The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were leading the NFC South just a few weeks ago, but three losses over their last four games have dropped the Bucs from first place in the division to the edge of the playoff race.
A loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday would make the Buccaneers the No. 7 seed in the NFC -- the third and final wild card playoff berth.
The Bucs enter Week 14 as the No. 6 seed in the NFC. The Vikings are the No. 7 seed, and Sunday's game will determine the head-to-head tiebreaker if these teams finish the regular season with the same record.
Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians called the upcoming matchup with the Vikings a "huge game," and he's also not concerned about seeding and homefield advantage as his team fights for a playoff spot. Earning a berth is what matters most.
“Just getting in the dance. We’ve been a one seed and won it [and] we’ve been a six seed and won it. This year especially – with no fans – the home-field advantage is really going to be out the window," Arians said at his press conference Tuesday.
"It’s just going to be lining up and playing in empty stadiums. What has been a big, big part of the playoffs in the past is home-field advantage [but] I don’t think it’s going to be an advantage this year. It’s just a matter of getting in.”
The Buccaneers had a Week 13 bye, and it came at the perfect time. The team's offense, led by quarterback Tom Brady, has not been in sync on a consistent enough basis. This is not unexpected because the offense has incorporated so many new players into the mix since the end of last year, including Brady, Leonard Fournette, Rob Gronkowski and several others.
Arians is optimistic the offense will be clicking a little bit more after an extra week for Brady and Co. to rest/recover, look at film and get in some good practices.
“I think we’ll see it more on Sunday," Arians said. "It was a good rest for [Tom Brady], but also going back and looking at a lot of different things – looking at the way this team plays and the way we’ve played teams like them. It’s still a work in progress – that part is – but again, I feel very comfortable that everybody’s on the same page right now.”
Brady has missed the playoffs just once since he became a starting quarterback in 2001. The Patriots failed to make the postseason in 2002 as defending champs, but Brady led them to the playoffs in 16 of the next 17 seasons before leaving the team in free agency last year. The only year over that span where the Patriots failed to reach the postseason was 2008 when Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1.
Despite the Bucs' recent struggles, the odds of them making the playoffs are still pretty good. They have a soft schedule over the final quarter of the regular season. After playing the Vikings, the Buccaneers play the 4-8 Atlanta Falcons twice (Week 15 and 17) and the 5-7 Detroit Lions (Week 16).
Sunday's game against the Vikings isn't just important for the Bucs in the playoff race, it's a chance to build much-needed consistency and confidence at the most critical juncture of the season.