TAMPA, Fla. - Coach Jon Gruden forced a smile, noting that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will need cooperation from a couple of his former employers to ensure another trip to the playoffs.
To get in, the Bucs (9-6) not only have to defeat the Oakland Raiders in Sunday's regular-season finale, but they also need the Eagles to beat or tie the Dallas Cowboys later in the day.
Yes, the same Eagles who have been a nemesis the last decade. The same Eagles who will be knocked out of the race for the NFC's final playoff spot if Tampa Bay takes care of business against the Raiders (4-11).
Gruden, a onetime Eagles assistant, conceded it's awkward rooting for the Eagles, who eliminated Tampa Bay from the playoffs twice before the Bucs beat them in the NFC championship game six years ago.
"There is a lot of irony," said Gruden, whose team has nose-dived since being in a position to repeat as NFC South champion and challenge for the No. 1 seed three weeks ago.
The Raiders and Bucs are facing each other for the third time since Gruden left Oakland for Tampa Bay after the 2001 season.
The teams met in the Super Bowl in Gruden's first year with the Bucs, with Tampa Bay winning, 48-21. The Raiders won the most recent meeting, 30-20, in 2004.