After a hysterical Sunday night game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Football Team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers found their first-round opponent after the Eagles pulled Jalen Hurts midgame and jumped offsides on fourth and short with only two minutes remaining.
The Eagles’ apparent tank job thrust Washington (7-9) into the playoff as the No. 4 seed and the Buccaneers first opponent.
Perhaps the most important matchup of the upcoming Wild Card game comes with the electric Buccaneers passing offense, who will go up against the second-best passing defense in the league, as Washington only gives up 191.8 passing yards per game.
The Football Team’s defense, led by rookie phenom Chase Young, has flown under the radar around the league and could give the Bucs a challenge in the wild card round.
Washington’s new 4-3 defense is led by a powerful pass rush, which ranks sixth in sacks, one spot below the Buccaneers with 47 sacks. The Football Team’s defensive line consists of four first-rounders (yes, you read that right) in the aforementioned Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and finally Montez Sweat. It’s no secret that this unit knows how to get after the quarterback and wreak havoc in backfields, creating an impressive 16.6 quarterback pressures per game this season (PFF).
On the backend, Washington has its fair share of cover corners in Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby, two respectable veterans who know their way around the game. The team as a whole, thanks in turn due to the pressure caused by the defensive line, has caused a total of 16 interceptions, good enough for fifth in the entire NFL. For reference, Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady has only thrown 12 interceptions this entire season.
It has been well documented that Tom Brady has struggled under pressure at times throughout this season, but it appears that many of the pass protection issues have been shored up by now. The Bucs offensive line has seen its fair share of shakeups due to injuries, but should be fully healthy when the team heads to Washington for Saturday’s showdown.
Washington will get creative in an attempt to keep Brady in line, forcing him to have his pre-snap checks and hot routes ready. Establishing the run could also help the Bucs neutralize the pass rush, as Washington ranks 14th in rushing defense, allowing 112.8 yards per game. Ronald Jones is now back healthy and should see a heavy workload paired with Leonard Fournette.
Tampa Bay has been lighting up teams left and right with the second-best passing offense in the league, averaging 289.1 passing yards per game. This comes as little surprise considering the amount of talent on the roster, as Brady has all the weapons he could ask for in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, and Cameron Brate.
Over the final four games of the regular season, Brady has been on a tear himself, completing 69.1% of his passes for 1,333 yards, 12 touchdowns, and one interception (which came off of a dropped pass).
Despite Evans being considered day-to-day with a hyperextended knee, Tampa still has plenty of options to get the ball to, especially as Brown has shown he has yet to lose a step when it comes to football. Brown was outstanding last week in his best game back since arriving in Cigar City, as he posted a magnificent 138 receiving yards on 11 catches, scoring twice against a depleted Falcons secondary.
With all of this talent around him, Brady has thrived, putting up 40+ passing touchdowns for the first time since 2007, when he recorded 50 regular-season touchdowns in New England with the team that finished the regular season without dropping a single game.
Matchup-wise, it will be hard to counter all of the Bucs’ playmakers, especially if Evans does end up playing. Despite not being 100% against the Bears in Week 5, Evans still found a way to catch five receptions and score on a bum ankle. The 6-foot-5 Evans will definitely come into play in the red zone, as both Darby and Fuller come in at 5-11, a significant height difference in a game of inches.
Godwin is another target that will quickly tear apart defenses, as he also posted two touchdown grabs last week. Since returning from injury, Godwin has been Brady’s safety valve along with Gronkowski.
Gronk has shown flashes of his former dominant self in the second half of the season, using his massive 6-6, 265-pound frame to bully linebackers and defensive backs to make contested catches.
Tampa has scored 30+ points seven times this season, all while Washington has allowed 30+ only five times, all of which came prior to Week 11. The most points allowed against the Football Team this season was 34, which Tampa scored six times throughout 2020.
Heading into the game, I’m favoring the Buccaneers offense as they have looked unstoppable in these past few weeks. Each unit is coming together and clicking, causing the offense to run with no hesitation, which was a problem for much of the year. It seems to be a past issue now for the Bucs, but Washington will be aggressive in finding out if any problem remains.
Simply put, nowadays great offense beats great defense and as long as the pocket is clean for the 43-year-old Brady, you simply cannot bet against him (especially in the playoffs), even against the second-best passing defense in the league.