Needing to likely run the table and finish the 2015 season with a five-game winning streak to reach the postseason, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to 6-7 on the season after a 24-17 loss to New Orleans, and blew an opportunity to keep pace in the NFC playoff race. Tampa Bay lost ground to Seattle, which beat Baltimore, 35-6, to improve to 8-5 on the season.

Minnesota and Seattle are both 8-5 and have a two-game lead on Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Philadelphia for the two NFC Wild Card playoff spots.

“We knew what was at stake today,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said. “It’s amazing we lost.”

“Defensively, third downs killed us. Didn’t get any takeaways. Third-and-longs we should win – whether it was penalties or not playing ball – we didn’t.”

Tampa Bay has a short week with a game at St. Louis on Thursday Night Football. The best the Bucs can finish the season is 9-7 and that may not be enough to get them into the postseason, trailing the Vikings and the Seahawks by two games with three games to go.

“We didn’t put a good product on the field today,” Smith said. “They played better ball than we did.”

Here’s a look at the NFC Playoffs picture following Tampa Bay’s loss:

Current NFC Division Leaders
NFC South: Carolina – 13-0
NFC West: Arizona – 11-2
NFC North: Green Bay – 9-4
NFC East: Washington – 6-7

Current NFC Wild Card Race (2 Spots)
Minnesota – 8-5
Seattle – 8-5
Tampa Bay – 6-7 (Bucs have tie-breaker advantage over Falcons)
Atlanta – 6-7
Philadelphia – 6-7
New York Giants – 5-7 (plays Monday night at Miami)
Chicago – 5-8
St. Louis – 5-8
New Orleans – 5-8

NFC South
At 13-0, the Panthers have clinched the NFC South title and are in the driver’s seat for home-field advantage in the NFC. The Bucs (6-7) suffered a crushing defeat against the Saints and are two games back from an NFC Wild Card playoff spot with three games left. The Falcons (6-7) are in free fall after losing six straight, and don’t have the tiebreaker against Tampa Bay. The Saints (5-8) got an inspired win in Tampa Bay, but are out of the playoff hunt.

NFC North
The Vikings (8-5) slipped behind the Packers (9-4) in the NFC North division race due to back-to-back losses to Seattle and Arizona and thanks to the Packers’ win over the Cowboys on Sunday. Both teams appear to be playoff bound with three games left. The Bears (5-8) suffered an overtime loss to the 49ers and the Redskins and are all but out of the playoff picture. Detroit (4-9) is out with back-to-back losses to Green Bay and St. Louis.

NFC East
This division remains up for grabs with the Redskins (6-7), the Eagles (6-7) and the Giants (5-7 – plays at Miami on Monday night) all close, but with losing records. The Cowboys (4-9) finally won a game without Tony Romo last week, but have nine losses – thanks to Sunday’s defeat at Green Bay – and will somehow have to win the NFC East to make the playoffs.

NFC West
The Cardinals (11-2) have clinched a playoff berth and have a good chance of winning the NFC West title. The Seahawks (8-5) may be the hottest team in football right now other than Carolina and Kansas City and have won three straight. The Rams (5-8) beat Detroit on Sunday, but are all but out of playoff contention. The same can be said for the 49ers (4-9), which lost to Cleveland on Sunday.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at:
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5 years ago

You do realize that if we could do GIFs on PR, I would have the Jim Mora, Sr. Playoffs rant running now. After today’s showing we should not be discussing playoffs in any stretch of the imagination. We should be discussing CBs and FSs in the 2016 draft!

5 years ago

Agreed! I dont think anyone expected Buccs to be where they are especially after week one. Playoff experience is nice but realistically there’s a huge difference between Buccs and all the teams currently ahead of them except NFC East. Just need to get game experience for the young guys, no major injuries that could affect next year.

5 years ago

One game at a time and that’s it! Go Bucs!

5 years ago

Totally agree macabee. The Defensive Line is made up of a lot of developmental guys that may well…………develop. Plus we have McDonald and English on IR coming back. But that secondary is about as weak as the skinny kid at the beach in those old Charles Atlas ads. Sure miss Aqib Talib.

5 years ago

Only thing were missing is a defensive scheme!!!!! Who lets receivers run free all over the field…..apparently WE DO!!!

5 years ago

Guys, maybe Im an eternal optimist, but I completely disagree with giving up on the playoffs. Although it does look bleak, we could get into the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Minnesota does not look like a complete lock for the playoffs. They could easily lose two of their next three and allow us to sneak into the sixth spot. Its not likely but I would rather end the season believing in a miracle than looking toward next season. We have been looking toward next season for a decade. I will have hope for this season until we are mathematically… Read more »