Will the Tampa Bay Bucs steal a playoff spot?

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Cheers and Jeers,Sports,NFL,Brian McNally

Most of the division races in the NFC aren't all that close as the NFL season passes its midway point. Both the NFC East-leading New York Giants (6-3) and the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons (8-0) are well ahead of the competition. San Francisco (6-2) has two fewer losses than second-place Seattle (5-4) in the NFC West and already owns a win over the Seahawks.

But Seattle, if it can't make up ground in the division title chase, is one of several teams that will be in the mix down the stretch for the final wild-card spot. One team to look out for? Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers (4-4) do have Minnesota (5-4) in front of them, too, and are tied with Detroit (4-4). But they also thumped the Vikings 36-17 on the road two weeks ago and dropped 42 points on the Raiders last week. Add in 28 points against the Saints in a loss and 38 more in a win over the Chiefs and you see an offense that is humming.

Former Boise State running back Doug Martin has made a huge difference to Tampa Bay's offense. He has six rushing touchdowns in the last three games and 386 rushing yards in the two most recent wins. That gives quarterback Josh Freeman (16 touchdown passes, five interceptions) a little more balance to work with.

"[Martin] has given them life," NBC football analyst Tony Dungy said.

One issue for the Buccaneers is their 2-4 conference record thanks in large part to three losses to NFC East teams. They also still must face the first-place Falcons twice and play at Denver (5-3). But for a team that was not considered a playoff contender before the season, it's a nice position to be in.

- Brian McNally

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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