Saints lose Monday the NFC South title will transfer to Tampa.
Verdict: Go Dolphins!