The Principle of the Matter: Buccaneers vs. Saints Preview

The 2014 NFL Regular Season is about to come to a close. Sixteen games will be played this Sunday. By day’s end, many teams will have seen the finite end of their 2014 season. Black Monday is already looming, but everyone has to get through one last game before we get there. While some teams are scratching and clawing to get into the playoffs with everything riding on one last game, others have already been eliminated. Despite New Orleans having the same record as Atlanta and being a hair shy of the current division leading Carolina Panthers, the numbers have already taken away their potential playoff opportunity.

You can’t exactly say a team that 6-9 deserved it, but the same sentiment falls on the rest of the division (with the exclusion of the 2-13 Buccaneers). The New Orleans Saints visit Raymond-James Stadium this Sunday to wrap up the season with zero playoff implications riding on the game. In many ways, and to many people, this falls into the category of “games that don’t matter.” That’s true for the postseason, but there’s more to it than that.

Going into Week 17 of the 2012 NFL Season, the NFC South had been handily won by the Atlanta Falcons. With Atlanta sitting comfortably on a 13-2 record and a clinched division, they had the 6-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers come visit with something to prove. It was Greg Schiano’s first season, and he knew they had something to prove. Finishing 6-10 or 7-9 were both far from ideal outcomes, but they were each a step in the right direction from Raheem Morris’ 4-12 season in 2011. With all of that in mind, the Buccaneers visited the Georgia Dome and rode Doug Martin’s 142 yards rushing to a stunning upset of the 2012 NFC South Champions.

Statistically, in regards to the postseason, and in many big picture ways, that victory didn’t mean a thing. For a group of men who’d fought, scratched, and clawed all season to a mediocre record, it meant the world. On top of that, you don’t really think about draft position when you’re going to finish at 6-10 or 7-9. The difference between picks 11 and 12 is not the same as the difference between picks 1 and 2. This Sunday will be reminiscent of that moment, but it is far from the same situation.

For starters, the New Orleans Saints are not the same team the Falcons were in 2012. The Saints have fought hard for much of the season, but multiple issues have ruined their hopes of a better turnout. Injuries, lack of production from veteran players, a turnover margin better only than the Oakland Raiders, and multiple defensive woes have doomed the Saints’ season. The Saints see the light of the offseason looming, but they’ll be fighting for this game for the same reasons Tampa Bay will be. As a player, it’s all about pride. Even when it looks like there’s supposedly “nothing to play for,” these men will fight to finish their season on a positive note.

For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this is a frustrating predicament if there ever was one. Personally, I can’t root for a loss. I’ll never enter a game wanting my team to lose, regardless of the big picture. It’s not in my nature. I’m not sure if that makes me a good fan or a bad fan, but it’s just how I am. Despite that, the benefits of a Tampa Bay loss can’t be ignored. If the Buccaneers manage the upset, their draft destiny will lie in the hands of the Tennessee Titans. Should the Titans fall to the Colts and the Bucs win, Tennessee will hold the number one pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. If the Titans win or the Buccaneers lose, that pick will go to Tampa Bay.

Arguments can be made and debated about until the end of the earth on how much of a difference there is in having the #1 Pick and #2 Pick. The obvious problem of draft busts comes to mind, but the leverage and control of the #1 Pick is undeniable. If you enter the draft with that position, you hold all the cards. There’s no, “if he’s available” or “I hope they don’t pick him.” Assuming they’re still in power (which they should be), the Lovie-Licht Connection will be one hundred percent in control of their draft destiny. Whether that pick should be used to grab a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback to be a franchise cornerstone or traded away for more future draft choices is beside the point at this level. The #1 Pick helps, end of story.

The Buccaneers are also one loss away from going winless at home, and that isn’t something you ever want. This game will divide the fanbase, and there is no doubt that some will hope for the loss in order to move on and look forward to a number one draft pick. Whether they #SuckForTheDuck or not, this game means something. Not only to draft position, but to the men on that field. The Saints are still an offensive powerhouse, and the young defense in Tampa Bay will look to make a statement. Meanwhile, the offensive line will hope to not suck as badly as they have all season. This game is largely a bump on the road to the offseason, but I will always want to see the Buccaneers succeed. That’s why I’m pulling for a Buccaneers upset AND a Titans upset against the unLucky (pun intended) Colts!

Prediction: Bucs win, 20-17
(Last minute Pat Murray FG for the win!)

Secondary Prediction: Titans win, 9-3
(Andrew Luck gets benched in second quarter because
he falls asleep trying to read the Titans defense…)