A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' Week 5 matchup with the Patriots.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are enjoying a light weekend, making the most of the "mini-bye" that follows a Thursday night game. For many Tampa Bay fans, however, that means a hole in their fall Sunday routine. There's no Buccaneer game to occupy the middle of the afternoon.
But there is still plenty of football to be watched, and that's far better than nothing. Some of them could even have implications on the Buccaneers' own hopes of returning to the playoffs. With that in mind, please us to allow a few suggestions to add to your rooting interest this Sunday.
Since both the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints are off on their own (full) bye weeks, and since it's a little early to know which wins and losses will be best for the Buccaneers in the long run, we're not going to go game by game. Rather here are four contests on which to keep a close eye on this football-filled weekend, and where your rooting interests should probably be.
1. Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions, Sunday, 1:00 p.m., FOX
This one seems obvious, and it is to some extent, but there's a complicating factor. Clearly, with the Buccaneers (2-2) trailing both the Panthers (3-1) and Falcons (3-1), Tampa Bay fans will be rooting for the Lions here. Not only do the Bucs want the Panthers to fall back to them by a half-game, but it would probably be for the best if Carolina didn't follow up a rousing road win in New England with another one in Detroit. Buc fans don't want to see their rival team gather that kind of momentum.
The problem, of course, is that Detroit is also 3-1, and since they play in a division with Green Bay and Minnesota, they are a prime wild-card worry for the Buccaneers, should it come to that. The Lions, of course, have their own division-title aspirations, but if they can't beat out the Packers or Vikings they will likely be in the Wild Card race until the end. Can we root for a tie? Not realistic, but a Carolina loss here, while preferable, will only be partially satisfying.
2. Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, 1:00 p.m., FOX
When the Buccaneers get back to work on Tuesday, they will be focused on the their next opponent, the Arizona Cardinals. If they want to do a little advance scouting, they can just sit down in front of the television on Sunday and see how the Cardinals fare in Philadelphia. Buc fans (at least those with Sunday Ticket or some other access to every broadcast) can do the same.
Whether or not Buc fans should be rooting for a Cardinals loss isn't as cut-and-dried. Since the Eagles aren't on Tampa Bay's schedule this year, it would make sense to hope that Philly is better than Arizona. So far, the Cardinals are 2-2, but their two victories have been three-point decisions against a pair of struggling teams, Indianapolis and San Francisco. In losses to Detroit and Dallas, Arizona has been outscored, 63-40. NFL game results have been terribly unpredictable this year, so one can't read too much into a single outcome. Still, a rough game for the Cardinals on Sunday could be evidence that they are a team on the downswing.
More likely, the Cardinals are going to be a very tough opponent when the Bucs visit next weekend. In that case, it might be better for the Buccaneers if they are also not a desperate team coming off a pair of painful losses. Perhaps the best thing for Tampa Bay would be a low-scoring, ugly game in Philly in which the Cardinals come out on top.
3. Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears, Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Okay, we're cheating a little bit here, because you won't be able to see this game on Sunday. But this could be one of the more important outcomes for the Buccaneers in the long run.
Sure, as noted above, it's a little early to guess about the playoff implications of current games, but this one is probably pretty clear for the Buccaneers. Just in case they are fighting for a Wild Card spot in the end, it would be better if they weren't fighting with the Vikings. The reason for that is simple: Minnesota already has the head-to-head tiebreaker in hand over Tampa Bay, thanks to a Week Three victory at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It's true that the Vikings are only one game up on the Bears, so we shouldn't write off Chicago as a potential playoff contender. However, the Bears have just one win so far and are about to turn their fortunes over to a rookie quarterback. Plus, the Bucs have that head-to-head win in hand over the Bears so would be less worried about battling them at the end for a Wild Card spot.
4. San Diego Chargers at New York Giants, Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS
For the most part, inter-conference matchups are always an easy call: You root for the AFC team to beat the NFC team, since the Buccaneers don't have to worry about AFC playoff implications until (fingers crossed) the Super Bowl. That said, you might want to make an exception on this one.
The Giants are 0-4. Only one team – coincidentally, the franchise they are playing this week – has ever gone from an 0-4 start to the playoffs. New York hasn't given up, of course, but the Buccaneers will probably not be worrying about tiebreaker issues with the Giants at the end. That's especially true because the Buccaneers have beaten New York and have that head-to-head edge.
So here's the theory: The Buccaneers probably don't have to work about the Giants in the long run, and they don't have to play the Giants again. As such, wouldn't it be nice if New York was good the rest of the way? The Giants still have to play a bunch of NFC teams above them in the standings, all of which are potential stumbling blocks for the Bucs. New York's turnaround could start on Sunday.
As with most of the games above, the implications of this one, in the long run, relate to a possible Wild Card race. The Buccaneers' first goal is to win the NFC South, which would render much of the rest of this moot. But, just in case, root for the teams we've noted and things may go more smoothly in December.