NFC Playoff Breakdown – Week 11

November 22nd, 2008

By BOB FOX analyst Bob Fox takes a weekly look at the NFC playoff picture. Fox writes for numerous sports publications. He brings an insightful take on the conference. analyst Bob Fox says the Packers should step up to help the Bucs with games against New Orleans and Carolina in November. The Bucs already gave the Pack a hand with wins against their division rivals, Chicago and Minnesota analyst Bob Fox says the Packers should step up to help the Bucs in games against New Orleans and Carolina in November. The Bucs already gave the Pack a hand with wins against their division rivals, Chicago and Minnesota

This year, it almost looks like the Bucs and Green Bay Packers have formed an alliance to help each other get to the playoffs, which shows again how much these great franchises have improved over the past two decades.

In the late 1980s, when ESPN broadcast NFL Primetime, Chris Berman and the late Pete Axthelm borrowed the phrase “The Bay of Pigs” when talking about matchups between the Bucs and Packers. Both teams were woeful then, like the botched “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba in April 1961.  

The downslide started for the Packers in 1986, when coach Forrest Gregg gutted the team to add youth. The Packers suffered seasons of 4-12, 5-9-1 and 4-12 from 1986 through 1988, when Lindy Infante took over as coach. 

Infante, with the help of QB Don Majkowski, led the Packers to a 10-6 record in 1989. The success, however, was short-lived. The Packers fell to 6-10 in 1990, and 4-12 in 1991.  

The Packers’ revival began in 1992, under new coach Mike Holmgren and new quarterback Brett Favre. Since then, the Packers have posted the best record in the NFL, highlighted by just one losing season (2005),  a win in Super Bowl XXXI and 22 playoff games.

The Bucs were born in 1976 and lost their first 26 games. But they won the NFC Central in 1979 and 1981, and reached the NFC championship game in 1979. Starting in 1983, however, things got progressively worse for the Bucs. Twelve consecutive double-digits losing seasons followed until 1994, and Tampa Bay didn’t have a winning record until 1997, when they went 10-6.

The biggest reason for the turnaround was Tony Dungy, who coached the Bucs to a 54-42 record from 1996 to 2001, and won the NFC Central in 1999. The Bucs, however, couldn’t get over the playoff hump under Dungy, and in 2002, they made former Packers assistant Jon Gruden their coach. Sure enough, Tampa Bay won it all that year.

Lately, however, the Bucs have suffered a couple a one-game-and-out situations in the playoffs.  The worst part is that both losses were at the cozy confines of Raymond James Stadium.

As for this season’s alliance between the Bucs and Packers, the Bucs have done their part, although they also beat the Packers, 30-21, at Raymond James Stadium in September. The Bucs faced a new nemesis at QB for the Packers in that game, Aaron Rodgers. Favre had faced the Bucs 22 times, winning 15 times. The Bucs relentlessly pressured Rodgers and he ended up spraining his shoulder. 

The 7-3 Bucs, however, have helped the Packers out, as they defeated both the 5-5 Chicago Bears and the 5-5 Minnesota Vikings this year. Both reside in first place in the NFC North with the Packers. 

The Packers get their chance to return the favor in the next two weeks, as they will play in New Orleans on Monday night to take on the 5-5 Saints who are in fourth place in the very competitive NFC South, and then will host the first-place, 8-2 Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field the following Sunday.

The next six weeks will determine which six teams from the NFC will make the playoff field.  Right now, it looks like the Wild Card teams will come from either the NFC South or NFC East.  Here is a rundown, division by division:

NFC East
New York Giants  9-1
Washington Redskins  6-4
Dallas Cowboys  6-4
Philadelphia Eagles  5-4-1

A few weeks ago most assumed that one or maybe even two Wild Card teams would come from this division.  Except for the Giants obviously being the most dominant team in the NFC, the rest of the division has floundered the past few weeks.

NFC North 
Green Bay Packers  5-5
Chicago Bears  5-5
Minnesota Vikings  5-5
Detroit Lions  0-10

It certainly looks like only the division winner will be heading to the playoffs, unless a couple of teams catch fire in the next six weeks.  The Vikings have been inconsistent all season and the Bears were demolished by the Packers 37-3 at Lambeau Field on Sunday.  The Packers and Bears still have to play each other again, as do the Vikings and Bears.

NFC South
Carolina Panthers   8-2
Tampa Bay Bucs  7-3
Atlanta Falcons  6-4
New Orleans Saints  5-5

To me, this is clearly the best and most competitive division in the NFC.  Every team can be dangerous, and the Bucs have a relatively easy schedule from here on out. And it would really help if they can get some assistance from teams like the Packers in defeating their divisional rivals.  Jeff Garcia has re-energized the Bucs offense with his gutsy play, and the Bucs defense is always opportunistic.  I definitely see at least one team coming from this division as a Wild Card team.

NFC West
Arizona Cardinals  7-3
San Francisco 49ers  3-7
Seattle Seahawks 2-8
St. Louis Rams  2-8

Except for the Cardinals, nobody from this division is going anywhere.  The Seahawks drop off has been somewhat surprising, but not when one looks at their massive rate of injuries at key positions.  The Cardinals have probably the best passing attack in the NFL right now as Kurt Warner is garnering talk as a possible MVP with the great season he is having.

Bottom line, these next six games will all be huge games, especially the inter-divisional games in the NFC East, NFC North and NFC South.  The Packers can help out the Bucs quite a bit in the next two weeks.

Both teams have made themselves into upper-tier teams over the last decade or so, even if they have had a few bumps along the road. It wasn’t like that in the late 1980s, when it was called ”The Bay of Pigs.”

Now, it’s just two quality football teams that happen to reside on a bay.

4 Responses to “NFC Playoff Breakdown – Week 11”

  1. The Professor Says:

    The playoff race is not as close as it looks. The Bucs have a huge advantage and it comes from the tie-breaker scenario, conference record.

    The first tie-breaker in the wild card (out of division) is head-to-head. In that case, Dallas only needs to tie the Bucs. But the second tie breaker is conference record. The Bucs are 6-2. The next 3 teams in the wild card race (other than Dallas) are Washington, Atlanta and Philly. They all have lesser conference records. So the Bucs have the tie breaker over all 3. In other words, those teams need two more wins than the Bucs in the last 6.

    So…even if the Bucs only go 3-3 in last 6. Which is very doable considering the schedule…the Cowboys would have to win 4 and one of those other teams would have to win 5. So somebody would have to go 5-1 in the last 6 for the Bucs to miss the playoffs, assuming the Bucs dont have a total meltdown.

    Philly still has games against the Giants, Skins and Cowboys. Can they win 2 of those? Doubtful.

    The Bucs can take care of Atlanta head-to-head.

    The only worry is Washington. there schedule COULD lead to a 5-1 run. but that is asking a lot.

    Right now?I put the Bucs chances at 80%

  2. Katfat Says:

    Hey, my post disappeared. i dont’ think I curesed but I might have. ANwyay, Professor you’re assuming the Bucs can take Atlanta on short rest. That assumes a lot.

  3. The Professor Says:

    actually, no. All i am assuming is the Bucs can go 3-3 in their final 6. That is 6 games that includes a game at Detroit and home against the Raiders, maybe the two worst teams in the league. If those are wins, they only need 1 win in the other 4, which includes 2 home games. So even if the Bucs lose the Falcons game, they are fine.

    11 wins will guarantee a playoff spot. 10 wins and the Bucs are probably in the playoffs because they have the tie-breaker over all the other teams except Dallas, due to their conference record.

  4. admin Says:


    Joe apologizes about that. Not sure why your post vanished. Joe will pass this along to our IT guru. Maybe there’s a glitch somewhere?

    Thanks for tipping us off.