Riding a three game losing streak is not how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted to enter the final week of the season. Coming into their last stand against the Carolina Panthers however, this is exactly the scenario facing a Buccaneers team which, just one month ago, was filled with playoff aspirations instead of offseason regrets.
A myriad of questions lurk in the offseason for a young Buccaneers team. The first to be answered will be that of their draft position. Here we’ll look at some key games which will help determine the Bucs’ final placement.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers:
The Buccaneers are guaranteed to enter their off-season program, and the Panthers are guaranteed entrance into the playoffs after this game; what isn’t quite settled is their seeding in both.
With a win the Panthers would clinch the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Simultaneously, the Buccaneers would clinch a top-10 pick with a loss to Carolina, though the Buccaneers’ mantra of “finish strong” seems to point to a team unwilling to pathetically flop into their unwelcome vacations.
With a loss, the Panthers would need Arizona to lose in order to secure the coveted home-field, while the Buccaneers could climb all the way to the 15th pick of the draft, depending on what others around the league accomplish.
With the Panthers looking to sit several components of their offense in an effort to heal prior to the playoffs it may seem they are phoning in the final week. To ensure this isn’t the case, the NFL has smartly moved both this game and the Arizona Cardinals’ game against Seattle to Sunday afternoon. The move ensures both teams have good motivation to play as neither will know their fate until after the games are over.
While the Buccaneers will come out looking for a statement win to hang their hats on moving into 2016, the bottom line is the Panthers are the NFC South’s only playoff representatives for a reason. They should win this one, and the Buccaneers should fall to 6-10 on the year. Not a bad improvement from the two win team of a year ago, but a four-game losing streak is not good enough from a team that has so much potential.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans:
There are three teams currently ahead of the Buccaneers in the NFL Draft who could presumably move down to the benefit of Tampa: the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Of the three, the Jaguars provide the best opportunity for a win, and would therefor move below the Buccaneers should the previous prediction of a Panthers win become truth.
The Jaguars will look for their own strong finish by beating a team near the top of their stumbling division, and beating a playoff team, which Houston could still be even with a loss. Jacksonville’s fans have looked to Blake Bortles and the emergence of two efficient receivers as signs of a brighter future; a win in Houston would make that future look a little brighter.
Houston will undoubtedly feel an emotional boost, if not an actual boost, from the return of their starting quarterback Brian Hoyer, and a chance to clinch their division is motivation enough for the Texans to come in hot.
In the end, the Texans won’t keep up with the Jags’ offensive firepower, and Houston will finish the season 8-8 while Jacksonville climbs to 6-10 on the year.
Using current strength of schedule numbers, the Buccaneers would leapfrog the Jaguars in this scenario, and move closer to the front end of the NFL Draft.
Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears:
Matt Forte is most likely making his final appearance as a Chicago Bear, and the team is limping into their own offseason of critical moves and decisions. Leaving the season on a two-game win streak is ideal for the egos of all involved, and a win by Chicago would benefit the Buccaneers. So would a loss.
Detroit on the other hand, is facing questions which are all too familiar. Coaching, quarterback play, and the lack of a real running game have plagued a team which looks competitive on paper. Instead, they find themselves in the cellar again, too far removed from Matt Millen’s toxic hold to blame him any further.
While a win for Chicago would push their win total one above Tampa’s and keep them away from threatening their positioning for the time being, a loss by Chicago may actually benefit the Buccaneers more.
If the Buccaneers and Bears finish with the same record, the Buccaneers would be rewarded with the higher pick due to strength of schedule. If Chicago loses Tampa’s strength of schedule would drop due to the Bears’ worsening record. This drop increases the Buccaneers chances of gaining an earlier pick.
This one is too close to call, but no matter the result, a Bears win or loss will most likely benefit the Buccaneers either way.
It’s hard for any fan-base to cheer against their team. The logical fan will see the upside in higher draft picks, while the passionate fan will cheer for wins in lieu of “can’t miss” prospects. Meanwhile, the logically passionate fan is stuck in a purgatory leading to their eventual acceptance of either result.
No matter the final result, what will follow Week 17 will be an offseason of intrigue, rumor, tense moments, and hopefully some celebratory moments.