What a difference six months makes.
Back at the start of training camp the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were being pegged as candidates to tank for a high draft pick and replace their free agent quarterback who was struggling to complete passes to his new teammates.
Remember all of the grainy practice footage of Baker Mayfield overthrowing receivers that experts were dunking on? Six months later a lot of those same experts are picking Baker and the Bucs as a sleeper threat heading into the playoffs, a situation that almost nobody saw coming.
Instead of tanking the Bucs are a win away from clinching the NFC South and punching a fourth straight ticket to the playoffs. It’s been a miraculous turnaround in just about every way, from quieting the doubters with a 3-1 start to climbing out of miserable 1-6 slump to win four consecutive games.
There are now more ways the Bucs make the playoffs than miss out, with a long-shot scenario involving the No. 3 seed still on the table.
How can Buccaneers clinch the No. 3 seed in NFC Playoffs?
Update: Now that all of the Week 16 games are in the books, the Bucs are locked into the No. 4 seed. They can't get any higher than that.
It would truly be a Christmas miracle, but there's still an outside chance the Bucs can sneak into the No. 3 seed in the playoffs.
Here's what would need to happen:
- Buccaneers win last two games
- Eagles lose last three games
- Cowboys lose last two games
Tampa Bay winning its last two games is pretty reaslitic, if not necessary. The Bucs need to win at least one of their last two games to clinch the NFC South, but those matchups are against the Saints and Panthers — easily winnable games.
Winning out is the easy part of this miracle scenario, because the Bucs would need a total collapse from both Dallas and Philly to move up in the standings. The Cowboys melting down is slightly more likely, as they get a tough matchup against Detroit next week in a game the Lions will want to win to try and gain leverage with the No. 2 seed.
Philly is a totally different story. The Eagles get the Giants twice with the Cardinals sandwiched in between. They might drop a trap game in that stretch but it’s nearly impossible to think that they’ll lose all three.
Assuming the Eagles somehow do implode, the final piece of the puzzle would be the Cowboys getting upset by the Commanders in Week 18. Perhaps Ron Rivera’s parting gift before getting fired would be to help an old division rival out by beating a current one.
None of this matters if the Eagles win on Monday afternoon, which goes to show how thin the line is. It’s still possible until it isn’t, though, and if we’ve learned anything from watching this Bucs team this season it’s that you can’t count anything out.