It's been nearly two decades since the last postseason matchup, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) are facing off against one of their biggest playoff nemeses in the Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) this weekend.
The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, it was Ronde Barber's game-winning interception that highlighted the game for Bucs fans. The Bucs' all-time leader in interceptions catapulted the Bucs into Super Bowl XXXVII and simultaneously shut down The Vet with what is deemed by many as the greatest play in Buccaneers history.
It's safe to assume that Bucs fans are hoping for more plays like that this weekend, but Eagles fans are doing the exact same thing. Except they're hoping said plays fall in the Eagles' favor, this time around.
Either way, someone is moving on and someone is going home after this game.
Which team will it be?
- All-time series: The overall series between the two teams is tied at 10-10. Both teams are tied at 2-2 in postseason play, as well.
- Longest win streak: Philly won four in a row from 2000-2002.
- Largest margin of victory: The Bucs trounced the Eagles, 45-17, back in 2015.
- 2021 offensive and defensive rankings: The Bucs finished 2021 with the NFL's second-best offense (1st pass, 26th run) and the 13th-ranked defense (21st pass, 3rd run). Tampa Bay averaged 30.1 points per game on offense (2nd) and allowed 20.8 points per game on defense (t-5th). The Eagles finished with the NFL's 13th-ranked offense (25th pass, 1st run) and the NFL's 10th-best defense (11th pass, 9th run). They averaged 26.1 points per game on offense (12th), while allowing 22.6 points per game on defense (18th).
What To Watch For
- The trenches: We all know that quarterback play typically is the main factor behind winning and losing in the NFL. That won't be the case for this game, however. This matchup will be determined up front. Don't get me wrong, the play of Jalen Hurts and Tom Brady will certainly have a hand in how this turns out, but the overall effectiveness of both offenses and defenses rely on what happens up front. The Eagles want to run the ball on offense and they want to rush the passer with four defensive linemen. The Bucs want to sling the ball around the yard and they want their defensive linemen to eat up blocks so the second-level guys can fly around and make plays. If none of that happens, both teams are shells of themselves. Whomever wins the battle up front will win this game.
- The returns of Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett, and Jason Pierre-Paul: The return of these three guys is a tremendous development for Tampa Bay's defense. Todd Bowles' crew had looked anything but impressive over the last two weeks of the regular season and a lot of that coincided with the absence of the aforementioned trio. David is the heart and soul of the defense and will provide a huge boost to the run defense while Barrett and JPP bring extra juice to the pass rush and they are solid run defenders, as well. All three should be healthy, too, which will come in handy in a big way on Sunday.
- Dallas Goedert vs. the Bucs defense: Goedert is one of the big reasons why David's return is so monumental. The Eagles' fourth-year tight end is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses because he can do it all. He can beat defenders in the passing game and he's an effective blocker in the running game. Per Sports Info Solutions, Goedert leads the Eagles in receiving since Week 7 with 614 yards and he's second in yards per route run and first in EPA/target among tight ends with at least 29 targets over that span. The Bucs still have issues guarding tight ends, so it will be interesting to see how this battle develops throughout the game.
- Postseason experience where it matters: On one side, you have Brady's and Arians' 52 combined playoff games that also includes a combined record of 39-13 (.750). On the other, well, you have Hurts and Nick Sirianni, who have exactly zero postseason games under their belts as quarterback and head coach. Sure, Sirianni went to the playoffs with the Colts as offensive coordinator a few times, but that's obviously vastly different than being head coach. How will the lack of experience affect Hurts and Sirianni, or will it even affect them and how will it benefit Brady and Arians, if it does, at all?
- The weather: Earlier forecasts suggested that the weather will play a role in this game, but things have lightened up quite a bit since. At the time of this publication, there's about a 2% chance of rain and around 17-20MPH worth of wind at kickoff and it looks like that will be the case throughout the game. However, it is Florida. Things could change quickly. If the weather does end up playing a factor, it will be interesting to see how it affects each team. If it even does, at all.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- QB Tom Brady: Seriously, would you rather have anyone else at quarterback during the playoffs?
- TE Rob Gronkowski: The Eagles defense can be exposed over the middle and Gronk is one of the best at doing just that.
- WR Mike Evans: He's going to have win his matchups against Darius Slay on Sunday. There's just no other way around it.
- ILB Lavonte David: His return is huge, especially for the Bucs run defense. It will be interesting to see how healthy he is, though.
- CB Carlton Davis III: The Bucs' No. 1 corner will have a tough assignment in DeVonta Smith, but if anyone can handle it, it's him.
- S Jordan Whitehead: Whitehead will be needed in the box and he'll defend Goedert in coverage from time-to-time, so he'll be an important piece to the puzzle on Sunday.
- QB Jalen Hurts: How will the second-year quarterback perform in his first playoff game?
- RB Miles Sanders: Sanders is three weeks removed from hand surgery, but is the Eagles' most effective running back. He should find some running room in this game.
- TE Dallas Goedert: Dude is a matchup nightmare and should be a factor all game long.
- DT Javon Hargrave: This is how the Eagles stop the Bucs offense - with interior pressure. That all starts with Hargrave and his running mate, Fletcher Cox.
- CB Darius Slay: If Slay can hold his own on Evans, then the Eagles can prevent Gronk from eating over the middle with a safety, which will really limit the Bucs. Slay is a key piece to a potential Eagles win.
- S Anthony Harris: Harris has been a solid addition to the Eagles defense and his coverage skills/tackling will come in handy against the Bucs.
- The Bucs had 10 games in which they scored 30+ points in 2021. That's the most in the NFL. The Cardinals, Bills, and Chiefs were second with nine.
- The Bucs defense led the NFL with 123 quarterback hits in 2021.
- Tampa Bay's offensive line led the NFL with a league-low 3.1% sack percentage in 2021.
- Brady is the third player in NFL history to lead the league in yards, touchdowns, completions and attempts in a season.
- Barrett needs 2.0 sacks to surpass Warren Sapp (5.5) for the second-most postseason sacks in franchise history.
*Stats provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Communications Department
The Bucs are currently 9-point favorites to win this game, but don't be surprised if it's much, much closer than that.
Like, the-Bucs-need-a-game-winning-drive-to-pull-it-off close.
Tampa Bay's kind of in a weird spot right now with all of the injuries it's been dealing with, but the returns of David, Barrett, and Pierre-Paul are going to go a long way in helping the team regain its form. In regard to the offense, there is still plenty to work with in Mike Evans and Gronkowski, but the Bucs still need the depth guys to step up and make plays like they have all year long.
For Philadelphia, it's all about running the ball and Hurts' legs. Obviously, Hurts' legs will help with running the ball, but they'll also be huge when it comes to helping him make out-of-structure plays. Per SIS, Hurts has the fifth-highest ANY/A (7.0) among quarterbacks with at least 31 attempts outside the pocket and has thrown for 709-yards with seven touchdowns to two interceptions. The yards are third-highest and the touchdowns are fourth-highest among qualifying quarterbacks.
On defense, it's all about getting pressure with the front four. If Philly can get that done, it's going to make life very, very hard for Tampa Bay. Especially if the inside duo of Hargrave and Cox can make their presences felt.
But at the end of the day, it'll be Tampa Bay's ability to exploit the middle of the Eagles defense and the offensive line's ability to neutralize the pass rush that will make the difference. The returns of David, Barrett, and JPP will also provide enough of a boost on defense to where Tampa Bay will pull out the win.
It won't be easy, but the Bucs will get it done and will move on to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
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