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Bucs defeat Panthers to win NFC South, officially clinch 2021 playoff berth

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers snagged a road win in Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers to clinch the NFC title.

Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers calls a play in the huddle during the game against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium on December 19, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to make yet another run in the post-season this year after a win over their divisional rival, the Carolina Panthers. The win helped them clinch their first NFC South title since the 2007 NFL season under head coach Jon Gruden. They are a game back of the Packers for the No. 1 seed and will be competing for that opportunity for at least one more week.

How the Bucs got here

Do we really need to say the obvious? Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, and he’s playing at an all-time level at the age of 44. Heading into Week 14, Brady led the league with 4,134 passing yards and 36 passing touchdowns. Brady’s completing passes at a 68.2% clip and has ranked fourth among starting QBs in NFL passer rating so far on the season.

Of course, the Bucs have surrounded Brady with an elite arsenal of weapons to help the cause. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans have dominated as one of the best WR duos in the league, having combined for 152 receptions for 2,002 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns this season. Unfortunately, Godwin suffered a torn ACL in Week 15, while Mike Evans suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out of this Week 16 outing.

To complement the passing attack, the Bucs placed an emphasis on RB Leonard Fournette this season. He established himself as the team’s clear RB1 and was having one of the best seasons of his career with a firm role in the passing game, too, with a 13.4% target share — the fourth highest among all NFL RBs. Unfortunately, he was also lost in Week 15 with a hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve, ending his regular season. Ronald Jones took the bulk of the carries in Week 16 with Fournette out.

With the myriad of injuries, we could see even more involvement from TE Rob Gronkowski, who’s averaged 4.4 receptions for 58 yards and 0.67 TDs per game in his age-32 season. The Bucs also got lucky with the timing of the return of wideout Antonio Brown from suspension, who was the team’s leading receiver in Week 16 as the only player with more than 12 targets on the day.

Their defense has been key to their NFC South title, as well, having allowed the sixth-fewest yards per play while generating a total of 25 turnovers heading into Week 15 — the fifth-most in the league. Though their secondary has been marred with injury all season, they’ve allowed scores on just 33.7% of plays, the sixth-lowest rate among NFL defenses. Second-year LB Devin White has been a force, alongside Shaq Barrett who leads the team with 10.0 sacks and ranks 12th among all defenders with 20 QB hits. Unfortunately, Barrett was forced from this game early after being ruled out with a knee injury, so his status moving forward is up in the air as well.