At this point in the season, the Buccaneers know each game they play is magnified by the impact it makes on the standings. For Tampa, any hope they have of earning that elusive first-round bye depends on closing out the regular season by stacking win, after win, after win.
Heading down the stretch, we trail two teams: the Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers. You have to think both of those teams are ripe for a loss. Arizona sits at 10-2; Green Bay is 9-3, and of course, Tampa is 9-3.
This weekend, the Cardinals host the LA Rams, who are 8-4 and would love to knock off the top dog in the NFC. Green Bay will face off with the Chicago Bears, and while the Bears, who are 4-8, are not the juggernaut they used to be, the whole season can be saved merely by knocking off the Packers.
And Tampa will face the Buffalo Bills, who are hovering over .500 by two games at 7-5. Regardless of how any other games wind up by the end of the week, it’s most important for Tampa to bring it on home. The Bills are reeling following a horrific loss to their arch-nemesis the New England Patriots. The Patriots owned the Bills in the AFC East for a long time, let’s say all 20 years that one Tom Brady was leading the Patriots. And now, they find themselves dropping another game to them when there is no Brady in sight.
No Brady in sight until Sunday’s game anyway. How will that work out? Will we see the Bills falter again when they have to face the Brady and Rob Gronkowski and an additional assortment of players from the Pro-Bowl overlooked Buccaneers? Football gods say “yes.”
Frankly, the current Tampa squad is arguably the best offensive cast Tom Terrific has ever been surrounded by. With Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and whoever they decide will be wideout numero 3 (Breshad Perriman, Tyler Johnson, or Scotty Miller) matches up favorably against any other wide receiver group, the tight end group has Gronk and Cam Brate, and the running backs have All Season Lenny Fournette, to go with Giovanni Bernard and Ronald Jones.
Oh, and by the way, they also have the top offensive line in the league.
Meanwhile, the Bills have the number one defense in the league. Still, it will all come down to execution. If Tampa executes the offense as we know they can, and as they showed they can last week against the Atlanta Falcons, then it will be more about the Bills defense not holding up to the Bucs passing game. We may even run the ball a few times, just as a reminder of what happened the week before in Buffalo.
The Bucs are 5-0 at home and have spun their way to a 4-3 road record. They look to have a better chance at running the table this season than they did last season. This is the key game, if they can take out the Bills, then they have four winnable games down the stretch against inferior teams: New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, and two against the Carolina Panthers.
In all probability, winning the conference is just a matter of which week. Win this week and the right losses to the right teams (think Saints) and the deal is done. If not, it will be one of the next games down the stretch. But it’s not just about getting into the playoffs. It’s about ending the season on top of the division. We need a bit of help for sure, but we also need to take care of things at home, too. Closing out the season with five W’s would put the Bucs at 14-3 and put a little heat on the Cardinals and Packers. in the end, it’s just like Al Davis said, “Just win baby.”