As we discussed a little over a week ago in the Captain’s Blog, the Buccaneers have known most of their 2013 list of opponents for quite some time. Fourteen of the 16 games are decided well in advance by intra-division play and a rotation of AFC and NFC divisional matchups. The final two games, however, are determined by the standings.
Things are much clearer now, with only one weekend of play left. However, there are still a handful of possibilities depending upon h a couple of Week 17 outcomes. Surprisingly, the Bucs game in Atlanta has little to do with it, however.
The Buccaneers will play on the road against the NFC North team that occupies the same spot in that division’s standings as the Bucs do in the South. They will have a home game against the NFC East team that matches their spot in the standings. (You can see how the divisional matchups rotate and who the Bucs will be facing through 2017 here on Buccaneers.com.)
Thanks to their two wins over 6-9 Carolina, the 6-9 Buccaneers are currently occupying the third-place spot in the NFC South. And, if the Panthers lose at 7-8 New Orleans on Sunday, the Buccaneers will remain in third place no matter what the outcome of their own game in Atlanta is. However, due to a weird tiebreaker situation that would occur if the Buccaneers, Saints and Panthers all finish at 7-9, it also doesn’t matter what happens in the Bucs’ game if the Panthers win on Sunday. In that case, Carolina would actually end up in second place, the Saints in third and the Bucs in fourth.
In the East, the Eagles have locked down fourth place but third could still fall to either the Cowboys or the Giants. The Redskins can go no lower than second thanks to a better division record than the Giants.
Similarly, the Lions are assured of finishing fourth in the North. However, third place could still be occupied by either the Bears or the Vikings. Both are 9-6, so a win by one and a loss by the other would make the standings obvious. If Chicago and Minnesota both win, or both lose, the Vikings would come in second and the Bears third due to their division records.
Therefore, one half of this equation is easy. If the Buccaneers lose to the Falcons and the Panthers win in the Superdome on Sunday, then Tampa Bay will travel to Detroit next fall and play host to Philadelphia for the second year in a row.
A Buccaneer victory and/or a Panther loss would keep Tampa Bay in third place. Then, if the Giants lose Sunday at home against Philadelphia, they would definitely finish in third and would be coming to Tampa. If the Giants win but the Cowboys also win in Washington on Sunday, that would also punch New York’s ticket to Florida. The third-place Bucs would only get a visit from the Cowboys if Dallas loses at Washington and the Giants beat the Eagles.
A third-place Buccaneer team would head to Chicago next fall if the Bears lose to Detroit and/or the Vikings beat the Packers. However, if the Bears beat the Lions and the Vikings fall at Green Bay, it’s yet another trip to Minneapolis for the Buccaneers.