Michael Ainsworth
December 20, 2016

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't spending a lot of time mulling over the prospects of earning a playoff berth for the first time in nearly a decade.

The surest way to give themselves the best possible shot is to win their remaining two games, and that's all Jameis Winston and his teammates need to know.

''I love math, but I don't trust the percentages and the probabilities,'' the second-year quarterback said. ''I trust our heart, this team's heart, and what we need to do to find a way to get in there.''

The Bucs (8-6) play at New Orleans on Saturday, then close out the regular season at home against defending NFC champion Carolina on Jan.1.

Tampa Bay, which trails first-place Atlanta (9-5) by one game in the NFC South standings, hasn't made the playoffs since 2007.

Beating the Saints and Panthers won't absolutely guarantee a berth, however there are few potential scenarios that would eliminate the Bucs if they finish with 10 wins.

Coach Dirk Koetter conceded that at this point in the season, it's difficult to keep track of all the mathematical possibilities associated with a playoff race.

''Of course it's out there, and we talked about it a little bit (Tuesday). But if we don't do what we're supposed to do, then it's just speculation,'' Koetter said. ''So we can't spend too much time. ... We've got our hands full just worrying about the Saints this week. The rest of it is all just a bunch of math problems that are over my head.''

Last Sunday's 26-20 loss at Dallas was Tampa Bay's first in six weeks. It cost the Bucs a clear path to the second NFC wild-card spot, although they didn't have to wait long for some much-needed help with Washington (7-6-1) losing to Carolina to relinquish the inside track to a berth on Monday night.

Winston is confident the team, which won five straight to climb into playoff contention after starting 3-5, has the mettle to bounce back and finish strong.

He feels the team demonstrated that it has what it takes to get the job done by putting together a five-game winning streak - Tampa Bay's longest in 13 years - to climb into contention after a 3-5 start.

''Just never giving up. Playing against tough teams and believing that we can do it, expecting to win, not hoping,'' the quarterback said.

''Not playing not to lose, but playing to win. That's important because it's a fine margin between a win and a loss,'' Winston added. ''You see it, inches really do determine the game that we play. So when you go out there expecting to win instead of hoping to win, it's different.''

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