Can Bucs close out division title?

by Gary Shelton on December 29, 2023

in general

Winfield is the key to Bucs' secondary./TIM WIRT

Friday, 4 a.m.

Above all, keep this in mind about the Tampa Bay Bucs.

They do things the hard way.

Throughout the life of the franchise, they always take the rough highway. They pass through a detour or two. They avoid falling rocks. They try very hard, but they don’t always get out of their own way.

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Think of that as the Bucs play their final home game of the season on Sunday. They have a chance to lock up the division title. They can earn a breather in the season’s final week. They can pass contract raises all around.

Or, they can lose, and set up a win-or-go-home finale against the Panthers.

Knowing the history of the Bucs, which would you expect.

Oh, the Bucs certainly have the tools to win.  They beat the Saints, 26-9, on the road earlier this season. Baker Mayfield has had a better (and cheaper) season  than Derek Carr. The Saints have three losses in their last five games. The Bucs have won four in a row. They’re playing their best football of the year. 

All of which should make any Tampa Bay fan nervous.

For the Bucs, it has always been that way. In 1979, their worst-to-first season, the Bucs were on the verge of the playoffs. And lost. And lost. And lost again. They finally made the-post seaso by winning their last game.

Remember 1981? They were 5-6 before getting hot to make the players.

Even in 2021, wlhen they won the Super Bowl, the Bucs did it the hard way. They had to go on the road to Washington, to New Orleans and to Green Bay to get into the title game. Once there, they clobbered the Kansas City Chiefs.

Know this about the Bucs’ final two games: Neither will be easy (even the finale against a weak Carolina team). The Saints have a lot of talented athletes, and if Alvin Kamara or Chris Olave have a decent day, it could leave a dent in the Bucs’ hopes.

Will it happen?

Remember, this team goes the long way home.

Prediction: New Orleans 23, Tampa Bay 20.

In other NFL games:

Baltimore 27, Miami 21.

Carolina 24, Jacksonville 14.

Chicago 28, Atlanta 21.

San Francisco 30, Washington 10.

Kansas City 26, Cincinnati 19.

And in college games:

Georgia 31, FSU 10.

Michigan 24, Alabama 20.

Washington 30, Texas 28.

Penn State 21, Ole Miss 17.

LSU 27, Wisconsin 16.

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