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Friday, December 26, 2008
Audibles: NFC South Week 17 preview


Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Oakland Raiders (4-11) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-6), 1 p.m. ET

Only a few short weeks ago, the Bucs controlled their playoff destiny. Well, they mismanaged that about as badly as possible. With three consecutive losses, they need a win against Oakland and a lot of help.

The Bucs have five scenarios that would put them in the playoffs:

1) Tampa Bay win plus a Dallas loss or tie.

2) Tampa Bay tie plus Dallas loss plus Minnesota loss or tie.

3) Tampa Bay tie plus Dallas loss plus Chicago loss or tie.

4) Tampa Bay tie plus Dallas tie plus Minnesota tie plus Chicago win or tie.

5) Tampa Bay tie plus Dallas tie plus Chicago tie plus Minnesota win or tie

If that sounds like a lot to ask for, that's because it is. Even a win against a bad Oakland team is far from guaranteed. Tampa Bay is banged up, especially on defense. Even if the Bucs somehow sneak into the playoffs, they don't look like the kind of team that can stay there very long.

St. Louis Rams (2-13) at Atlanta Falcons (10-5), 1 p.m. ET

In perhaps the division's biggest story of the year, the Falcons enter the final regular-season game with a chance to win the NFC South. They need a victory and a Carolina loss to New Orleans.

That scenario also would give Atlanta the No. 2 seed in the NFC and forever put to rest the ghosts of Bobby Petrino and Michael Vick. Even if the Falcons go into the playoffs as a wild-card team, they're still dangerous.

They're relatively healthy and they have momentum on their side. All the Falcons can do is take care of business against St. Louis and keep a close eye on the scoreboard to see what's happening in New Orleans.

Carolina Panthers (11-4) at New Orleans Saints (8-7), 1 p.m. ET

The Panthers had a chance to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but they lost that to the Giants in a brutal overtime game. Carolina probably remains among the NFC's elite, but the Panthers have to be more than a little concerned about the aftereffects of the loss in New York.

The Panthers are banged up, particularly at defensive tackle. A win would give them the No. 2 seed and, more importantly, a much-needed week off. A loss would put them in as a wild-card team -- there's a huge difference between those two slots.

The Saints still have a shot at a winning record, and Drew Brees is within 402 yards of Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season. That gives the Saints some motivation as they try to wrap up a disappointing season.

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