Bucs Could Earn NFC's No. 2 Seed
Not only are the Bucs in control of the division race, they can earn the NFC's No. 2 playoff seed and a bye week if the Bears cooperate. Tampa Bay will clinch the NFC South for the first time since the 2002 championship season if it wins, as expected, against the Saints at home on New Year's Day.

The Panthers, who finish at Atlanta, are tied with the Bucs at 10-5, but Tampa Bay has a better division record. If the Bucs beat New Orleans, they can finish no worse than the No. 3 seed, and there's a tantalizing prospect for more. Should Green Bay upset Chicago today at Lambeau Field and the Bears lose their regular-season finale at Minnesota to finish 10-6, the Bucs could grab the No. 2 seed behind Seattle.

If Tampa Bay and the Giants each finish 11-5, the Bucs would own the tiebreaker advantage and the second seed because of a better conference record. "Tampa Bay is a very talented football team," said Warrick Dunn, a former Bucs running back whose Falcons were mathematically eliminated following Saturday's 27-24 overtime loss. "They definitely have a defense capable of taking them places in the playoffs."

The surging Redskins have placed themselves in prime position to make the playoffs, and possibly come to Raymond James Stadium in two weeks for a first-round matchup. Washington's fourth consecutive win, 35-20 against the Giants, has the Redskins (9-6) guaranteed of a wild-card spot if they win at Philadelphia next week. "This gives us an opportunity to sort of take care of it ourselves," Redskins guard Ray Brown said. "We're counting on ourselves."

By rallying past Carolina on the road, the Cowboys also improved to 9-6 and kept their flickering postseason hopes alive. Dallas finishes at home against the fading Rams on Sunday night and only three NFL teams since 1990 have missed the playoffs with 10 wins. "The Cowboys kicked our butt," Panthers linebacker Brandon Short said. "They executed better than we did. I never would have expected it."

The Seahawks secured the NFC's top seed by topping the Indianapolis Colts 28-13. Seattle, which finishes at Green Bay, won't play until the weekend of Jan. 14-15.

Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune 25 December 2005