Strength of Schedule Numbers Put Bucs in Middle of the Pack

The Buccaneers’ scheduled opponents in 2013 season combined to play exactly .500 ball in 2012.

Tampa Bay has known its list of upcoming foes since the final day of the 2012 regular season, when the completed standings filled in the last couple blanks.  The Bucs will play six games against their NFC South division mates, of course, and will also meet each club in the NFC West and the AFC East.  The final two games match them up against the teams from the NFC East and NFC North that finished in the same spot in their respective division standings: Detroit and Philadelphia.

Despite the fact that three of the four 2012 conference championship game participants are on that list, the Bucs’ 16 opponents in 2013 put up a combined 127-127-2 record.  (Playing both teams that produced the one tie of 2012, St. Louis and San Francisco, puts that strange-looking coda on the end of those numbers.)  Not surprisingly, that puts Tampa Bay’s “strength of schedule” number for 2013 right in the middle of the pack. Continue reading

Level with the Field

Shortly after Sunday’s one-point loss to the Falcons, Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano pointed to missed opportunities.  He was speaking solely about that afternoon’s game – the Bucs refuse to look any farther ahead than their current opponent – but the same thought could have been applied at that very moment to the NFC playoff race as a whole.  A couple more points on Sunday and the Bucs would have enjoyed almost the perfect weekend.

In fact, had Tampa Bay held on to its fourth-quarter lead over the Falcons and improved to 7-4 on the season, it would now be one of the six teams in the conference with a current hold on a playoff spot.  That’s because all the teams that were an immediate concern to the Buccaneers in the race for a Wild Card spot also suffered defeats in Week 12. Continue reading

Who Do I Root For? (Week 12)

Welcome to our newest Captain’s Blog feature, wherein we try to sort out the more complicated NFC playoff implications of each weekend in the season’s stretch drive, so that you, the Tampa Bay fan and Sunday NFL viewer, can know exactly which outcomes are best for the Buccaneers.

(Or, potentially, you can complete disagree with our choices and tell us why in the comments below.  That’s your right.)

Last week, we advised you to back two underdogs – Arizona at Atlanta and Detroit at home against Green Bay.  And…oh, so close.  Both the Cardinals and the Lions took teams ahead of the Bucs in the overall standings to the brink, but couldn’t hang on.  Oh well, remember, we make a case for both sides of each game in “Who Do I Root For?” (should that be “Whom Do I Root For?”), so afterwards we can go back and find the silver linings.  In this case, the Lions and Cardinals are now far less serious threats to pass the Bucs from behind, particularly in Detroit’s case after a painful Thanksgiving Day loss.

After Thursday’s Washington-at-Dallas game (a Cowboys loss that was definitely good for the Bucs, at least in the short run), there are six remaining contests on Sunday that feature two NFC teams.  One is Bucs-Falcons and…well, you don’t need help with that one, right?  Two of the other five are matchups of teams that are too far down the standings to be considered immediate threats: St. Louis at Arizona and Carolina at Philadelphia.  The New Orleans at San Francisco game is too easy of a call – root for the 49ers to knock the Saints off the Bucs’ tail and just go ahead and win the NFC West.

That leaves a pair of games that have a somewhat connected rooting interest for Buccaneer fans.  Let’s take a look: Continue reading

Only Tiebreaker Standing Between Bucs and Playoff Field

Well, that was almost great.

As a Buccaneers fan, it’s hard to get too down about an unbelievable run of comebacks by favored teams on Sunday, since Tampa Bay’s own 27-21 win in Carolina was probably the most improbable of all those rallies.  Still, but for some late-game heroics in such outposts as Dallas, Atlanta and Detroit (by the visiting team), it could have been a really useful week for the Bucs’ playoff hopes.

Last Friday, as we headed into weekend, we suggested who you should root for in a couple of key NFC matchups in Week 11.  Specifically, we came down on the side of the Lions over the Packers and the Cardinals over the Falcons.  In both cases, wins by the favored teams (Green Bay and Atlanta) would help thin out the field behind the Buccaneers, but we thought it was still early enough to be more focused on catching the teams in front of them.

Alas, our wishes were thwarted when Atlanta overcame five interceptions to rally for a 23-19 home win over Arizona and the Packers pulled out a 24-20 decision in Detroit.  The Falcons maintained their three-game lead over the Buccaneers in the NFC South and the Packers held on to the first Wild Card spot, one game better than Tampa Bay.

Still, the Bucs made some gains, in part because two of their top Wild Card competitors were idle.  Continue reading

Win Pulls Bucs Into Thick of Playoff Chase

The last three times the Buccaneers started a season 3-4 and then won their eighth game for a .500 mark at midseason, the team went on to make the playoffs.  That happened in 1999, 2000 and 2001 and was particularly thrilling in ’99 when the team won eight of its last nine to take the NFC Central title and advance to an unforgettable NFC Championship Game in St. Louis.

That’s encouraging, but one can’t get too caught up in the predictive nature of those previous seasons, just like one couldn’t assume a Buc loss on Sunday even though the team had never before won in Oakland.

In a more concrete sense, Tampa Bay’s 42-32 victory in the other Bay area this weekend – a win that, as in those other three years, followed a 3-4 start – was a significant step towards becoming a factor in the NFC postseason hunt.  In fact, as it stands right now, the Buccaneers are just a half-game out of the final playoff spot.

NFL.com broke down the two conference playoff pictures on Monday morning, though the Monday night game could change things a bit, particularly if Philadelphia wins at New Orleans.  With Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago and the N.Y. Giants leading the four divisions, the two remaining Wild Card spots would go to Green Bay and Seattle at the moment.

The Bucs, at 4-4, are just a half-game behind the 5-4 Seahawks.  The Vikings are actually in between the Bucs and Seahawks, with a 5-4 record also, but it’s worth noting that Tampa Bay has a head-to-head tiebreaker in hand against Minnesota if needed.  Detroit is also 4-4, and Philadelphia will get to that same mark if it can beat the Saints to cap Week Nine.

It’s a crowded field, to be sure.  The Bucs still have two games remaining against Atlanta, so they haven’t given up on erasing their four-game deficit against the undefeated Falcons.  But if the NFC’s current top seed can’t be reeled in, Tampa Bay will be gunning for one of those two Wild Card spots.  A home game against Philadelphia in early December potentially looms large.

Head Coach Greg Schiano, who insists that Buc players treat each game week like it’s own self-contained season, surely won’t let his players look ahead to the playoff race.  But the rest of us can certainly peek, and there’s no doubt that the Bucs are in a much better position to make a run at the postseason than they were a month ago.

Week Eight Full of Favorable Results

With nine games to play for the Buccaneers and about half of the NFL, and eight games to play for the other half, it’s too early to waste time watching the standings.  Buccaneer players are taught to treat each game as its own individual season by Head Coach Greg Schiano and his staff, and as fans we should probably do the same, at least right now in early October  when there is so much left to play out.

Yeah, good luck with that.

Here are the current league standings on NFL.com, heading into Monday night’s game between Arizona and San Francisco.  Go ahead and check them out, because there’s no use trying to avoid it.  It’s part of the fun of being in the playoff race – and make no mistake, the Bucs are in that hunt – to see where all the team stands and work out the possible scenarios.

This might be a particularly good week for Buc fans to do a little standings-watching (that doesn’t have quite the same ring as “scoreboard-watching,” but you get the point).  That’s because this past weekend of NFL play was good to the Buccaneers, and it could even get a little bit better on Monday night.

The Bucs started the good weekend themselves on Thursday night with their dominant 36-17 win in Minnesota.  That improved Tampa Bay to 3-4 while dropping the Vikings, a prime conference playoff foe, to 5-3.  If the playoffs started right now (especially before Arizona has a chance to improve to 5-3 on Monday night), the Vikings would own one of the two NFC Wild Card spots and the Bucs would be just 1.5 games out.

Other results that helped the Buccaneers included New Orleans losing an interconference game Sunday night in Denver.  That gave Tampa Bay sole possession of second place in the NFC South, though the undefeated Falcons are still four games in the lead.  Four games in the standings in nine weeks is a difficult hill to climb, but the Bucs do still have both of their games against Atlanta remaining, so it’s not impossible.  Pushing the Saints, now 2-5, farther away from the playoffs is good for Tampa Bay, which is 0-1 against New Orleans so far this year.

Also helpful were the losses by Dallas to the Giants and Philadelphia to the Falcons (even if that second game hurt in the NFC South race).  Both of those teams fell to 3-4 and are thus now even with the Buccaneers.  Seattle’s loss at Detroit was also beneficial, as it dragged the Seahawks back to .500 (4-4) and just a half-game up on Tampa Bay.  Detroit did improve to 3-4 in the process, but of the two possible results, Seattle’s defeat was better, at least for now.  Washington lost to Pittsburgh, dropping to 3-5 without giving a win to another team in the NFC race.

The Buccaneers are still trying to make a race out of the NFC South, but they’d be best served if the other three divisions in the conference produced runaway winners.  If the Bucs have to settle for a Wild Card race in the long run, their best bet will be current leaders New York, Chicago and San Francisco winning as many games within their own divisions as possible.  The 49ers could help on Monday night by knocking off the Cardinals and sending them back to .500, just half-game above the Bucs.

Again, Buccaneer players are not spending much time worrying about those standings at the moment.  Still, they can feel the race heating up.

“We know we dropped some close games, but I feel like we’re getting better week-in and week-out,” said LB Mason Foster.  “It’s getting to that stretch of the season where it’s a tough time, heading into November, but it’s exciting.  I feel like we’re in a good place and we’re going to continue to get better.”