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NFL Playoff Picture: Tom Brady inspires Buccaneers whilst Dolphins could miss out

Tom Brady inspired the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a stunning fourth quarter comeback victory over the Carolina Panthers as the Florida franchise clinched the NFC South title in dramatic fashion.

Regarded by many as the greatest football player of all time, the fabled quarterback produced a monstrous performance to help his side erase a double-digit second half deficit for a second successive week, and in the process keep the Buccaneers' +1800 Lombardi Trophy hopes alive. 

The seven-time Super Bowl champion threw for 432 yards and three long TDs to Mike Evans, as well as completing a rushing TD of his own to secure the home side the victory they needed to rubber-stamp a home playoff showdown with either Dallas Cowboys (+1000 To Win Outright) or Philadelphia Eagles (+550 To Win Outright) in a couple of weeks time. 

The Panthers (6-10) led 14-0 early on and boasted an 11-point cushion just 10 seconds into the fourth quarter after Sam Arnold's third TD pass of the game, but it was all Tampa Bay from there as Brady and Evans combined in scintillating fashion to turn the game on its head during a pulsating finale. 

The 30-24 victory means that for a third straight season the Buccaneers will be competing in the playoffs and the second consecutive season the franchise can call themselves the NFC South champions, whilst the result also means Brady will feature postseason for an unprecedented 14th successive campaign. 

The Buccaneers, who are +800 to claim the NFC title, may not have the same momentum that took them all the way to Raymond James Stadium success in 2021, but boasting the expertise of the irrepressible Brady, at 18/1, the Floridians will certainly have their postseason backers as they bid to land the world championship for a third time.

The NFL playoff picture

Plenty has already been settled in the playoff hunt with just one week of the regular season remaining, but there are still a handful of spots up for grabs.

We know that from the AFC, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens are assured of a postseason place, whilst the Buccaneers have joined the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants in progressing from their respective NFC divisions.

Despite that, it promises to be an enthralling end to the season, so let's take a look at the lay of the land as we look forward to next weekend's Week 18 action - with plenty still to play for!

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Giants end drought as Eagles beaten again...

It's largely been a season of dominance for +550 Super Bowl shots Philadelphia Eagles, but there are signs that the previous runaway NFC East leaders are running out of steam at the wrong time.

Their dramatic defeat against divisional rivals Dallas Cowboys was followed-up with a far more concerning 20-10 reverse against the New Orleans Saints, and the franchise may now be forced into pressing injured star quarterback Jalen Hurts back into action in their regular season curtain-closer at the weekend.

Philadelphia were cruising towards top spot in the NFC prior to their recent loss of form, but their hopes of securing what was an almost guaranteed first round bye now hang in the balance with a potential matchup with Tampa Bay on the cards if they succumb to a third straight loss against New York Giants and the Cowboys end the season victoriously.

But with the Giants now assured of a playoff spot for the first time in seven years thanks to a thumping 38-10 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, there is every possibility that they will rest a number of their big guns against the Eagles in their forthcoming showdown, with one eye on the playoffs.

We're currently -1400 on the Eagles landing top spot in the NFC East, with the Cowboys the big +850 outsiders.

Packers and Lions set for monumental showdown...

After a disastrous start to the season, Green Bay Packers (8-8) are just a solitary win away from securing themselves the most unlikely playoff berth after blitzing Minnesota Vikings 41-7 at Lambeau Field.

Aaron Rodgers and his side had seemingly left themselves with a mountain far too high to scale after being beaten in eight of their opening 12 games, but four successive victories have catapulted them right back into contention, and they know that a fifth straight win against the Detroit Lions at the weekend will secure their passage.

A fourth straight postseason berth seemed out of the question after a 1-7 stretch dropped the Packers to 4-8, but they haven't lost since and are now priced at -220 to prevail against the Lions and move on to the postseason.

If Detroit can follow up their 41-10 success over the Chicago Bears with victory at the weekend, they will be reliant on the LA Rams overcoming Seattle Seahawks, otherwise it will be Seattle clinching the wildcard spot.

The Lions are +850 to make the playoffs with the Seahawks available at +275.

Patriots in the frame whilst Dolphins could miss out...

Miami Dolphins are now -125 to miss out on the playoffs after succumbing to a 23-21 defeat against the New England Patriots, who now face a win-and-in clash with the Buffalo Bills at the weekend.

The defeat was the Dolphins fifth in succession, and to compound their anguish, they had to play the final stretches of the matchup in Florida with their third-choice QB Skylar Thompson after Teddy Bridgewater suffered a finger injury in the third quarter.

Regular starter Tua Tagovailoa remains in concussion protocol and it remains to be seen if either will be fit and available to start in their must-win showdown with the New York Jets, where they will also be reliant on the Bills prevailing over the Patriots to secure a postseason spot for the first time since 2017.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers are now +450 shots to book a playoff date after keeping their hopes intact thanks to a 16-13 victory over Baltimore Ravens, who are already guaranteed a playoff berth. 

The Steelers head into their regular season finale with Cleveland Browns knowing that victory, together with defeats for the Patriots and Dolphins, will see them snatch a wildcard spot.

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