Tampa Bay Buccaneers News: Bucs Can Still Make Playoffs But Need Help

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers desperately need a victory against the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Tampa Bay is among three teams in the NFC with a 6-7 record though the Bucs currently are slated seventh in the playoff race due to winning a plethora of tie-breakers according to the NFL. The Buccaneers sit two games behind wild card leaders Seattle Seahawks (8-5) and Minnesota Vikings (8-5).

Tampa Bay has lost two of its past three games after dropping a critical 24-17 decision to the New Orleans Saints last Sunday. The Buccaneers offense struggled once again, failing to tally 20 points for the fourth time in the past six games.

Quarterback Jameis Winston had perhaps his worst outing of what can be said to be a pretty productive rookie campaign. Winston completed 18 of 32 passes (56.3 percent) for 182 yards and one touchdown. He added 24 yards on three carries.

Despite his struggles versus the Saints, St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher has been impressed with Winston, who has thrown for 3,058 yards this year along with 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

“Well, we know him well,” Fisher told Nick Wagoner of ESPN. “We worked him out. We spent a lot of time with him and knew he was going to be a very good player. Thus far, he’s done a great job with that offense. Defensively, we’re going to have to just kind of challenge him a little bit and give him an ever-changing look and try to make some plays.”

Tampa Bay’s defense, which is ranked No. 11 in the NFL, allowed the Saints 388 total yards offense and permitted them to convert 12 of their 17 third downs (70.5 percent). The Bucs, the most penalized team in the NFL, were also flagged eight times for 80 yards versus New Orleans.

Even worse for the Buccaneers is that they will be without a few starters against the Rams (5-8) as a result from injuries suffered during the Saints’ game. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who is the team’s second leading pass catcher, is out with a knee injury while defensive tackle Akeem Spence will miss the game with an ankle injury. In addition, middle linebacker Bruce Carter (ankle) is listed as doubtful.

St. Louis is mathematically still alive for a playoff spot after snapping a five-game losing streak with a 21-14 victory over the Detroit Lions last week. The Rams, who rank 31st in the league in total offense, racked up 317 yards including 203 yards on the ground against the Lions. St. Louis had averaged 10.8 points along with 275.0 yards during its five-game skid.

Rams running back Todd Gurley is 25 yards shy of joining Eric Dickerson (1983) and Jerome Bettis (1993) as the only 1,000-yard rookie rushers in franchise history,
Rams’ running back Todd Gurley is 25 yards shy of joining Eric Dickerson (1983) and Jerome Bettis (1993) as the only 1,000-yard rookie rushers in franchise history (photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images).

Tampa Bay is 3-3 in road games this season, and the Buccaneers have had their fair of success against NFC opponents this year, going 5-4 so far. However, the Bucs have lost to the Rams in each of the past three seasons as they have been only able to manage 14.3 points along with 310.3 yards a game.

St. Louis, which may be playing its last game in St. Louis, is 4-3 at the Edward Jones Dome this year and 4-5 against NFC opponents.

If Tampa Bay suffers a fourth straight setback to the Rams, and Seattle and Minnesota wins its games Sunday, the Bucs will be eliminated from playoff contention. Even with a win Thursday, the Buccaneers need a lot of help to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007. ESPN insiders give Tampa just a 6 percent chance of making the playoffs.

Tampa Bay concludes the regular season with a home game against Chicago and then will be at Carolina. In the meanwhile, the Vikings host the Bears and Giants the next weeks before traveling to Green Bay. Minnesota has lost two straight but is 4-2 at home.

Seattle, one of the hottest teams, has won four straight. The Seahawks, who are 4-2 at home, hosts Cleveland and St. Louis before concluding the season in Arizona.

[Photo by Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini]

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