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.