Super Wild Card Weekend is here, which means it's time to win or go home for 85% of the NFL's playoff landscape.
If a team wants to advance in the postseason, it has to win its key individual matchups. There's no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
So, which matchups will be key for the Bucs on Sunday when they take on the Eagles?
Let's take a look and find out.
3. CB Darius Slay vs. WR Mike Evans
Tampa Bay is no longer a three-headed monster at wide receiver. Antonio Brown is gone for being Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin is on injured reserve with a torn ACL.
But, Mike Evans is still here. And he's still thriving, despite the loss of his running mates.
That's because Evans is a top-10 receiver in the NFL. He can carry a passing attack on his back. He may find that to be a tad difficult this week, however, considering he'll be matched up against a top-10 cornerback in Darius Slay.
Slay got the upper hand on Evans back in Week 6 when he held the Pro Bowl receiver to just two receptions for 27-yards on just three targest. Per Pro Football Focus, Slay was in man coverage on just 18.3% of his snaps throughout 2021, but the Eagles will have him on the same side of the field as Evans for the majority of the game, essentially making Slay Evans' shadow.
Evans is going to have win some battles, because the Eagles' other two corners in Avonte Maddox and Steven Nelson have played pretty well as of late, themselves. By winning his matchup, Evans will create room for the other receivers to make plays with less pressure on top of the situation.
A good game from Evans will also open door for Rob Gronkowski, who didn't play in the Week 6 matchup. The Eagles linebackers can be taken advantage of, especially in pass coverage, so it's likely the middle of the field will be open on a rather consistent basis.
If the Eagles have to put a safety over the top to help Slay because Evans is winning often, then that will open up the field even more for Gronk.
If Gronk and Evans are up and running, then it should be a good day for the Bucs offense. But Evans has to win his reps against Slay before that can happen.
2. Dallas Goedert vs. the Bucs defense
Goedert missed the Week 6 matchup between these two teams and honestly, that had a pretty big hand in helping the Bucs win, because Goedert is one of the NFL's best tight ends.
He's been on a tear ever since the Eagles traded Zach Ertz after Week 6. Goedert is Philly's leading receiver with 614 receiving yards over the last 10 games. Per Sports Info Solutions, his mark of 61.4 yards per game is fifth-best among tight ends during this span and he's the top-rated tight end in terms of EPA/target among tight ends with at least 29 targets over the last 10 games. He also has the second-highest yards per route run (2.9) among the same criteria for qualifying tight ends.
When it comes to defending tight ends, Tampa Bay's defense finished 2021 around mid-pack in most of the essential categories, but those numbers are a bit misleading when you look at the tight ends the Bucs played against from Weeks 1-12 and then from Weeks 13-18.
The following chart shows the disparity between the two timelines. Keep in mind that the higher rankings are bad and lower rankings are good since we are talking about defense, here.
|Time Period||Receptions Per Game||Rank (out of 32)||Yards Per Game||Rank (out of 32)||EPA/target||Rank (out of 32)||Positive Play %||Rank (out of 32)||Yards Per Route Run|
Tampa Bay hasn't seen a tight end like Goedert in a while. He can catch, block, run after the catch. He lines up on the line, in the slot, at the point in bunch formations - he can do it all.
Keeping him contained will be paramount on Sunday.
1. The trenches
Quarterbacks affect 90% of a football game's final outcome, but this game will be won up front in the trenches.
That's because both teams are built from the inside out and the trenches are key to what both teams want to do on offense and defense.
For the Eagles, it's simple: They want to run the ball a lot on offense and drop seven guys back in coverage through rushing four defenders on defense.
For the Bucs, it's just as simple: They want to protect Tom Brady and throw the ball and they want to stop the run first and foremost with their defensive line.
It's easy to see how the units are going to butt heads this weekend. Their directive(s) and goal(s) completely go against what the other unit is trying to accomplish.
If the Eagles can't run the ball, odds are they lose. If they can, odds are they win.
If the Bucs can't keep Brady upright, odds are they lose. If they can, odds are they win.
All four units feature some of the best players at their respective positions, as well. If you love physical football, then you're going to love this matchup, especially considering that it's going to dictate the outcome of this game.
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