Hey, you never want to say never in professional sports. Just ask all Chicago Cubs fans who are still celebrating the Lovable Losers' World Series title. That said, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would need a holiday-type miracle in Week 17 to reach the postseason.
The Bucs (8-7) have picked a bad time to go into a mini-slump, losing Week 15 at Dallas and on Christmas Eve in New Orleans. The Buccaneers' loss to the Saints locked up the NFC South for Atlanta (10-5) and ensured a wild card for the New York Giants.
So what must Tampa have happen in Week 17 to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007? First, they must beat visiting Carolina and Tampa Bay is a 6.5-point favorite on NFL odds. The Bucs won in Charlotte in Week 5 on a Monday night, 17-14. Roberto Aguayo kicked a 38-yard field goal as time expired. The Panthers were without starting quarterback Cam Newton due to injury.
Beating Carolina is the easy part in a 1 p.m. ET kickoff as the Panthers are playing out the string. Tampa also needs Dallas to beat Philadelphia, Tennessee to beat Houston, Indianapolis to take out Jacksonville, San Francisco to upset Seattle, Detroit to beat Green Bay in the Sunday night game and ... wait for it ... the New York Giants and Washington Redskins to tie. However, Washington is an 8-point favorite on NFL picks with the Giants expected to rest their starters.
That combination of results would create a tie for the final Wild Card spot between the 9-7 Buccaneers, the 9-7 Packers and the 8-6-2 Redskins (two ties are the equivalent of one win). The first tiebreaker would be record against NFC opponents, and Washington would be eliminated thanks to a 6-5-1 conference record compared to 7-5 for the Bucs and Packers. Tampa and Green Bay would both be 7-5 in the NFC and 3-2 in common games so it would go to strength of victory, which is the combined winning percentage of all of the opponents a team has beaten that season. The Bucs would edge out the Packers if all the listed results above were to happen.
How far has Bucs Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin? He was inactive Week 16 vs. New Orleans and is expected to be again vs. Carolina. He was second in the NFL in rushing last year and got a big new contract but has struggled and been injured in 2016. Martin turns 28 next month and is owed a $7 million base salary in 2017 so he might be cut after the season.