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“Are the Buccaneers still in the playoffs if they lose to the Panthers in Week 17?” isn’t a question we thought we’d have to answer when the 2022 season began.

Coming off a Super Bowl win following the 2020 campaign and a 13-4 season a year ago, Tom Brady & Co. were expected by most to cruise to the NFC South title in 2022. And while the Bucs may indeed still win the division, this season certainly hasn’t gone as expected.

After getting off to a 2-0 start, Tampa Bay lost five of six, a stretch that included TB12’s first three-game losing streak in 20 years. The Bucs won three of their next four to get back to .500 but then lost two straight before scoring an ugly victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas night.

Now 7-8, the Buccaneers are set for a New Year’s Day matchup with the Carolina Panthers, who are surprisingly right there in the NFC South mix with just two weeks remaining in the regular season.

So now we come to the question: Are the Buccaneers still in the playoffs if they lose to the Panthers in Week 17?

Are the Buccaneers still in the playoffs if they lose to the Panthers in Week 17?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game against the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas Day 2022
Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers calls a play in the huddle against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on December 25, 2022 | Norm Hall/Getty Images

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The answer to that specific question is no, as Tampa Bay would be on the outside looking in with a loss. Currently, Tampa Bay holds a one-game lead on Carolina, meaning a win clinches the division and gets Brady a 48th postseason game.

A loss, however, knocks the Bucs out of first place as the Panthers, who won the Week 7 matchup between the two teams, would slide into the top spot in the NFC South as they’d own the head-to-head tiebreaker.

However, the Buccaneers can still get to the NFL Playoffs for a third straight year if they lose to the Panthers on Sunday. But their path becomes much more difficult.

So let’s say Carolina beats Tampa Bay this week, and New Orleans upsets the Philadelphia Eagles. In that scenario, all three teams would be 7-9, with Carolina coming out ahead in all tiebreakers. But if the Buccaneers win their Week 18 matchup with the Falcons and the Saints beat the Panthers, Brady & Co. win the division as they swept New Orleans in the regular season.

So now let’s say New Orleans loses to Philly. The Saints are eliminated from playoff contention in that scenario. In that event, Tampa Bay would still need to beat Atlanta even if New Orleans beats Carolina because, again, if the Panthers and Bucs end the season with the same record, Carolina wins the division via the head-to-head tiebreaker.

So, again, the Buccaneers can still make the playoffs with a loss this week. But life becomes much easier if they just go ahead and clinch on Sunday with a victory.