PHILADELPHIA - In many ways, Tom Brady has transcended the NFL as the biggest winner in the ultimate team game.
You know the resume for TB12 by now: 45 postseason appearances, 34 wins, 10 conference championships, and seven Super Bowl titles.
Only three franchises have been a part of more playoff victories than Brady since 1958 and one of them was New England because Brady was piling most of those wins up for the Pats.
There are few certainties in life but you can rest assured in adding no one is ever matching Brady’s career to death and taxes.
At the other end of the spectrum is the surprising Eagles with their rookie head coach Nick Sirianni and first-year starting QB in Jalen Hurts, who is set to embark on his inaugural postseason journey.
The 23-year-old Hurts was 3 when Brady took his first playoff snap and was all of 9 when Tom Terrific threw for 50 TD passes in a season.
Many scoffed a few years ago when Brady pinpointed 45 as the age he felt he could play to and the Michigan Man will hit that milestone in August of this year, perhaps with an eighth Lombardi Trophy.
The NFL long ago forgot about stopping Brady, secretly hoping Father Time would stop shirking his responsibilities, hitting the snooze button again and again, and finally get back to work.
"We understand he can throw the ball anywhere on the field and he's just a competitor at the end of the day," said safety Rodney McLeod. "He finds a way to will his team regardless of who's out there. He's a great leader.”
In McLeod’s mind the Eagles need to play relentlessly and with few mistakes to have a chance.
“We're gonna have to execute at a high-level cause that offense executes at a very high level because of him so we're going to have to do our best at creating indecision and then just really competing,” he said. “When you look on film and you see these teams who have been effective against him it's just a relentless effort and a certain level of intensity that those guys are playing with and finding ways to just make plays on the ball.
“There are going to be opportunities and we are going to have to capitalize on them when they come our way."
Here are five things you should know about Brady's Bucs:
STRONG UP FRONT
While everyone locally talks about the Eagles’ offensive line and rightfully, so the Bucs’ OL is one of the few that can compare.
Since the start of the 2020 season, Tampa Bay ranks first in sacks allowed per pass attempt at 3.2% and leads the NFL in most games without allowing a sack with 11.
While part of that is the QB the group up front is also very talented. For the Eagles, Jason Kelce was named a first-team All-Pro on Friday and Lane Johnson was second-team at right tackle behind only the Bucs’ Tristan Wirfs. Tampa Bay LG Ali Marpet and center Ryan Jensen also received All-Pro votes.
BOWLES-ING IT OVER
When Todd Bowles arrived in Tampa, he inherited the NFL’s 27th-ranked defense. Since joining the Bucs, he has helped the defense do a complete 180 finishing No. 6 overall in 2020 and No. 5 in scoring defense in 2021. Overall since 2019 Tampa Bay is No. 9 in cumulative defense.
"He's a very, very good defensive coordinator, a leader who has great knowledge for the game and you can tell they are very, very well-coached," Kelce said of Bowles, who was the Eagles’ interim defensive coordinator for a spell in the 2020 season. "They are very well-coordinated. They understand what they are trying to do."
The Bucs, fueled by the massive Vita Vea, led the NFL in run defense in both 2019 & 2020, becoming the first team to accomplish that since the “Williams Wall” Minnesota Vikings from 2006-08. This season Tampa Bay finished No. 3 overall in run support and since Bowles took over in 2019, the Buccaneers lead the NFL in rushing yards per attempt allowed and rushing yards per game allowed.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl LV title after the 2020 season and is is a two-time NFL Coach of the Year, earning the award in 2012 with the Indianapolis Colts and in 2014 while in Arizona.
His top lieutenants– Bowles, OC Byron Leftwich, and Asst. Head coach Harold Goodwin – have all received interest in head-coaching positions while veteran offensive assistants Tom Moore and Clyde Christensen are legendary around the league.
Much of the talk of any Eagles' potential upset revolves around who the Bucs don’t have at WR – third-down machine Chris Godwin and the enigmatic Antonio Brown. They still have Mike Evans, though, the lengthy playmaking wideout who piled up 1,035 yards in 2021, making him eight-for-eight in 1,000-yard campaigns since he turned professional, the first player ever to start his NFL career with that kind of production, surpassing Hall of Famer Randy Moss, who had six straight to begin his career.
Evans is also a killer in the red zone, amassing a career-high 14 receiving touchdowns, the fourth time his 6-foot-5 frame has produced double digits.
The Bucs had the second-best third-down offense in the NFL, converting 47.1% of the time behind only Kansas City at 52.2%.
On third-and-short Tampa is almost unstoppable due to Brady's quick processing skills with a mind-numbing 74.7% conversion rate on third-and-4-or- less. Conversely, the Eagles defense is No. 30 in stopping third-and-4-or-less at 67.4%.
In other words, Jonathan Gannon’s defense better produce on first and second downs. The Eagles’ defense improves to a much more impressive stop rate when it’s third-and-five-or-more, allowing just a 28.5% conversion rate.
JOHN MCMULLEN (14-3, 10-7) - The NFL is susceptible to paralysis by overanalysis for one simple reason: time.
The scarcity of games in the league not only fuels demand and popularity but also gives people like me too much time to talk about every aspect of an upcoming game. On Sunday in Tampa, the simple truth is that the Eagles are up against it against a better team,
Generally, it's cliched and obtuse to boil down an NFL game to the quarterback play but the best ever will be starting playoff game No. 46 on Sunday crossing paths with No. 1 for the Eagles’ No. 1.
Learning how to win in the postseason is a process and it's always good to kickstart that journey but picking anything other than Brady win No. 35 in the playoffs is assuming Father Time finally gets his wake-up call.
BUCS 33, EAGLES 22
ED KRACZ (10-7, 8-9) - It's difficult to pick an 8.5-point underdog, on the road, against Tom Brady and the Super Bowl champions, so I won't. I will, however, pick the Eagles to cover and it will be close to the same score as their first meeting.
BUCS 27, EAGLES 23
-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.