Thanks to a winning streak that began in early December, the Bucks have been able to sit in the driver’s seat of the NFC South race. And ever since they clinched first place in the division with a win over the Falcons on Dec. 10, they knew they were in control of their destiny. As long as they keep racking up wins, they could win their third straight NFC South Championship and secure the NFC’s No. 4 seed, along with a home playoff game.
That’s what Tampa Bay did, and the latest checkmark on the checklist is Big win over the Jaguars 30-12 on Christmas Eve. With this win, the Bucs are all set for the next two weeks.
To win the NFC South, they must either beat the Saints in Week 17 or the Panthers in Week 18. Of course, winning both games is the preferred path, as a team would advance to the playoffs with six straight wins.
Their win over Jacksonville was key in setting up this decision scenario, but the Bucs were also key elsewhere as the NFC South race continued to see movement heading into the final weeks of the regular season. I got help.
Week 16 in the NFC South began with Thursday Night Football. The Saints entered this week tied with the division-leading Bucks, 7-7, but the Bucks took the tiebreaker. However, New Orleans was unable to pull off a victory on its own, losing 30-22 to fellow NFC wild-card candidate Rams in Los Angeles. The Saints trailed 30-7 in the game, but couldn’t match the excitement in the second half. The loss drops the team to 7-8 ahead of a key NFC South game against the Bucks in Tampa on New Year’s Eve.
In Sunday’s 1:00 game, the Falcons achieved a 29-10 upset victory over the Colts at home. Switching quarterback from Desmond Ridder to Taylor Heinicke proved to be a masterstroke for Arthur Smith, with Heinicke completing 23 of 33 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown. Achieved 0 turnovers. Atlanta’s defense also did its job, holding Indianapolis to 262 yards and one interception against Gardner Minshew. With the win, the Falcons improved to 7 wins and 8 losses, moving them past the Saints into second place in the NFC South.
All of this led to a chance for the Bucks to win at home against the Jaguars on Christmas Eve and create a serious split in the NFC South. The Falcons would have looked on hoping for a failure in Tampa Bay, but that never happened. Now, the Falcons’ chances of making the postseason and saving Arthur Smith’s job are likely within wild-card contention. However, things could change.
NFC South standings updates for Week 16 and beyond:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8-7 (3-1 in NFC South)
Atlanta Falcons 7-8 (3-2 in NFC South)
New Orleans Saints 7-8 (2-2 in NFC South)
Carolina Panthers 2-12 (1-4 in NFC South)
Bucks have two weeks left to win the NFC South
Tampa Bay’s victory over Jacksonville puts them in a matchup in the NFC South. Todd Bowles’ team also has a winning scenario in Week 17. A victory over the Saints on New Year’s Eve at Raymond James Stadium will clinch the Bucs’ third consecutive NFC South title.
While a win against the Saints would be better for the Bucs to clinch the division title, a win against Jacksonville means they actually need to win either of the final two games to clinch the championship.
That means a Week 17 win over the Saints. or A win against the Panthers in Week 18 would clinch another division title for Tampa Bay. 4th seed in the NFC Super Wild Card Weekend includes home playoff games. Even after splitting their last two games, the Bucks were 9-8, one win better than last year’s 8-9 record, and good enough to beat an even weaker NFC South.
Winning both games would be of great significance for the Bucks, who want to continue their momentum and advance to the playoffs. If they win against both the Saints and Panthers, they will be 10-7 in the regular season, two wins over last year. Not only that, but they’ll likely win six straight heading into a home playoff game against the Eagles or Cowboys. Of course, the 2020 Super Bowl team won its final four games and went on a four-game winning streak to claim the Lombardi Trophy.
With two weeks left until Tampa Bay wins the division, here’s what’s left for those involved in the NFC South race.
Remaining schedule for NFC South participants:
Bucks: vs. Saints (7-8), vs. Panthers (2-13)
Hayabusa: Bears (6 wins, 9 losses), Saints (7 wins, 8 losses)
Saints: at Bucks (8-7), vs. Falcons (7-8)