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.”