There will be no slow-burn buildup through Thursday and Saturday games this week in the NFL. Everything is going to drop all at once on Sunday, with a whopping eight games in the 1:00 hour. Even if you're at home consulting NFL RedZone, Twitter and your favorite sports websites, it's going to be a bit hard to keep track of all the action at once.
You certainly don't want to add any more confusion to that process, so it would behoove you to go into game day knowing exactly which teams, as a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you will be rooting on to victory. The Buccaneers have clinched the NFC South and thus a home game in the first week of the postseason, but there is still the potential for plenty of jockeying in the top four conference spots over the next two weekends.
To set the scene, let's see review where the Buccaneers stand in the overall NFC playoff picture as Week 17 dawns.
Though they won handily in Charlotte over the Carolina Panthers to lock down the division title in Week 16, the Bucs actually slid back a spot in the overall standings to the fourth seed in the NFC. The reason for this is simple but irritating: The Rams won and the Cardinals lost, which allowed Los Angeles to jump over Arizona into first place in the NFC West. That flipped those two teams in the standings, and created a different tiebreaker situation for Tampa Bay. The Bucs had been on the good side of a tiebreaker with the NFC West leaders when it was Arizona, but now they're on the bad side thanks to a head-to-head loss to the Rams in Week Three.
The Buccaneers, Rams and Cowboys are all 11-4, behind the top-seeded Packers at 12-3, and the tiebreaker that matters most at the moment is record against conference opponents. The Bucs have a head-to-head win over Dallas but that doesn't matter until and unless those two teams are in a two-way tie. For now, the Cowboys' 9-1 record against NFC teams is a bludgeoning hammer.
The easiest way for the Buccaneers to move up the standings is to beat the Jets this weekend and have any or all of the three teams above them lose. We can't necessarily count on that, though, so the overall picture is a bit more complicated. Keep that in my mind as we work through my suggestions for which teams you should be rotting for on an action packed Sunday (Monday's game doesn't really matter). These suggestions are presented in chronological order. This is your 2021 Week 17 Viewing Guide.
Los Angeles Rams (11-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-7), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Okay, to be completely clear, the Rams are the enemy. Not only do they hold that head-to-head tiebreaker over the Buccaneers but they can also muck up a favorable Tampa Bay-Dallas knot by becoming an unwanted third party to that tiebreaker. They've won four in a row and they seriously need to slow their roll. It doesn't take much to reverse this situation, because the Cardinals still hold a tiebreaker edge (better record in division games) over the Rams if they end up even again in the standings. Also, this is an AFC-NFC matchup, and those are usually pretty easy to call. In this case, it's even easier because it's fun to root for a Ravens team that has absolutely been demolished by injuries but still fights hard each week. Of course, that's all beside the point – a Rams loss is what we're after.
Verdict: Go whatever random players are suiting up for the Ravens these days!
Atlanta Falcons (7-8) at Buffalo Bills (9-6), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
I think I'm going surprise you here. Yes, this is an AFC-NFC matchup, and I just noted how easy those are to call. But let me ask you this: How do you feel about the Saints being in the playoffs? I don't think Buccaneers players or coaches are scared of any particular team, so this is just between you and me. Personally, I'd rather run into a Falcons team the Bucs have already handled fairly easily rather than a Saints team that weirdly has Tampa Bay's number. And the Falcons and Saints play each other in Atlanta in Week 18. Personally, I'd rather have an Atlanta team in that game that is still motivated by a potential playoff spot. Nothing Atlanta does now is going to hurt the Bucs' playoff position – and, in fact, any Atlanta win helps the Bucs in a possible strength-of-victory tiebreaker – so why not root for them to stay alive in the hunt?
Verdict: It hurts to say this but, Go Falcons!
N.Y. Giants (4-11) at Chicago Bears (5-10), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
As far as I can tell, this game is absolutely irrelevant to the Buccaneers, who have beaten both of these teams. That means the outcome will be a wash in terms of a strength-of-victory tiebreaker, which is an extreme long shot anyway. Personally, I have a lifelong grudge against the Bears, so…
Verdict: You do you. I'll be rooting for the Fromm-Glennon Giants, which actually seems pretty futile.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-6), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) at Indianapolis Colts (9-6), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) at New England Patriots (9-6), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Miami Dolphins (8-7) at Tennessee Titans (10-5), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Holy moly is the end game going to be fun in the AFC! The AFC North, in particular, is fascinating. There are absolutely realistic possibilities for all four teams to come out on top, though the Bengals have the best shot. The Titans and Colts are still battling it out, Miami has a much better shot after beating the Saints on Monday night and the Raiders actually control their own destiny. Personally, I'm rooting for Week 18 chaos, so I'll be hoping the Chiefs (who have already clinched), Raiders and Dolphins win. Your mileage may vary.
Verdict: Go chaos!
Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) at Washington Football Team (6-9), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Dallas already clinched the NFC East, so the best Philadelphia can be is a Wild Card team. Washington has not been mathematically eliminated just yet but we don't need math to tell us what is going to happen there. Is there a reason to root against Philadelphia? Not that I can see. The Buccaneers already won in Philly this year and presumably would be confident about a rematch in Tampa. This comes down to the same idea I mentioned earlier – better the Eagles than the Saints. And as you'll see below, an Eagles win will help immensely in that regard.
Verdict: Go Iggles!
Denver Broncos (7-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-7), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
There are seven teams in the AFC right now that are either 8-7 or 7-8, and all of them are still technically alive in the playoff hunt. The Broncos are hanging on by their fingernails (hooves?) as the very last of 13 teams still alive, while the Chargers are the first bubble team behind the 8-7 Dolphins. None of this matters to the Bucs but it's pretty entertaining. I'll be rooting for San Diego just because I love their uniforms, and Justin Herbert is a lot of fun.
Verdict: Would you like to join me on the uniform/Herbert train?
Houston Texans (4-11) at San Francisco 49ers (8-7), Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
We could get into a discussion about which team the Buccaneers would most like to face in Round One, presuming they don't beat astronomical odds to get the first-round bye. In that case, you might prefer the standings to match the Bucs up with, say, the Eagles or Cardinals over the 49ers. Or maybe you want San Francisco in Round One. The thing is, there are just too many possible permutations of the 2-4 seeds and the 5-7 seeds to know which teams will be playing in that opening round right now. So let's look at this another way. If the 49ers were to lose this game, their playoff chances would suddenly become a lot more precarious. And who do the 49ers have in Week 18? Yep, the Rams. We want a San Francisco squad that is hell-bent on victory in the final weekend, so a loss here would make that likely.
Verdict: Go Texans!
Arizona Cardinals (10-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
This is the biggest game of the weekend for the Buccaneers. Two weeks ago, a shocking Arizona loss in Detroit seemed like a wonderful things, as it allowed Tampa Bay to move up a spot in the overall NFC standings. But now the Cardinals have taken it too far, dang it, losing three in a row to fall out of first place in the NFC West. As I already hammered home earlier, this is bad. We do not want the Rams to win that division. So that's reason enough to root for Arizona. But then there's the Cowboys on the other side. Dallas has annoyingly won four in a row and that's been bad for the Bucs' conference standing as well. We'll say it again: The Bucs' Week One win over the Cowboys is nice if they need to break a two-way tie, but the way the final weeks are shaking up they can't necessarily count on that happening. Simply passing the 'Boys in the standings would be a lot safer.
Verdict: Go Cardinals! I mean, REALLY Go Cardinals!
Carolina Panthers (5-10) at New Orleans Saints (7-8), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
The Buccaneers officially eliminated the Panthers from playoff contention with their 32-6 blowout in Charlotte last Sunday. Oh, so sad. Hopefully the Panthers still have enough motivation to come out strong against a division rival on Sunday. Because this one's not complicated. A Saints loss combined with a Philadelphia win – which we are already rooting for – eliminates New Orleans from playoff contention. Yes, please.
Verdict: Go Panthers!
Detroit Lions (2-12-1) at Seattle Seahawks (5-10), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Go…back to watching the Panthers-Saints game, you weirdo. Who cares about this one?
Verdict: Hey, can I take this space to note that I barely lost my fantasy football playoff game because Joe Burrow had one of the greatest passing games of all time? Because that's as relevant as the outcome of this one.
Minnesota Vikings (7-8) at Green Bay Packers (12-3), Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
The Buccaneers' chances of climbing up to the number-one seed in the NFC and getting a first-round by are, frankly, miniscule. It's still worth rooting for but it would take an absolutely wild combination of results, starting with the Packers losing this one and then dropping a Week 18 contest at Detroit. However, the Cowboys have a much better shot at overtaking Green Bay thanks to their 9-1 conference record. Dallas can get to the top with only one Green Bay loss if it wins its last two. So it comes down to this: Would you rather go to Dallas or Green Bay if you win in Round One? Even that will be dependent upon whether the Bucs are the three or four seed, but let's assume a trip to the top seed is more likely? Neither one seems particularly enticing, but Lambeau Field in January – this time with a full crowd – is particularly uninviting. So let's hope Green Bay tumbles out of that seemingly solid top spot.
Verdict: Go Vikings!
Cleveland Browns (7-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1), Monday, 8:15
If you've gotten this far, you know all you need to know. This one is just a reason to chill out on Monday night and blow one or two of your New Year's resolutions.
Verdict: Your willpower.