First things first, the Bucs need to defeat the short-handed Detroit Lions on Saturday to clinch a playoff spot. If that happens, head coach Bruce Arians says there is a scenario in which the team could rest a few starters for Week 17 before the playoffs.
“We’ll look at what possibly can change,” Arians said. “If we’re locked into a spot I wouldn’t be against resting a couple guys. But we’re still going out to win the ball game.”
Looking at the potential scenarios, I don’t see a path for the Bucs to be “locked into” a specific playoff spot after Week 16. If the Bucs win each of their next two games, against Detroit and Atlanta, they will be entrenched as the fifth seed no matter what happens with any other team, unless of course the New Orleans Saints were to lose their Week 16 and 17 games, making the Bucs division champions.
If the Bucs win Week 16 and lose Week 17, they could hypothetically fall all the way to the seventh seed, and a likely first round matchup with the New Orleans Saints. If the Rams win in Week 16 over Seattle, then lose along with the Bucs in Week 17, the Rams would still be the fifth seed thanks to holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Tampa Bay.
If Seattle tops the Rams in Week 16, they win the division, but the Rams would still grab the fifth seed with a Week 17 win and a Bucs loss. If the Rams win in Week 16 and Week 17, they’ll win the NFC West, but Seattle would be in position to grab the fifth seed with a Week 17 win and a Bucs loss. There’s also a path for Arizona, with a victory over the 49ers in Week 16 and over the Rams in Week 17, to grab the first Wild Card spot. Given that possession of the fifth seed means a Wild Card date with the winner of the NFC (L)East, it might behoove the Bucs to keep their starters out there and play for keeps in Week 17, even if they win on Saturday.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft