The NFC playoff chase in 2023 has been a fun one. The top of the conference is pretty loaded with the reigning NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles battling it out with both the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys pretty much all year, but heading into Week 17, there's a team in the NFC South that's been emerging when very few people thought they could. That team is Baker Mayfield and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers have a huge opportunity at home in Week 17 with the New Orleans Saints coming to town to really take a stranglehold of the NFC South going into the final week of the season. And although this Buccaneers team is only 8-7 right now, this team has a much different feel than the one that won the NFC South last season with an 8-9 record.
Baker Mayfield, who is the successor of the great Tom Brady, has actualy helped improve this Bucs team in a number of different areas. Despite the Bucs throwing more passes in 2022 than any other team, they ranked just 21st in 3rd down efficiency. This season, they rank 8th in third down conversion rate.
Last year, the Bucs were 25th in the NFL in points scored and this season, they've jumped up eight spots to 17th in the league in that category. And we can't give Baker Mayfield all of the credit, because offensive coordinator Dave Canales -- in his first season with the Bucs after working with Seattle previously -- has been another tremendous addition as the Buccaneers cleaned house and let go of Byron Leftwich last offseason.
The combination of Canales and Mayfield has worked wonders for the Bucs. Although Baker Mayfield was looking more like a future perennial backup when he was with the Panthers last season, he proved in a short stint with the Los Angeles Rams that he still has starter qualities and maybe even short-term franchise QB qualities.
Playing on a very modest one-year deal worth just $4 million, Baker Mayfield may soon have the chance to sign a deal similar to the one we saw Geno Smith sign last offseason, a deal worth $25 million annually. And the Bucs would be wise to keep him around.
This Buccaneers team was expected to be really bad this season because of the loss of Tom Brady and all of the changes offensively, but anyone who looked at the roster knew that there was really no chance -- barring significant injuries -- that this team was just going to immediately bottom out. And the risk-reward proposition with Baker Mayfield has turned out to be extremely worthwhile.
The Buccaneers have Mayfield playing as well as we have seen him play in the NFL. He's got 26 passing touchdowns this season and just eight interceptions. He's making plays, limiting mistakes, and he's about to potentially help the Bucs win the NFC South again. It's shocking that more teams weren't in on Mayfield at the price of just $4 million on a one-year deal, but sometimes the situation is everything. Mayfield is in a great situation and he's resurrected his career as a member of the Buccaneers in 2023.
And you can't help but think with the way he's playing this season that this team could be a true threat in the NFC.