After a season of ups and downs, everything comes down to today. The sun will set on two vastly different worlds for hte Tampa Bay Buccaneers based on how things go against the Carolina Panthers in Week 18.
With a win, the Bucs will clinch a third-straight NFC South title and host a playoff game next weekend. A loss would mean Tampa Bay misses the playoffs after having a near-80 percent chance of punching a ticket, a nightmare scenario that would likely cost jobs in the coming days.
Much has been made about the job security of head coach Todd Bowles and his staff, but the path toward earning another year seems pretty clear. Adam Schefter reported this weekend that making the playoffs might be enough for Bowles to secure another year, something Bucs insider Rick Stroud backed up.
A loss, however, would pretty much guarantee that he's fired.
This entire situation is indicative of how this season has gone for Tampa Bay. The Bucs got off to a 3-1 start after being expected to tank for a high draft pick in the wake of Tom brady retiring. A 1-6 slump in the middle of the season validated the doubters but the Bucs ripped off a four-game winning streak that recesistated their season and put them in a position to win the division.
The fact that everything comes down to a game against a 2-14 team -- and that confidence is shaky that the Bucs can pull out a win -- is about as fitting a way to end this season as possible.
What time is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game today? (January 7th)
- Date: Sunday, January 7th
- Start Time: 1 pm ET
- Location: Bank of America Stadium | Charlotte, NC
- TV Channel: FOX
- Announcers: Kenny Albert, Jonathan Vilma
- Radio: WXTB 97.9 FM | More Radio Affiliates
- Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket | Fubo
For as much anxiety as there is about how things will go, the Bucs should win on Sunday. Tampa Bay controls its own destiny which means it's win-and-in time, and the path could be theoretically more easy than it is.
Of all the teams with playoff scenarios on Sunday, the Bucs get to make their attempt against the worst team in the league. Carolina is truly awful and it's the final week of another miserable season for the Panthers. Frank Reich was fired in the middle of the season, the owner is throwing drinks on opposing fans, and the team doesn't even get to keep the No. 1 overall draft pick it secured by being so terrible.
All the Panthers are playing for is spoiling the Bucs season, which means this is essentially Carolina's Super Bowl. On paper the Bucs should win comfortably but Bucs fans who watched the Panthers nearly win a few weeks ago in Tampa Bay are rightfully nervous.