Saints 31 – Bucs 24
Pretty much everything that needed to break Tampa’s way to bolster their playoff hopes this weekend has gone in the opposite direction, and that’s before we factor in the whole, “Hey! You lost to New Orleans!” thing.
The best setup for the Bucs to control their own destiny in the final two weeks of the regular season began with their notching these last pair of victories. Both the Saints and the season closer at home next week against the Carolina were supposed to be doable. With those wins under their belt and 10-6 record, a number of post-season scenarios were on the table. Yes, Tampa would need the cooperation of other teams to lose or tie, and perhaps one or two instances where somebody had to get beat badly enough that it would break a “strength of victory” tiebreaker that the Green Bay Packers currently hold over Tampa’s helmets.
However, exactly none of that’s happened this week. Instead, teams that needed to lose won, extending their own playoff hopes and shouldering the Bucs right of the way. Then, Tampa salted its own wounds with a truly infuriating loss to the Saints. Now, in order to compute a scenario where Tampa makes the post-season, I need to borrow that supercomputer Rich Purnell was using in The Martian to calculate a course for the Hermes back to Mars to pick up Mark Watney before the dude starves to death. I’m pretty sure at least half of my ideas involve situations where certain teams are stranded in roadside motels due to nasty winter weather.
(I’m game for making that sort of thing happen, by the way. Just tell me where to wire the money.)
Tampa needed the win yesterday to at least have a scrapping chance at a wild card spot. Instead, the loss cements the Atlanta Falcons as the NFC South Division champs, and ensures the New York Giants get one of the two Wild Card slots. Now, the Bucs will be fighting Green Bay and Washington for the last spot, with Tampa needing both teams to lose in addition to their own victory over the Carolina Panthers. Even if that part of the scenario comes to pass, the slicing and dicing of tiebreakers and positioning will come into play, and we’re talking razor-thin margins of advantage, here. Somewhere, NFL nerds (sorry, “statisticians”) will be showing everybody that the Geeks do Indeed Inherit the Earth as they labor to make all of this understandable to the rest of us mere mortals.
Unless the Bucs lose, or the Packers and/or Redskins win.
So, next week is going to be a nail-biter.
Bucs Life, yo.