With only one game left in the regular season, the NFL Playoff picture is coming into focus but things are still fuzzy for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It shouldn't be that way, as all the Bucs needed to do was win on Sunday against the Saints to clinch the NFC South and punch a playoff ticket. That didn't happen, as the team instead laid its biggest dud of the season in a 23-13 throttling.
That loss doesn't ruin the Bucs playoff chances, rather it simply delays the team's ability to close things out. As bad as things went on Sunday, Tampa Bay still controls its destiny and can clinch a playoff berth by way of a division title with a win next Sunday over the Panthers.
After what happened on Sunday, though, let's not go counting our chickens before they hatch.
What the loss to New Orleans also did was keep the path open for both the Saints and Falcons to potentially win the NFC South. Tampa Bay still has a win-and-in scenario, but that was established as being easier said than done this weekend.
Updated NFC Playoff Picture after Buccaneers lose in Week 17
The good news is the Bucs will get another crack at clinching the NFC South next Sunday in Carolina. It would mark two straight seasons that the team punched its ticket as division champions against the Panthers, with Carolina being an even worse team than it was last season .
What we all want to know, though, is how much better are the Bucs?
Tampa Bay is a decidedly better team than Carolina, but is this Bucs team better than the one that won the division last season? Much of the four game winning streak this month suggested that the answer was yes, but enough went wrong in the loss to New Orleans to beg the question all over again.
Here's how things stand across the entire NFC after Week 17:
1. San Francisco 49ers (12-3) -- Clinched NFC West
2. Dallas Cowboys (11-5) -- Clinched Playoff Berth
3. Detroit Lions (11-5) -- Clinched NFC North
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8)
5. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) -- Clinched Playoff Berth
6. Los Angeles Rams (9-7)
7. Seattle Seahawks (8-7)
Wild Card Hunt
8. Minnesota Vikings (7-8)
9. Green Bay Packers (7-8)
10. New Orleans Saints (8-8)
11. Atlanta Falcons (7-9)
Despite the loss, Tampa Bay still has a roughly 75 percent chance of making the playoffs, but it can climb no higher than the No. 4 seed. If the Bucs manage to take care of business next week, they will host whoever ends up finishing in second place in the NFC East.
If the Bucs once again lay a dud and somehow get upset by the Panthers, the winner of next week's Saints-Falcons game will win the division and claim the No. 4 seed.
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