With last Sunday’s convincing victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to further their case to being three-peat NFC South champs.
Now, the magic number of games to win to do it is one, and Tampa Bay has two weeks to get there.
This first chance comes on New Year’s Eve at home at Raymond James Stadium against the pesky New Orleans Saints, who’ll take the field in Tampa for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
The Bucs come in with some injury concerns, with Carlton Davis III and Shaquille Barrett being listed as out, and the Saints have their own laundry list of limited participants and players that also missed practice.
For the first time all year, the Bucs are seriously rolling. Not the beat-the-Bears-and-Vikings type of roll, but a legit stretch of wins versus some relatively competent teams.
Tampa Bay is 100% the favorite against the Saints, and there’s no reason to think the good guys won’t be able to clinch the division in front of the home crowd with a 20-17 victory over a division rival.
New Orleans is coming off a solid victory over the Giants last week, and a tough road loss in a Thursday night matchup versus the Rams the previous week. It’s a bit tumultuous in the Big Easy, with quarterback Derek Carr continuing to be as average as possible while seemingly pissing as many people off as he can. After the weird spats with star receiver Chris Olave, Carr followed that up with a very visible disagreement with center Erik McCoy during their 28-6 victory over Carolina.
Add in the fact that Carr has been so bleh in spite of the sizable financial commitment to him from the Saints, causing home fans to boo him and cheer whenever Taysom Hill would take the field under center, and you’ve got a stew of discontent brewing.
So, maybe things come to a boiling point and something funny happens with New Orleans’ sideline. One can only hope.
However, it’s important to remember as we watch this game that it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it could have without the Bucs taking care of business the last few weeks. If they can’t figure out the Saints, or if New Orleans comes out hot with a chance to make things more difficult for a division rival, there’s always next week.
The two-win Panthers are looking a bit better offensively, with Bryce Young having his first game of a positive Estimated Points Added (EPA) of his career, despite falling in heart-breaking fashion to the Green Bay Packers.
Those Panthers are still in a tough spot, with an interim head coach and both sides of the ball in disarray, and the Bucs can easily do their thing and win the division next Sunday if need be.
But how sweet would it be to get into the new year with the division under their belt, especially taking down the Saints?
Here’s to the new year and the Buccaneers hopefully making that ball drop just a bit sweeter.
But if not, there’s always Carolina.