After dropping Sunday night’s game to the Dallas Cowboys 26-20, the Bucs muddied up their playoff picture, losing hold of the sixth and final wildcard spot to the surging Green Bay Packers.
They now need help to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
But with the complex nature of the wildcard seed, the Bucs’ best option is to win out and hope the bevy of tiebreakers that are enacted go in their favor.
For Tampa Bay, the playoffs start Saturday against the Saints.
“There’s a lot of different tiebreakers, so it’s pretty hard to follow, but as long as we win our next couple games we’re gonna put ourselves in a good spot and whatever happens happens,” tight end Cameron Brate said. “We gotta hold our end of the deal and go 1-0 this week and 1-0 next week.”
The Bucs’ best-case scenario is to win the NFC South, which is still in their grasp. If Tampa Bay (8-6) wins each of its next two games and the division rival Atlanta Falcons (9-5) splits their final two— both teams play Carolina and New Orleans — then the Bucs would take the division with a one-game edge in divisional record.
If the Bucs fail to take the division, they are thrown into the wildcard mayhem, which involves a long list of tiebreakers, from strength of schedule to net points, all culminating in a coin toss if the 11 prior tiebreakers don’t establish a victor.
It’s something most players, like quarterback Jameis Winston, are putting out of their head.
“I love math, but I don’t trust the percentages and the probabilities,” Winston said. “I trust our heart, this team’s heart and what we need to do to find a way to get in there.”
Here’s how the playoff tiebreakers look:
Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the teams).
Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
Strength of victory.
Strength of schedule.
Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
Best net points in common games.
Best net points in all games.
Best net touchdowns in all games.
The biggest threat to the Bucs’ playoff hopes seems to come from the north. With the Packers (8-6) and Lions (9-5) battling out for the divisional crown, the team that misses out most likely gets thrown to the top of the wildcard mix.
As it stands now, the Bucs/Packers wildcard scenario would go to the fifth tiebreaker with the Packers edging the Bucs currently in strength of schedule (.505 to .500). The Bucs would fare better in a tie with the Lions.
The Redskins and Giants are also in the wildcard mix.
It’s scenarios like these that have Bucs’ players, among others, scratching their heads trying to make sense of it all.
“No my head hurts. Honestly it’s a thought, but I’m not thinking about it,” offensive lineman Donovan Smith said referring to the playoff numbers. “Just play it one game at a time and let it unfold. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to predict it.”
But with all of the probabilities and scenarios and tiebreakers that swirl around the NFL, for now, it all comes down to a divisional matchup with the Saints.
“Yeah we’re watching everything else that’s going on,” safety Keith Tandy said. “But you realize that if you don’t take care of your own business, nothing else matters.”