The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) finally snapped a 13-year postseason drought and will take on the Washington Football Team (7-9), who is fresh off an NFC East division title.
It was a victory for the Football Team the last time these two teams met in the playoffs. Will it be a different ending for the Bucs this time around?
- All-time series: The Football Team leads, 12-11. In terms of postseason play, both teams sit at 1-1.
- Longest winning streak: Both teams have experienced four-game win streaks. The Football team won four in a row from 1977-1993, but then Bucs ended that streak and started their own four-game win streak from 1994-1996.
- Largest margin of victory: A 35-13 Bucs win in 2003 currently stands as the largest margin of victory.
- 2020 offensive and defensive rankings: Tampa Bay finished the 2020 regular season with the seventh-best offense (2nd passing, 28th rushing) and the sixth-best defense (21st passing, 1st rushing). Washington fields the 30th-ranked offense (25th passing, 26th rushing) and the second-best defense (2nd passing, 13th rushing).
What To Watch For
- The Bucs and the playoffs: I know this sounds bland, but we have no clue what this team will look like in its first playoff game in over a decade. There’s absolutely nothing to compare in terms of then and now, but there are still plenty of questions that need to be answered in this game. There’s no more room for miscommunications, questionable play calling, or bad penalties. It’s win or go home. How will the Bucs handle the pressure?
- Tampa Bay’s offensive line vs. Washington’s defensive line: This will be the toughest test the Bucs have faced all year long. Every single pass rusher on the defensive line is legit and every single one can make you pay in their own way. Tampa Bay hasn’t seen a defensive line anywhere near this level since the Rams matchup back in Week 11. The Bucs have to keep Brady upright and they have to keep the defensive line from making plays if they want to win this game.
- Mike Evans’ status: Mike Garafolo reported Friday evening that Evans plans to play. Bruce Arians said on Thursday that he has a chance to play and will be a game-time decision, so it looks like this is going to happen. While it’s great news that he will be able to play in his first playoff game, I’m not so sure it’s the best thing to do. If he isn’t effective, then why bother putting him on the field? You have Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, and Rob Gronkowski as your main targets, which are plenty. You don’t need Evans to be a decoy. If he is in fact used as a decoy, it would be a waste of snaps, in my opinion, because you’re taking snaps away from a player who could actually produce on the snap. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
- Washington’s quarterback situation: It’s sounding more and more like Taylor Heinicke will be the guy for the Football Team. It will be interesting if that’s the case because the Bucs don’t have much tape on him as opposed to the amount of tape they have on Alex Smith. Smith did not look healthy at all against the Eagles last Sunday, so it really won’t be too big a surprise if he doesn’t play. This is a big deal and will obviously have a huge hand in determining how this game goes. My money is on Heinicke starting and playing the entire game unless he just goes out there and plays absolutely terrible football.
- Sean Murphy-Bunting vs. Terry McLaurin in the slot: If you’re a Bucs fan, you know all about SMB’s struggles this year. He made a helluva play last week against the Falcons, so maybe that gave him the confidence boost he needed to turn things around, but we won’t know for sure until kickoff on Saturday. 62 of McLaurin’s 134 targets on the year are out of the slot and he is Washington’s most-targeted receiver (excluding tight ends and running backs) out of the slot, per Sports Info Solutions. He’s banged up, but is still effective and will be matched up with the struggling SMB in the slot. If the Football Team can find success on offense, that’s where they should start.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- QB Tom Brady: It’s the postseason, which means it’s officially Tom Brady time. Can he end the Bucs’ 18-year drought of zero playoff wins?
- RB Ronald Jones II: He looked really good against Atlanta and should be a big factor with another week to heal that pinky finger. At least that’s the hope.
- WR Antonio Brown: Brady and Brown are starting to heat up. The Bucs will need to find a way to slow down Washington’s pass rush. A good way to do that is with screens, which is how the Bucs use Brown often. This could be a big game for him.
- DL William Gholston: Mostly a run-stopper, Gholston really showed some signs of an improved pass rush ability earlier in the season. That’s trailed off over the last few weeks, however. He needs to get back to hitting the quarterback in Washington.
- OLB Shaquil Barrett: It was obvious that the Bucs pass rush missed Barrett and Devin White in the season finale. Getting him back this week was a big, big deal.
- CB Carlton Davis III: Davis is back after missing the team’s finale, which is great. It’s always helpful to have your No. 1 corner healthy and ready to go in the playoffs.
Washington Football Team
- QB Whomever: In all seriousness, whomever ends up playing will need to be on their game, because you know Todd Bowles and co. are going to be ready to set the tone early.
- RB Antonio Gibson: A toe injury has really set Gibson back over the last few weeks, but he’s still a quick, shifty runner who can get loose if you aren’t tackling properly.
- WR Terry McLaurin: He’s been hobbled by an ankle injury over the last few weeks, but still managed to catch a touchdown against the Eagles last week.
- DE Montez Sweat: I want to just put Washington’s entire defensive line as the impact players for defense, but for the purpose of variety, I’ll only name Sweat. His length and athleticism are insane, which have resulted in a team-leading 9.0 sacks in 2020. His battle with Tristan Wirfs (and Donovan Smith on occasion) will be fun to watch.
- LB Jon Bostic: Washington’s best linebacker will be needed even more with Thomas Davis Sr. unavailable. Bostic finished 2020 with a team-high 118 tackles and led all linebackers with 3.0 sacks, an interception, and 3.0 TFLs.
- S Kamren Curl: The seventh-round rookie has been a very pleasant surprise and has a bright future. Don’t be surprised if you hear his name called a couple of times during this game.
- The Bucs finished 2020 scoring the third-most points per game (30.8), owning the fourth-best point differential (+137), and owning the fourth-best net yardage differential (+911) in the NFL.
- Tom Brady has the most playoff wins (30), passing yards (11,388), passing touchdowns (73), seasons with a a playoff game (18), and playoff games played (41) in NFL postseason history.
- Rob Gronkowski has the most receiving yards (1,163), receptions (81), receiving touchdowns (12), and is tied for the most 100-yard games (4) by a tight end in NFL postseason history.
- The Buccaneers offense scored a touchdown on 42-of61 trips inside the red zone this season, while leading the NFL with a 95.1 scoring percentage (58-of-61) on red zone drives.
- Antonio Brown has five career 100-yard games in the postseason. He needs one more to tie Julian Edelman and Michael Irvin (six each) for the second-most 100-yard receiving games in NFL postseason history. Jerry Rice leads all receivers with eight 100-yard receiving games.
*Stats provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Communications Department
It’s here. It’s finally here.
There’s a lot to like about this matchup if you’re a Bucs fan. There’s also quite a bit of the unknown to not necessarily worry about, but to certainly keep in the back of your mind, as well.
Can the Bucs protect Brady? How will the team play on the road in its first playoff game? Can Tampa Bay get over their prime time issues? Will the secondary do its job?
There are plenty of other questions, but for the sake of avoiding the label of a pessimist, I’ll forgo mentioning them.
Everything will be just fine as long as Tampa Bay plays its game and avoids the dumb mistakes that haunted the team earlier in the year. I still wouldn’t take the Bucs and the (-8) points that Vegas is giving them, however, because something tells me this will be a close game.
Regardless, expect the Bucs to take down the Football Team and prepare for another playoff game in the Divisional Round of the 2020 playoffs.