The Buccaneers (12-4) have upgraded from NFC wild-card team to NFC South winners in their quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions. But they can still improve their position a little in the 2021-2022 NFL playoffs.
Tampa Bay is right there with locked-in No. 1 seed Green Bay as a tough team to beat in the NFC tournament. Here’s looking at the Buccaneers’ range of seeding outcomes coming out of Week 18:
How high can the Buccaneers be seeded in the NFC?
The Buccaneers are the current No. 3 seed behind the Packers and the No. 2 Rams.
They will try their best to move up to No. 2, so they can play two home games in the NFC tournament after playing none as a wild card in last year’s playoffs — until “hosting” Super Bowl 55 vs. the Chiefs. That’s important, because the Buccaneers have lost only one game at Raymond James Stadium this season, to the Saints in Week 15.
To get the No. 2 seed, it’s simple. The Buccaneers need to beat or tie the Panthers at home on Sunday while the Rams lose to the 49ers at the same time. The Bucs need to have a better record than the Rams, because they lost to them in Los Angeles in Week 3.
The Buccaneers don’t need to do much to keep the No. 3. A win over the Panthers would guarantee at least that, no matter what the Rams do. They could also lose to the Panthers and keep the No. 3 with a Cowboys win. That’s because the Bucs have the head-to-head tiebreaker (Week 1 win) over the Cowboys, who can only match the Bucs at 12-5.
There’s only one scenario where the Buccaneers can fall to No. 4 with a loss. If the Rams also lose like the Panthers but should win the NFC West via a Cardinals loss, plus the Cowboys win to create a three-way tie at 12-5, the Bucs would have the worst conference record of the teams at 7-5. That would make the Cowboys (10-2 in NFC play) go up to No. 2 and Rams (8-4) slide to No. 3.
Should the Buccaneers lose to the Panthers, the Rams lose to the 49ers and the Cardinals win the NFC West by beating the Seahawks, the Cardinals would be No. 2, the Buccaneers No. 3, and the Cowboys No. 4. Dallas would drop there because of losing to both Arizona and Tampa Bay. The Rams would then drop to the top wild-card spot at No. 5.
No. 3 is the most likely seeding outcome for the Buccaneers, but No. 2 is very much in play, given the 49ers (9-7) will give the Rams a tough game as they fight for a wild-card spot.