It’s been a minute since the Buccaneers could call themselves NFC South champions, 2007, to be exact. In fact, there have only been four teams in the league that have a longer division title drought – the Jets, the Lions, the Raiders, and the Browns.
However, the Bucs actually have a narrow path to ending said futility this weekend. There are a trio of events that must all occur. As a reminder, the Bucs currently sit at 9-3; the Panthers, Saints, and Falcons all sit at 5-7. Here’s what has to happen:
1) The Buccaneers Must Beat the Bills
This one is pretty obvious. In order to lock it up Sunday, the Bucs need to get to win number 10, which is the absolute ceiling the rest of the division teams could reach. The Bills come in at 7-5, having won their last two road games and lost their last two home games. Tom Brady called this game the biggest game of the season. Given the Bucs’ neck-and-neck chase for home field advantage in a loaded NFC – as well as the quality of their opponent Sunday, it’s not hard to understand why.
2) The Panthers Must Lose or Tie Against the Falcons
The Falcons would lose any head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bucs. Them winning Sunday, winning out, and eventually matching the Bucs at 10-7 (absolutely worst case scenario) would still give the division to the Buccaneers. Conversely, as Tampa Bay has not yet played Carolina, the Panthers could knock off the Bucs twice and theoretically catch them. Again, worst case. But if Carolina falls to 5-8 (or 5-7-1) and the Bucs win Sunday to reach 10-3, then Carolina is mathematically done.
3) The Saints Must Lose or Tie Against the Jets
This is the same scenario as Carolina. The Saints have already beaten the Buccaneers once and could conceivably beat them again later this month, end up 10-7, and win the division if they were to end up in a tie. But if the Jets hand them a loss on Sunday (or if they tie), then the Saints would fall to 5-8 (or 5-7-1) and be unable to reach a 10-win Bucs team.
It’s a narrow path, but that’s just to clinch it this weekend. Any combination of a Buccaneers win, a Saints loss, and a Panthers loss the rest of the season locks it up for the Buccaneers.