Playoff Race Mostly Static

When last we checked in on the state of the NFC playoff race, the Buccaneers had climbed to within a half-game of the last spot in the conference’s six-team field after a big win in Oakland.  Since that day, Week 10 of the NFL has played out (you may have noticed), and among the results were losses by Detroit, Atlanta (their first), Philadelphia, Chicago and the Giants, plus a tie for San Francisco.

It was a wild weekend in the NFC, to be sure, so as we check back in on the postseason battle once again in advance of Week 11, we find…well, not much has changed.

The Seahawks are still sitting on that #6 seed, a half-game ahead of the Buccaneers, because Seattle took care of the New York Jets at home on Sunday.  The same six teams that were in the hypothetical playoff field last Monday are still there, and all four division leaders are the same, even though all of them lost or tied.  Also, the Vikings are still between the Buccaneers and the Seahawks, as they are also 6-4 but lose out to Seattle on a head-to-head tiebreaker.

There are a few longer-term developments of note, however.  First, the Seahawks and Vikings are about to enjoy their bye weeks, so the Buccaneers have a chance to pull into a tie with both of them with a win in Carolina on Sunday.  That wouldn’t immediately vault them into the playoff picture as displayed here on NFL.com because the hypothetical tiebreaker that would be applied would be conference record, and the Bucs would be third in that category (but, again, with more such games left to play).

Speaking of all the division leaders losing, that gave the Bucs a little more hope in the NFC South race, which was looking like an Atlanta runaway about three weeks ago.  Tampa Bay is now just three games back with seven to play, including two head-to-head matchups with the Falcons.

On the other hand, some of those losses by division leaders only served to make the playoff field a bit more crowded in the NFC.  Both the Saints, victors over Atlanta, and the Cowboys, victors over Philly, are now 4-5 and suddenly breathing on the Buccaneers’ necks.  Don’t forget, both of those teams already have a win over Tampa Bay in hand, though the Bucs will get another opportunity to even things up against New Orleans in December.

So…it’s complicated.  And maybe a bit too early to start talking about playoff possibilities.  That’s certainly how Head Coach Greg Schiano and the Buccaneers feel about it right now.  Schiano prefers to keep his players focused solely on the task at hand, as opposed to what might be coming down the road, or who the top competitors in the standings are.

“You are competing with yourself because you can’t control them,” he said.  “What we can control is what we do out there on the practice field, what happens in the meeting room, how we prepare. Everything to us is, how can we out-prepare ourselves, this week as compared to last week? If you keep doing that in each one-game season, you are going to win your share and then you look up in the end and if it is good enough that’s what we’ll do. My big thing always as a head coach is that we’ll judge it when it’s over.”

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