The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) will begin their title defense at home against the Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) in Sunday’s NFC Wild Card game. No team has repeated as Super Bowl champions since the 2003-04 Patriots, the longest drought in NFL history without a repeat champion.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, January 16, 2022 – 01:00 PM EST at Raymond James Stadium
The Buccaneers (9-8 ATS) are an 8.5-point favorite over the Eagles (8-8-1 ATS) at the NFL odds board. Since losing to the Buccaneers in Week 6, the Eagles have only lost one game by more than six points where the starters played the majority of the game. Can an inexperienced Philadelphia team stun Tom Brady in the playoffs for a second time?
Week 6 Recap: Buccaneers 28 - Eagles 22
These teams met on a short week (Thursday night) in Philadelphia back in Week 6 when the Buccaneers were healthier, and the Eagles were off to a 2-3 start. Tampa Bay led 28-7 before the Eagles got a late cover by drawing to within 28-22. The Bucs ran out the final 5:54 on the clock, never giving the Eagles a chance to score a game-winning touchdown.
The Buccaneers had six plays that gained more than 15 yards that night, though five of them were by players they may not have available on Sunday. Antonio Brown, who was the only Tampa Bay player to break 50 receiving yards with his nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, is obviously gone for good in Tampa. Chris Godwin tore his ACL in December. Leonard Fournette had 81 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Week 6, but he also was injured in that New Orleans shutout and may not be ready to go this week. It is possible he’s activated from injured reserve.
However, the Buccaneers have gotten healthier on defense since that game, and Rob Gronkowski was inactive that night. He’s been dominant again down the stretch and is an all-time great postseason performer. Look for a lot of Gronkowski and Mike Evans in this game as they terrorized the Panthers on Sunday in the first game without Brown or Godwin available.
But the Eagles will also look different from Week 6. Tight end Dallas Goedert was out that night as Zach Ertz, in his final game before being traded to Arizona, caught a touchdown for the Eagles. Goedert is no Gronkowski, but he has gone over 70 yards in three of his last four games. The Eagles were also without standout tackle Lane Johnson, who is back for the top rushing offense in the league.
What Are the Changes This Time?
When these teams met in Week 6, the Eagles lacked an identity under rookie coach Nick Sirianni. You can tell the Eagles wanted to run the ball, but they had that bad loss in Dallas where the running backs infamously had three carries for the whole game.
Since then, the Eagles have emerged as the most dominant rushing offense in the league, though that may not be an edge against Tampa Bay’s stout run defense, led by Vita Vea. In Week 6, the Eagles only handed off to Miles Sanders nine times for 56 yards. Quarterback Jalen Hurts had 10 runs for 44 yards and scored two touchdowns. Sanders is recovering from a broken hand, but the Eagles have some capable backs in Boston Scott and Jordan Howard.
Still, it will likely come down to how well Hurts can handle his first playoff start on the road after resting in Week 18. He’s played in big college games, but this is the NFL playoffs. Hurts had a season-low 17.9% of his passes go for a first down against Tampa Bay in Week 6. But the Buccaneers have already lost this season to teams with Trevor Siemian, Taylor Heinicke, and Taysom Hill at quarterback. It’s not like Hurts has to throw for 300 yards in this game, but he must be careful to avoid turnovers as the Buccaneers are one of the best defenses at forcing those.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia defense started the season allowing a record five quarterbacks, including Brady in Week 6, to complete at least 80% of their passes. Things got better from there, but that had more to do with the caliber of quarterbacks faced. You are playing Brady on the road; not Garrett Gilbert or Jake Fromm in Philly. Even Heinicke just completed 75% of his passes against the Eagles in Week 17. The best quarterback the Eagles have beaten all season was Matt Ryan in Week 1, and he just had the worst season of his career.
The Eagles failed to sack Brady in Week 6 as he is one of the hardest quarterbacks to get to this season. He dinked and dunked the Eagles to death that night. Brady’s 3.1 air yards per completion were a season-low. But the Eagles were only able to force him into six bad throws on 42 plays. Meanwhile, Hurts was inaccurate on six of his 26 throws, or over 25% (season-high).
The hope is without Brown and Godwin, Brady has lost his security blankets and will find it harder to sustain drives. But the defenses of the Jets and Panthers the last two weeks show that it’s still really hard to shut down Gronkowski and Evans. The Eagles have held 10 opponents under 19 points this season, but they are also 1-6 when they allow more than 18 points.
The Eagles are 0-6 against playoff teams this year with every loss by at least 6 points (four by 11-plus points). The 2011 Bengals (0-7) are the only other NFL team since the merger to go 0-6 or worse against playoff teams, and those Bengals lost 31-10 in the wild card round to Houston. The Eagles may not get crushed that bad, but this is an inexperienced team coming off a half-assed effort by non-starters against Dallas, and they are facing Brady and the defending champions in their first true home playoff game. This is an elite running offense against an elite running defense.
Everything about this matchup says the Buccaneers should roll, so bet against Brady at your own risk. Unless Nick Foles is walking through that tunnel, I’m taking the Bucs over the inexperienced Eagles to start Sunday’s NFL picks.
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