Even with the Bears loss the Bucs are still in a good position for the playoff hunt. The Bucs are tied for the third best record in the conference and they currently own the tie breaker over Atlanta and Washington. But I will break down then playoff picture in greater detail later in this post.
I had the opportunity to watch this game in person, which also continued my bad luck charm streak for Tampa Bay teams. In the last four games I have seen in person (Bucs twice, Bolts and Rays), none of the Tampa Bay teams have won.
Matt Bryant deserves the lion's share of the blame for the loss. Any kicker worth their salt would have made that 29 yard field goal. Bryant is a right footed kicker who lined up from the left hash mark. It doesn't get much easier for a kicker. Besides missing a makeable kick, Bryant made another mistake which led to a Bears touchdown.
I will add this caveat, Gruden says Bryant injured his right hamstring on the opening kickoff, and Bryant made the rest of his kicks in pain.
On the opening kickoff Bryant hit a squib kick which hit the ground before the 20 yard line and was easily returned to the Bears 43. The Bears went three and out on their first possesion, but were able to pin the Bucs at the 7 yard line on the punt. Simms would go on to fumble the ball at the 1 yard line and set up the Bears only touchdown.
Now I don't know if the coaches called for a squib kick on the opening kickoff or if Bryant simply pooched the kickoff, but as I said in my preview the only way this Bears offense can score touchdowns is when you give them a short field.
I'm playing the "What If" game now, but IF the Bears has started around their 20 and then punted the Bucs would have started with the ball around the 30. Then IF Simms had fumbled the Bears would have started around the 20 yard line. Chicago is tied (with Tennessee, St. Louis and the Jets) for the 12th worst touchdown percentage in the red zone this season. The Bears only score a touchdown 50 percent of the time when they are in the red zone.
Quick note from the game before I move on to the NFC playoff picture. Chris Simms throws a real nice deep ball. The stats don't back this up but from the last couple of games I have seen Simms has had some nice clutch throws deep down the field. Quarterbacks who can throw the ball deep consistently (i.e. Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer) open up the field for their runningbacks. If Simms can keep up his current level of play I would feel a lot better going into next season.
The NFC Playoffs
The NFC lacks a power house team like Indianapolis or Denver. With the Eagles fall from grace the NFC is more wide open this year than in seasons past. Seattle, Chicago and Carolina all have good records but all these teams have their weaknesses. Chicago and Carolina are proving to have little offense outside of Thomas Jones and Steve Smith respectively. And Seattle needed Jay Feely to miss three kicks to win an overtime game against the Giants.
If the Bucs make it to the playoffs (and this applies to any wild card team) they have a good chance to run the table. It would be extremely difficult to win at Chicago in January, but the Bears have no offense as long as Kyle Orton is their quarterback.
The current playoff picture:
1. Seattle 9-2
2. Chicago 8-3
3. Carolina 8-3
4. Four teams tied
. . . Dallas 7-4
. . . New York 7-4
. . . Tampa Bay 7-4
. . . Atlanta 7-4
8. Minnesota 6-5
9. Washington 5-6
Dallas owns the first tiebreaker (head to head) over the Giants, as does Tampa Bay over Atlanta. The second tiebreaker, better division record, will not be decided until the end of the season.
Seattle- at Philly, San Fran, at Tenn, Indy, at Green Bay
Chicago- Packers, at Pitt, Atlanta, at Green Bay, at Minnesota
Carolina- Atlanta, Tampa Bay, at New Orleans, Dallas, at Atlanta
Dallas- at NY Giants, Kansas City, at Washington, at Carolina, St. Louis
NY Giants- Dallas, at Philly, Kansas City, at Washington, at Oakland
Tampa Bay- at New Orleans, at Carolina, at New England, Atlanta, New Orleans
Atlanta- at Carolina, New Orleans, at Chicago, at Tampa Bay, Carolina
Minnesota- at Detroit, St. Louis, Pitt, Baltimore, at Chicago
Washington- at St. Louis, at Arizona, Dallas, NY Giants, at Philly
Easiest remaining schedule- Seattle, only one tough game at home against the Colts. And by the time Seattle plays Indy the game could be meaningless for both teams.
Toughest remaining schedule- Carolina and Dallas. Both teams have only one easy game apiece, the Panthers against the New Orleans Saints of Baton Rouge, and Dallas at home against the Rams.
My NFC Playoff Prediction:
3. NY Giants
6. Tampa Bay
The NFC South and East could go either way. Tampa Bay could win the division as easily as Carolina could but I'm basing my prediction on the results of the previous games (i.e Carolina's pounding of Tampa Bay). I'll feel a lot better about my picks after next weekend's games, specifically Giants vs Dallas and Atlanta vs Carolina.