The Buccaneers won Super Bowl 55 as a wild-card No. 5 seed in last season’s playoffs, with their only home game coming in that contest. This season, they might host only one game in the playoffs again.
Tampa Bay’s shocking 9-0 loss at home to New Orleans on Sunday night in Week 15 threw a wrench into the reigning champions’ plans to repeat. A second consecutive regular-season sweep by the Saints prevented them from earning the NFC South title.
Here’s a breakdown of how the surprise result affects both teams’ playoff positioning for the final three weeks:
NFL playoff picture: What Buccaneers’ loss, Saints’ win mean after Week 15
Tampa Bay (10-4) falling at home didn’t just put it behind Green Bay (11-3) in the race for the No. 1 seed, sole bye and home-field advantage in the NFC; it also put the Buccaneers behind the winning Cowboys (10-4) at No. 3. They’re just ahead of the losing Cardinals (10-4), who fell to No. 4.
Although the Buccaneers have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cowboys from beating them in Week 1, a three-way tie favors the Cowboys because of their stellar 8-1 conference record. The Buccaneers and Cardinals are both 6-4 in NFC play. The Packers are also two games better in the conference at 8-2.
NFL STANDINGS: Full playoff picture in Week 15
As it stands, the Buccaneers need to finish a full game ahead of the Packers to earn the No. 1 seed. They need to take full advantage of a favorable closing schedule, with two games against the Panthers sandwiching a matchup with the Jets in Week 17. The Packers, meanwhile, close by hosting the Browns and Vikings before going to the Lions in Week 18.
The Cowboys and Cardinals play each other in Week 17, which can help the Buccaneers. Dallas has Washington and Philadelphia around that game while Arizona also still needs to play Indianapolis in Week 16 and Seattle in Week 18.
The No. 2 seed is right there for Tampa Bay to reclaim by season’s end, but the No. 1 seed became a lot harder to attain with Green Bay gaining a larger edge.
As for the division, the Buccaneers now need another win or a Saints loss in the final three weeks to clinch the title. In the unlikely event Tampa Bay loses out and New Orleans wins out, the Saints would be crowned division champs because of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
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The Saints may be long shots to repeat in the division, but they jumped into the No. 7 seed Sunday. They’re behind the Rams (9-4) and 49ers (8-6) as the only 7-7 team (for now) in the conference. The Vikings, Washington and the Eagles, all 6-7, haven’t yet played in Week 15.
Should the Vikings beat the Bears on Monday night, they would take over the No. 7 spot thanks to a 5-4 conference record vs. the Saints’ 5-5. If Minnesota loses at Chicago, then New Orleans would hold the No. 7 seed a little longer — until the Washington-Philadelphia result Tuesday.
Should the Saints be tied only with Washington at 7-7, the Saints would have the tiebreaker after beating that team in Week 5. Should the Saints be tied with only the Eagles at 7-7, the Eagles would win that tiebreaker after beating the Saints in Week 11.
A three-way tie between the Saints, Vikings and Eagles would favor the Vikings coming out of Week 15. A three-way tie between the Saints, Vikings and Washington would favor the WFT going into Week 16.
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The Saints’ schedule is manageable in the final three weeks. They face the red-hot Dolphins in Week 16, but Miami is also 7-7 and the game is in New Orleans. Then the Saints close the season in the division, vs. the Panthers (5-9) and at the Falcons (6-8).
There’s no “Big Easy” path to the playoffs for the Saints, despite the big win over the Buccaneers. They need to keep winning and get the right breaks.