A golden opportunity was brutally squandered on Sunday, but all hope is not lost for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. All Tampa Bay needed to do was beat New Orleans to clinch a third-straight NFC South title, but instead perhaps the biggest dud of the season was laid in front of an angsty home crowd.
The Bucs didn't just lose to the Saints, they thoroughly got their asses kicked. It was 17-0 before halftime and New Orleans didn't lose its grip from there on out. Tampa Bay looked atrocious at every level, with key players like Antoine Winfield Jr and Jake Camarda having by far their worst game of the season.
Whatever magic the offense had evaporated as Baker Mayfield and Dave Canales frustratingly turned the clock back to what the things looked like during the 1-6 skid earlier in the season. It was a bizarre and stunning drop off from what we had seen just a week ago against Jacksonville and it harshed an otherwise jubliant high everyone had been on over the last four weeks.
The chance to clinch the division was lost, but the opportunity to do so is still present.
Buccaneers playoff chances after losing to Saints in Week 17
As bad as things went on Sunday, the season is far from being over for the Bucs.
Tampa Bay still has a roughly 75 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to the New York Times playoff simulator. ESPN's Playoff Machine also has the Bucs making the playoffs based on simulation, but only what happens on the field counts.
All Tampa Bay needs to do is win next week in Carolina to clinch the NFC South and punch a playoff ticket. Losing next week makes things a lot more complicated, though.
New Orleans cannot outright win the NFC South without some help from Carolina. If the Panthers upset the Bucs, then the Saints can win the division with a victory over the Falcons. Atlanta isn't out yet either and can clinch the NFC South with a win coupled with a Bucs loss next Sunday.
The easiest path forward belongs to the Bucs, though. All Tampa Bay needs to do is win -- but that was the case this week and they failed to get the job done. Hopefully things go a bit better next week otherwise a collapse of this magnitude might cost jobs before the weekend is even over.