Before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers even take a snap on Sunday, their playoff chances will have already improved drastically thanks to what happened on Saturday.
The Minnesota Vikings loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was more than just an incredible comeback -- or meltdown, depending on who you root for -- it had a direct impact on the Bucs path to the playoffs. Specifically, it widened the lane Tampa Bay can follow into January as punching a ticket as an NFC Wild Card team got a little more likely.
Tampa Bay's best and clearest path to the postseason is by outright winning the NFC South, a scenario that would make everyone feel a lot better about everything. Limping into the playoffs as a Wild Card team isn't exactly ideal, especially with some fans actively rooting for the team to lose out and increase draft positioning to build for the future.
Coaches and players in Tampa Bay are playing for their own future, though, and making the playoffs helps everyone take one giant step toward keeping their jobs next season.
Vikings loss to Bengals increases Buccaneers playoff chances
Winning the NFC South is no longer the only realistic way the Bucs can make the playoffs. A Week 1 win over the Vikings gave Tampa Bay a tiebreaker that now looks extremely valuable heading into the final few games of the season.
A win on Sunday over the Packers would dramatically increase the Bucs playoff chances since they'd own tiebreakers over both Green Bay and Minnesota. The Vikings loss on Saturday means the Bucs are just a game behind them in the Wild Card standings, and sneaking past them feels more possible than it ever did before.
Minnesota is now 7-7, just a half-game up on the Buccaneers entering Sunday. Beating Green Bay not only keeps the Bucs in control of the NFC South but would move them ahead of the Vikings in the Wild Card standings and potentially bump them out as a result of the Week 1 tiebreaker.
Two of the Vikings last three games are against the Lions, who are battling hard to an NFC North title and a top seed in the NFC playoff bracket. The other game left on Minnesota's schedule is against Green Bay, a team that could be fighting for a Wild Card spot the Vikings also covet.
Even after falling into a gorge Homer Simpson-style by losing six of seven games after its bye week, the Bucs are far from cooked and are slowly gaining more playoff traction than anyone thought possible.