That’s where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers find themselves after Sunday night’s loss at Dallas.
The Bucs entered the night clinging to the sixth and final NFC playoff slot but slipped back into the cluttered “Still In Contention” category with two games left to play. At 8-6, Tampa Bay is right behind new No. 6 seed Washington. But the Redskins play the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football and a Washington loss flips the Bucs right back into the postseason tourney.
Not helping the Bucs’ cause was Atlanta working over San Francisco to go a game up in the NFC South standings. Winning the division remains goal No. 1, but that just got a little harder.
Joining Tampa Bay as a current 8-6 Wild Card hopeful are the Green Bay Packers. If the season ended now, though, the Bucs would edge out Green Bay based on their higher winning percentage in common games played. They haven’t played head-to-head and both own 6-4 records against NFC opponents.
Tampa Bay wraps up its regular season with a road date in New Orleans this Saturday and a home finale against the Panthers. Atlanta plays the same opponents in reverse: at Carolina and then at home against New Orleans.
The best-case scenario is Tampa Bay winning out and Atlanta losing out or going 1-1, giving the Bucs their first NFC South crown since 2007. Winning out and the Falcons splitting would leave them tied at 10-6, but Tampa Bay would have the edge based on a better division record.
But even if Tampa Bay can’t catch the Falcons, there still remains a chance for the Bucs to get themselves up to the fifth seed. That would require the Bucs winning out and the New York Giants (10-4) losing out its final two road games against NFC East rivals Philadelphia and Washington. Tampa Bay would win a tie breaker because of a better conference record.
Adding another element of intrigue to Monday night’s Redskins-Panthers game is its potential implications on the Saints’ collective mindset coming into their Christmas Eve showdown with the Bucs. And maybe Week 17’s game between Tampa Bay and Carolina.
A Washington win on Monday Night Football effectively eliminates Carolina and New Orleans from playoff contention. Therefore, both teams would have nothing to play for other than bragging rights and pride in their games against the Bucs – and against the Falcons.
COMPETITORS’ FINAL SCHEDULES Atlanta Falcons (9-5)
@ Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Detroit Lions (9-5)
@ Dallas Cowboys
Green Bay Packers
New York Giants (10-4)
@ Philadelphia Eagles
@ Washington Redskins
Washington Redskins (7-5-1) [Monday Night]
@ Chicago Bears
New York Giants
Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
@ Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers (8-6)
@ Detroit Lions
New Orleans Saints (6-8)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
@ Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers (5-8) [Monday Night]
@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers