With Tampa Bay’s stunning, come-from-behind 27-21 overtime win against the Carolina Panthers, the Buccaneers now sit at 6-4 and are currently tied with the Seattle Seahawks for the final NFC wild card spot.
When the 2012 season began, even the most optimistic Bucs fan would have to admit, the thought of Tampa Bay in the playoff mix halfway through November was a bit of a reach. But Greg Schiano’s never-say-die Bucs are without question legitimate playoff contenders.
The Buccaneers still have several tough match-ups left over their final six games, including facing the NFC South-leading Falcons twice, a road trip to Denver and a road rematch with the Saints, a home game with Philadelphia, before closing out the regular season at home against the Rams.
The current division leaders are Atlanta (9-1) in the NFC South, Chicago (7-2) in the NFC North, San Francisco (6-2-1) in the NFC West and the New York Giants (6-4) in the NFC East. Below is a look at the teams Tampa By may need to fend off, or at the very least will be competing against, down the stretch in order to qualify for the playoffs as a wild card – assuming right now Atlanta's three-game lead over the Bucs holds up. But that could change as early as next week when the Bucs host the Falcons at Raymond James Stadium.NFC Wild Card Playoff Contenders (2 spots available)CURRENT 5TH SEED: Green Bay Packers (7-3)
The Packers, with a win over the Lions on Sunday, are in a battle with the Chicago Bears (7-2) for the division lead. Many feel the Packers could overtake the Bears and become the eventual NFC North champs. Regardless, it appears either the Packers or the Bears will be one of the NFC’s wild card representatives when the 2012 regular season concludes.
The Packers haven't looked like the same team over the last three seasons and have been beset with key injuries, but are still one of the more talented teams in the NFC.
New York Giants (away), Minnesota (home), Detroit (home), Chicago (away), Tennessee (home), Minnesota (away)CURRENT SIXTH SEED: Seattle Seahawks (6-4)
The Seahawks, led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, share the final wild card spot with Tampa Bay and had a bye on Sunday. Wilson has struggled statistically for much of the season but continues to do just enough to win.
You would assume the Buccaneers would have advantage over Seattle based on quarterback play, however it isn’t a given. Seattle has a slight edge over Tampa Bay based on its 4-4 conference record as opposed to the Bucs' conference record, which is currently 3-4.Remaining Schedule:
Miami (away), Chicago (away), Arizona (home), Buffalo (away), San Francisco (home), St. Louis (home)FIRST TEAM OUTSIDE THE PLAYOFFS: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4)
The Buccaneers started the season 1-3 heading into their bye week, but have won five out of their last six contests, including a four-game stretch that has put Tampa Bay squarely in the NFC playoff picture. The Bucs are currently three games behind the NFC South division-leading Falcons, but will face Atlanta twice down the stretch with the opportunity to quickly gain some ground by either splitting the series or even sweeping the Falcons. Remaining Schedule:
Atlanta (home), Denver (away), Philadelphia (home), New Orleans (away), St. Louis (home), Atlanta (away)SECOND TEAM OUTSIDE THE PLAYOFFS: Minnesota Vikings (6-4)
After a fast start the Vikings have cooled down and had lost three in a row before getting back on the winning track last week with a win. Minnesota QB Christian Ponder has struggled through the middle of the schedule, but a team with Adrian Peterson can’t be counted out.
The schedule down the stretch for the Vikings may be the toughest of any of the wild card contenders.
The Buccaneers do hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Vikings courtesy of their 36-17 victory in Week 8 in Minneapolis.Remaining Schedule:
Chicago (away), Green Bay (away), Chicago (home), St. Louis (away), Houston (away), Green Bay (home)THIRD TEAM OUTSIDE THE PLAYOFFS: Dallas Cowboys (5-5)
Dallas escaped with a 23-20 OT win at home against the lowly Browns on Sunday and aren’t completely out of the playoff race. But with the erratic play of quarterback Tony Romo and head coach Jason Garrett on the hot seat – and with owner Jerry Jones breathing down their necks – things don’t look too promising in Big D.
The Cowboys may be one of the most talented teams in the NFC but have a recent history of underachieving, and there is nothing to indicate the trend doesn’t continue in 2012.Remaining Schedule:
Washington (home), Philadelphia (home), Cincinnati (away), Pittsburgh (home), New Orleans (home), Washington (away)THIRD TEAM OUTSIDE THE PLAYOFFS: New Orleans Saints (5-5)
Of all the teams the Buccaneers will need to stay ahead of the Saints may be the biggest threat. After an 0-4 start, New Orleans has won five of their last six, including knocking off the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons last Sunday.
The Saints, like the Buccaneers, tend to give up a ton of points, but still have an offense that can score from anywhere on the field. The Saints have already beaten the Bucs once earlier this season and the Week 15 matchup in the Superdome against Tampa Bay could have huge playoff implications.Remaining Schedule:
San Francisco (home), Atlanta (away), New York Giants (away), Tampa Bay (home), Dallas (away, Carolina (home)
The Buccaneers and their fans still must play attention to the Redskins (4-6), who defeated the Buccaneers earlier this season, but Washington may need to win out to have shot this season.
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