Week seven of the NFL season has wrapped up, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not lose. Okay, it was a bye week. However, the complete ineptitude of the rest of the NFC South helped quite a bit during this week. While the Buccaneers struggle to get personnel fixed, decide on potential trades, and rest up injured players, the NFC South did us a favor and fell flat on their face in our absence. The Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, and Carolina Panthers all lost this week.
The Panthers currently sit atop the NFC South with a shaky 3-3-1 record, but their only conference win came in the opening game against the Buccaneers. The Falcons are in the best shape within the conference at 2-0 in the NFC South, but they’re 0-5 outside of the NFC South. This leaves them barely ahead of the 1-5 Buccaneers. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints couldn’t get the job done against the Lions and fell to 2-4 with a 1-1 record within the NFC South.
Tampa Bay’s season certainly looks like a lost cause at 1-5, but there are ten whole weeks of football left to be played. Want proof of the adage “Any Given Sunday?” This week alone, the St. Louis Rams knocked off the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. They did this with “the backup” Austin Davis at quarterback, the same one who barely defeated us in week two of the regular season. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals, who I see as one of the most complete and well-rounded teams in the NFL right now, got shut out 27-0 by the Indianapolis Colts.
If that’s not enough to get your attention, keep in mind that the Jacksonville Jaguars handily defeated the Cleveland Browns 24-6. The same Cleveland Browns that handled Pittsburgh and New Orleans for wins earlier in the season. I do my absolute best to make educated predictions and look at the state of the league, but there’s absolutely no telling what’s going to happen each week. I’m horrendous at playing darts, and tend to miss the board entirely one out of three throws, but can manage a bullseye in between. That’s what it’s like trying to predict NFL games.
In reality, I don’t know how things are going to be in ten weeks when the regular season wraps up. Right now, it looks like the Dallas Cowboys could be the number one seed going into the playoffs. The Super Bowl could be Cowboys vs. Broncos. Then again, the Super Bowl could end up being the Buffalo Bills taking on the New York Giants. I definitely see the first scenario as much more likely right now than the latter, but there really is no guarantee how things will end up.
Jonathan Jones (@jjones9), of the Charlotte Observer, put it incredibly well on Twitter this weekend: “Think of [the] NFC South champ like being chased by a bear. You don’t have to be faster than the bear, just outrun your buddies.” While I’m sure he said that thinking about the fact that the Panthers are leading the NFC South despite a mediocre record, the sentiment reigns true throughout the division.
If the Buccaneers could manage to rally to 9-7 and make the playoffs, I think Tampa would absolutely lose its mind. To me, the most logical scenario for that record would be only losing to the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. If the Buccaneers come back from this bye week and play like they showed themselves capable against the likes of New Orleans and Pittsburgh, then that isn’t out of the question with a little luck. Even without a 9-7 finish, the playoffs are still possible depending on how the rest of the division pans out.
Luckily for the Buccaneers, everyone else in the NFC South seems to have forgotten how to have any sort of continuity or consistency in their playing. If that continues, the Buccaneers could also end up being only the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a record of 7-9. In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West at only 7-9. They were tied with the fellow division member St. Louis Rams, but the Seahawks edged them out with a better record within the division. Now, the Seahawks went 4-2 in the NFC West.
Even if we sweep the rest of our division matchups, the Buccaneers would only finish 3-3 within the NFC South. That’s where luck comes in. If the Buccaneers finish at 7-9, 8-8, or 9-7, there is a strong possibility that we’ll be tied with another member of the division. If we end up tied, the only chance to move onto another tiebreaker option is if every team in the NFC South goes 3-3 within the division. That could definitely happen. Should the Bucs rally to 9-7 or, should hell freeze over, even 10-6 or 11-5, the continued fumbling of the rest of the NFC South could land us in the playoffs.
This may sound like blind optimism, and I’ll be the first to admit that I remain optimistic and refuse to give up on the season. Until I see official numbers several weeks from now that the Buccaneers have been “eliminated from the playoffs,” I will remain hopeful. Much of this possibility hinges on the ability of the Buccaneers to better learn their system and clean up quickly following the bye week.
The level of competition coming up is in our favor, as the Vikings and Browns are very beatable teams right now. The Falcons may have torched us before, but I doubt we’ll see that again. The Redskins have limped to 2-5 and can’t seem to make up their minds at quarterback. If the Bucs roll into Chicago at 5-5 in week 12, it’ll be a whole different picture by then. I’m not making promises, but it’s not time to abandon ship. Climb down off the ledge and stop planning for the 2015 NFL Draft. This season ain’t over yet.