TAMPA, Fla – Believe it or not, the Bucs still lead an NFC South that has been mired in quicksand this season.
At 5-6 following an overtime defeat at Cleveland, Todd Bowles’ team has a one-half game lead on 5-7 Atlanta. Carolina and New Orleans are 4-8. The Buccaneers, who have a game remaining against each division foe, defeated the Saints and Falcons and lost to the Panthers earlier this season. They host the Saints next Monday night.
The division “race” will undoubtedly come down to the wire. The Bucs’ final two games are against visiting Carolina on New Year’s Day and at Atlanta to conclude the regular season. By then, a mathematician may be called upon to sort out the tiebreaker scenarios.
While the numbers appear ugly, there have been three instances in non-strike seasons in which a team with a losing record won its division.
2020 Washington Football Team (NFC East, 7-9)
Incredibly enough, two of the teams on this short list were coached by the same man: Ron Rivera. In his first season in Landover, Rivera took over a 3-13 club and produced a four-game improvement, which was notable in itself. Then consider Washington stood at 2-7 in mid-November and you have one most improbable season.
A 20-14 win at Philadelphia in the season finale sent Washington into the postseason. A loss would have resulted in the 6-10 Giants winning the NFC East by virtue of their two wins over the WFT. The first rung on the postseason ladder that led to a Super Bowl victory for the Bucs was a 31-23 wild-card win over Washington. It was a game the Bucs never trailed, but Washington made very interesting by coming within five points with less than five minutes remaining.
2014 Carolina Panthers (NFC South, 7-8-1)
The first team Rivera led to a division title despite a sub-.500 mark endured a 10-week stretch with only one win, which left the Panthers at 3-8-1. Think about that. A four-game win streak in the season’s final month was capped by a 34-3 win at Atlanta, a matchup that determined the NFC South. The victory gave the Panthers playoff appearances in consecutive seasons for the first time in their history.
The Panthers continued to roll as they defeated Arizona in a wild-card matchup, 27-16, a year after a 12-4 season led to a one-and-done playoff appearance. Their season came to an end the following week when they lost at Seattle, 31-17, in what was a tight game before the Seahawks pulled away in the fourth quarter.
2010 Seattle Seahawks (NFC North, 7-9)
After starting 5-4, Pete Carroll’s Seahawks did their best to go home after the regular season by losing five of their next six to fall to 6-9. However, Seattle found itself in a winner-captures-the-NFC North season finale with the Rams. A 16-6 win over St. Louis, where the Rams were located at the time, left both teams at 7-9. The teams split their two games, so Seattle won the division based on a better division record.
Like the Panthers four years later, the Seahawks took advantage of their lease on life. Matt Hasselbeck threw four touchdown passes as Seattle outslugged New Orleans, 41-36, in a wild-card game. The Seahawks were eliminated when they lost at Chicago the following week, 35-24.