If there's one lesson we've learned this season, it's that nothing comes easy to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sunday in Atlanta was another prime example of that.
The Bucs needed a win to stay alive in the NFC South race and keep control of their destiny down the stretch of the season, A loss not only sunk them back into third place but would place their fate in the hands of other teams.
That didn't happen though, as the Bucs snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for the first time all season and it helped propel them back into first place. So many times this year we've seen the Bucs try and fail to close out games like the one on Sunday, but things finally worked out in their favor.
Not only is the result a return to first place, but it allows the Bucs to control their destiny from here on out.
Updated NFC South Standings after Week 14
Here's how thing sit in the NFC South after what happened this Sunday:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay is in a prime position to keep pace atop the NFC South next week in more ways than one. A win obviously keeps them a game up on Atlanta and New Orleans, but it would also count towards the common opponents tiebreaker.
Atlanta beat Green Bay earlier this season while the Saints lost, which makes the Bucs winning even more important.
Something that works against the Bucs is how soft the Falcons and Saints schedule is next Sunday. New Orleans hosts the lowly New York Giants while Atlanta goes on the road to Carolina. What feels like two easy wins puts increased pressure on Tampa Bay to win at Lambeau next Sunday.
Because the Falcons beat New Orleans earlier this year, they remain in second place which makes their game in Week 18 potentially massive. Of course, the Bucs can render it meaningless in terms of its importance to the division race by simply taking care of business between now and then.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Playoff scenarios after beating Falcons
With the win, Tampa Bay's chances to make the playoffs went up to 55 percent, but more importantly the Bucs control their own destiny. All the Bucs need to do is win out and they'll punch a playoff ticket by way of being the NFC South division champion, but it's not their only path to getting in.
The remaining schedule for the Bucs is key:
- at Packers
- vs. Jaguars
- vs. Saints
- at Panthers
Beating Green Bay is no easy feat, and the Jaguars will likely have a healthier version of Trevor Lawrence than what we saw against the Bengals.
Tampa Bay controls its own destiny in the NFC South but have a potential life raft in the form of a Wild Card berth. The Bucs already have a tiebreaker over the Vikings and can collect one over the Packers with a win next Sunday. Those could come in handy if the Bucs falter and fumble away the division lead but don't sink too far out of the picture.
For what it's worth, here's a look at the NFC Wild Card race:
5. Dallas Cowboys (9-3)
6. Minnesota Vikings (6-6)
7. Green Bay Packers (6-6)
8. Seattle Seahawks (6-6)
9. Los Angeles Rams (6-7)
10. Atlanta Falcons (6-7)
11. New Orleans Saints (6-7)
There's really only room for one more loss if the Bucs want to remain alive for the wild card, and that loss absolutely can't happen next week against Green Bay.