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:

  1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the teams).
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  5. Strength of victory.
  6. Strength of schedule.
  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
  9. Best net points in common games.
  10. Best net points in all games.
  11. 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.”

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About the Author: Jacob Hoag

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Randy H.
5 years ago

I believe the Packer’s would get in on the 4th tie breaker —strength of victory before they need to use strength of schedule. I also saw that if the Lions don’t win the North, the Bucs would have the strength of victory tie breaker over them if both finish 10-6.

5 years ago

The “play-in” began on Sunday night, but we’re still very much in it despite the loss to the Cowboys.

As Cameron said, just win the next two games. Good chance that Atlanta will lose to either of Carolina or New Orleans. And even if the Panthers don’t drop one, we’re still in it til the following weekend.

5 years ago

That would suck if our Bucs had another
10-6 team that missed the playoffs. But let’s see those last 2 ‘W’s , or it’s not gonna matter.
I Believe !

5 years ago

The ONLY thing that matters is the game Saturday night. The rest is purple haze and dart boards. And you know what? This game in New Orleans is going to be a tough challenge. To win the Buccaneers are going to have to find a way to score a lot more points than they did in Tampa ten days ago. They have to find a way to run the ball too. And holding the Saints and Drew Brees to no TD’s is probably not going to happen again either. The Buccaneers will need to win the turnover battle. But the… Read more »

5 years ago

It’s great to be talking playoffs on the first day of Winter over talking about the Bucs next potential first round draft pick. It’s great to see a young nucleus come together this year. In Meathead I trust.

5 years ago

Gosh this game makes me nervous. Do I think we should beat the saints, absolutely. We had our worst game in over a month and were in the Dallas game up to the last play. However, holding Drew quiet for two games is almost unheard of. @We’ll need the offense to get hot this week and put more points on the board. With Cam wake out on the end, the RT spot completely freaks me out. There had better be extra help over there all game. Not sure if Dot is going to be back. I give up on expecting… Read more »

Reply to  cgmaster27
5 years ago

New Orleans is always a tough out … ditto with Carolina. It would be just as easy to go 0-2 as it is to go 2-0 with this pair of opponents. As far as predicting what it will take to beat the Saints … well, they put up 49 points on the Rams the week before we held them to 11 … then this past week they put up 48 points on the Cardinals. Our defense is more or less healthy with the exception of Gholston. A bounce-back defensive performance from last week would make a tremendous difference in the… Read more »

Reply to  Naplesfan
5 years ago

Well their defense got some hell last week by Arizona so let’s hope our offense can put points on the board. It’s no secret that the Saints are a much better team at home. I’m with you in the fact that Jameis needs to bring his A game this week. Those 71% performances were he;oped by some shorter routes. I hope our game plan this week is something similar. Keep it short , keep it short, and then hit them long. Christmas eve game, how fun is that?