With a league-high 12 players on injured reserve and several other players banged up, the Bucs' long awaited bye week came at the perfect time this week.
But Tampa Bay's bye week got even better Sunday when two of their NFC South division rivals — the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints — lost to the Atlanta Falcons and St. Louis Rams, respectively.
The 5-4 Bucs went into the bye week in sole possession of first place in the NFC South division, but the Panthers and Saints were each 4-4 and needed a win this weekend to climb into a first place tie with the Bucs.
Most pundits expected that scenario to unfold as the Panthers were hosting the 2-6 Falcons and the Saints, who entered Sunday's contest on a four-game winning streak, were hosting the winless Rams.
Instead, Atlanta pulled off the upset in Carolina with a 20-13 win over the Panthers and St. Louis improved to 1-8 on the season with a 37-29 win over New Orleans.
Thanks to the losses by Carolina and New Orleans, Tampa Bay has a full game lead over both teams with just seven regular season games left to play in the season.
There appears to be more good news for the Bucs. They have the easiest remaining schedule of any NFC South opponent. Their final seven opponents have a combined record of 25-37, and only one team (5-4 Washington) has a winning record.
New Orleans' remaining schedule is also favorable. The Saints' remaining opponents have a combined record of 26-35. Like Tampa Bay, three of New Orleans' next four games are on the road, which will be a challenge.
Carolina has the toughest remaining schedule of this group. The Panthers' remaining seven opponents have a combined record of 36-24, and four of those teams have winning records.
Atlanta is currently in last place in the NFC South division and its remaining opponents have a combined record of 30-32. The Falcons host the Buccaneers at the Georgia Dome next Sunday in a critical NFC South showdown.
Listed below are the remaining schedules for all four NFC South division teams.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (5-4) @ Atlanta 3-6 Washington 5-4 @ New Orleans 4-5 @ Houston 4-5 Atlanta 3-6 @ San Francisco 2-6 Carolina 4-5
CAROLINA PANTHERS (4-5) @ Green Bay 8-1 New Orleans 4-5 San Francisco 2-6 @ Jacksonville 6-3 Seattle 4-4 Dallas 7-1 @Tampa Bay 5-4
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (4-5) @ Houston 4-5 @ Carolina 4-5 Tampa Bay 5-4 @ Atlanta 3-6 Arizona 3-5 Philadelphia 4-5 @ Chicago 3-5
ATLANTA FALCONS (3-6) Tampa Bay 5-4 Indianapolis 7-2 @ St. Louis 1-8 New Orleans 4-5 @ Tampa Bay 5-4 @ Arizona 3-5 Seattle 4-4
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