With New Orleans’ magic number to win the NFC South at one and with four weeks left in the regular season, the Buccaneers most likely will play up to three playoff games on the road. Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians shrugs at the road-warrior reality that his team may be facing.
“Just getting in the dance,” Arians told reporters on Tuesday regarding his team’s postseason goals. “This year especially, with no fans, the home-field advantage is really going to be out the window. 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.”
He may be right. Unless Dallas somehow wins the NFC East (it’s not looking likely), the various teams in position to host games in the wild-card round most likely won’t have fans present. If the Saints, who currently hold the No. 1 seed and the bye that goes with it, can find a way to leverage fans based on the political realities of New Orleans (keep ’em out) versus Louisiana (let ’em in), maybe the Saints will have fans present.
If the Buccaneers finish with the No. 5 seed, they could in theory host a divisional-round game (and have fans present). If the three wild-card teams road teams win in the wild-card round, the No. 7 seed would travel to the No. 1 seed, and the No. 5 seed would host the No. 6 seed.
The Buccaneers, at 7-5, are in good position to make it to the dance, but they don’t have much room for getting their feet caught in their shoelaces.
“Minnesota’s one game behind us [and] they’ll have the tiebreaker,” Arians said when asked about the fact that none of Tampa’s final four opponents are above .500. “This is a huge game. We’re not looking by [anybody], that’s for sure.”
They shouldn’t look past anybody. Frankly, they’re currently not good enough to look past anybody. With a 1-3 record over the past three games, the Buccaneers must re-establish themselves. They have the skill to do it; they should beat Minnesota, which has struggled with mediocre opponents in recent weeks, easily.