The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to win out to have a realistic to make the playoffs this season. The Philadelphia Eagles stand in their way.
The Philadelphia Eagles may be the most hated team for most Tampa Bay fans. Ever since they knocked the Bucs out of the playoffs in two consecutive seasons, they've been the Bucs' arch enemies. They were the reason Tony Dungy was fired, and the reason Jon Gruden was brought in. They were the team the Bucs had to beat to make it to the Super Bowl, and they did so in impressive fashion: a 27-10 win in the final game in the old Veterans Stadium in Philly.
That NFC Championship was a crucial game for the Bucs: their window was closing, as their defensive stars were aging. If they had lost that game, they may never have made it back to the NFC Championship. It's fitting that Sunday's game is essentially a playoff game for the Bucs, then: lose to the Eagles, and you can almost certainly forget about the playoffs.
The Bucs are commemorating the 2002 Super Bowl on Sunday, with many of that year's players and coaches attending, and a halftime show that will be live streamed on Buccaneers.com. The Bucs will be embarrassed if they lose in front of all those heroes.
Fortunately, the Philadelphia Eagles have now lost eight straight games, and they've been increasingly dysfunctional while doing so. They've now fired two coaches during the season, and they cut one of their best pass rushers last week. The Bucs must take advantage of a battered and bruised Eagles team, but desperation may turn the Eagles into a dangerous opponent -- or a group of pigeons, easily scared off.
Series: Philadelphia leads 6-5
Last Meeting: October 11th, 2009. Tampa Bay 14, Philadelphia 33.
Tickets: Tampa Bay Buccaneers tickets
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Offense vs. Philadelphia Eagles Pass Defense
This is going to be a slaughter.
The Philadelphia are absolutely horrible as a pass defense. Not because of a lack of talent, mind you: they have a string of talented pass rusher, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha have oodles of talent. No, it's because no one on this defense appears to know what they're doing. Watching tape of the Philadelphia secondary is comical. I don't think I've ever seen a defense blow this many coverages. Sabby Piscitelli would feel right at home with these Eagles.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have struggled to move the ball down the field consistently in recent weeks, as teams have forced Josh Freeman to be a consistent short-area passer. That's not his strength, and combined with consistent pressure made it hard for the Bucs to run a sustained offense. But the Eagles blow so many assignments that unless they suddenly wake up and learn how to run their defense, this should pose few problems for the Bucs.
The only issue here may be the Eagles pass rush, which has not been great this season (they have 20 sacks on the season), but it is extremely talented. With Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, they have two young first-round picks, while Trent Cole and Cullen Jenkins are big names in the decline phase of their careers. The Bucs struggled to protect Freeman last week, and although none of the Eagles' pass rushers can be compared with Von Miller, they do have the talent to disrupt the passing game.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Game vs. Philadelphia Eagles Rush Defense
This should be an intriguing matchup. The past two weeks, opponents have keyed on the Bucs' rushing game and they've struggled to produce consistently because of that. Although part of the reason against Denver was a deficit, forcing the Bucs to abandon the run a little early, they certainly weren't producing the way they were earlier in the season.
Meanwhile, despite all of their issues on the back end the Eagles do surprisingly well in run defense. Football Outsiders sees them as the 8th best run defense. The Eagles are surprisingly similar to the Buccaneers in that sense: they have a quality run defense, and a horrifying pass defense.
Still, the Bucs want to (and must) establish their running game to play well on offense. They don't have a passing attack that can sustain an offense, so they need their running game to sustain drives. The Bucs have failed to do so in the past two weeks, but they were outstanding in the weeks before. Which way will this matchup go?
Philadelphia Eagles Passing Attack vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense
The good news is the Philadelphia Eagles have been awful in the air. The bad news? The Bucs have been worse defending the pass, and quarterback Nick Foles actually looked good last week against a pretty tough Dallas defense.
As so many other teams are doing, the Philadelphia Eagles are starting a rookie at quarterback. Third-round pick Nick Foles has had the starting job for three weeks, and he's gotten better every week. Of course, 'getting better' means he's had all of one good game. That game happened last week, but he remains a rookie quarterback and it's never a surprise when a rookie has a bad game.
Still, this passing offense certainly isn't bad. Brent Celek, Jason Avant and Jeremy Maclin are very capable receivers, while Riley Cooper can do some damage too. If Foles can do what he did last week, the Bucs defense could be in for a long day. With a pass rush that has looked better in recent weeks the Bucs may be able to disrupt Foles a little, but to really get to him they're going to need to blitz.
Of course, that's exactly what the Bucs are going to do, and they should have a field day there. As with their pass defense, the Eagles offensive line looks confused, blowing an absurd amount of protections. What's worse for them, and better for Tampa Bay, is their tendency to just play some bad football. The line as a whole can't pass block, and the Bucs defensive line may actually have their first really good game pass-rushing since their week 3 matchup with Dallas.
Philadelphia Running Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rush Defense
The Philadelphia Eagles were surprisingly terrible on the ground this season, and in typical Andy Reid fashion, they always refused to commit to the run as the foundation of their offense. Bryce Brown changed all that, as the seventh-round rookie proves once again that late-round backs can be pretty productive. He's averaging an absurd 6.5 yards per carry this season, although that's lifted up by a few long runs over a small sample size with just two starts.
Still, Brown has posed a problem for opposing defenses, and he's been the foundation of their offense the past two weeks. Undoubtedly the Eagles will try to feed Brown the ball to get something going. They'll face two issues though: fumbles, and the best run defense in the league.
The Bucs have been dominant against the run this season, and no other team has done a better job stopping opposing running backs. Bryce Brown is good, but running against the Cowboys and Panthers is a far cry from running against these Bucs.
Equally important is Brown's tendency to just put the ball on the ground. He has four fumbles on just 84 touches this season. The Bucs would be quite satisfied with a few of those gifts on Sunday.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
The Bucs have been bad on special teams this season, and that actually played a large role in last week's loss. They consistently allowed big returns, and my guess is the loss of Arrelious Benn had something to do with that. Though they've been okay on kicks and kickoffs, they're awful on returns and on punt coverage.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles have been reasonably productive returning punts, but they've been pretty much useless in the other categories. Their kick returns haven't done much, while they're awful at covering punts. Still, they're slightly better than the Bucs.
The Philadelphia Eagles are a bad team in disarray. The kind of team that can maybe sometimes surprise an opponent, but also the kind of team that gets blown out. A lot. Because they're awful.
And, quite frankly, the matchup really favors the Bucs, too. The Eagles' best asset on offense is their rushing offense, but the Bucs have the best run defense in the league. A rookie quarterback will struggle against all of the different blitzes Tampa Bay will throw his way, negating much of their issues on the back end.
On offense, the Eagles have a decent run defense, but they suffer from massive coverage breakdowns and horrible tackling in the secondary. The Bucs, meanwhile, have a passing offense built on the deep ball that will gladly take advantage of all of those breakdowns in coverage.
Quite frankly, I expect the Bucs to pound the Philadelphia Eagles in this Super Bowl reunion game.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 32, Philadelphia 13.