NFL Playoff Picture: How Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Can Still Clinch the NFC’s No. 2 Seed in Week 18

Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have known for several weeks that they’re headed to the NFL playoffs yet again. However, the reigning Super Bowl champions have yet to determine which seed they’ll have when the postseason begins in mid-January.

That is all set to change in Week 18. Although the Buccaneers cannot clinch the NFC’s top seed, they still have an excellent chance at securing the No. 2 seed on Sunday afternoon.

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers can still clinch the NFC’s No. 2 seed in Week 18

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady in 2022.
Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can finally lock up the NFC’s No. 2 seed | Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Remember in late September when Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams defeated Brady and the Buccaneers in Week 3? Nearly four months later, the Rams’ 34-24 victory could determine which team earns the NFC’s No. 2 seed.

If the Rams defeat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon, they’ll be the No. 2 seed. That would mean the Buccaneers are locked into the No. 3 seed regardless of their outcome against the Carolina Panthers. Tampa Bay’s defense limited the Panthers to 273 total yards in a 32-6 victory on Dec. 26.

However, a Buccaneers victory and a Rams loss or tie will give Tampa Bay the No. 2 seed. Tampa Bay can also clinch the second-best seed if they tie the Panthers and the Rams lose. Things are that simple.

The Cardinals and Cowboys need plenty of help to earn the NFC’s No. 2 seed

Technically speaking, the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys are each still alive in the hunt for the NFC’s No. 2 seed. However, both teams need substantial help to leapfrog Los Angeles and Tampa Bay. 

If the Cardinals defeat the Seattle Seahawks and the Buccaneers and Rams each lose, Arizona wins the NFC West and the No. 2 seed. Dallas will only clinch the No. 2 seed if Tampa Bay and Los Angeles lose and Arizona either loses or ties.

For those interested, the Cardinals can still win the NFC East without being the No. 2 seed. That outcome will only occur if the Cardinals and Buccaneers each win and the Rams lose or tie. 

Which teams might the Buccaneers face in the NFC Wild Card Round?


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Even with the extra playoff team in each conference, the NFL postseason’s seeding system is still relatively simple. Each division winner, at least in the first round, hosts a wild-card team.

If the 2021 NFL Playoffs began today, No. 3 Tampa Bay would host No. 6 San Francisco at Raymond James Stadium. Brady, who grew up a 49ers fan in California, has not faced the five-time Super Bowl champions since Nov. 20, 2016, as a member of the New England Patriots. The three-time NFL MVP threw four touchdowns in a 30-17 victory that day.

The Philadelphia Eagles have already locked up a wild-card spot and can finish as high as No. 6 and as low as No. 7. Brady threw two touchdowns in a 28-22 road victory over the Eagles on Oct. 14. The New Orleans Saints, who need a win and a 49ers loss to clinch a playoff berth for the fifth straight year, swept the Buccaneers this season.

As mentioned earlier, the Rams defeated the Buccaneers in September. Tampa Bay did not play Arizona this season.

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