The formality of the regular season is finally over. To nobody’s surprise the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back in the playoffs to defend their Super Bowl crown. They are the number two seed in the NFC which means they will host the lowest ranked seed in the first round. This year, that team is the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Buccaneers and Eagles have a long history together. They have had epic playoff clashes in the past and they have battled as recently as week six of this season. These games always seem to be hard fought and memorable. Expect this time around to be no different.
Obviously the Buccaneers and Eagles have already played this year. Tampa Bay won the Thursday night showdown in Philly 28-22. However, you might not remember some of the particulars about this game.
This was a game where the Buccaneers were very short handed on defense. Carlton Davis, Lavonte David, Antoine Winfield Jr and Sean Murphy-Bunting all missed this game and Richard Sherman (who was starting) got injured on the first drive. Despite this, they held the Eagles to just 7 points through 40 minutes of football.
Leonard Fournette was a featured part of the offense in this game, accumulating 127 total yards and a pair of touchdowns. OJ Howard, who started for an injured Rob Gronkowski, also chipped in 49 yards and a touchdown. And yes, former Buccaneers receiver and current hip hop recording person Antonio Brown had a big game with 93 yards and a touchdown.
Who didn’t have a big game? Jalen Hurts as a passer. The Eagles second year quarterback threw for just 115 yards with four starters from the Buccaneers secondary not playing.
Who Are The Eagles Now
Since this Thursday game the Eagles have found their identity. They’ve embraced Hurts’ ability as a running quarterback and have become the best rushing offense in football. This makes them dangerous despite the 5th worst passing offense in the NFL.
Defensively this is a team that plays a lot of zone coverage. They play their defensive backs deep and make opponents put together long drives. This can be difficult because they have the NFL’s 9th fewest total rushing yards allowed and 5th fewest yards allowed per carry.
In short, this is a team that is great at running the ball and stopping the run. They rarely allow big splash plays, so it forces opponents to play a dink and dunk style of passing attack. This could be problematic for the Buccaneers who are still looking for answers to replace slot receiver Chris Godwin and the quick route running of Antonio Brown.
Players To Watch
When “Big Play” is your nickname, you know it’s a player to watch. Darius Slay is far and away the Eagles best player in the secondary and could make a huge impact this weekend. It’s unclear if he will shadow Mike Evans, but it seems like a decent chance that he does since Evans is the only established wide receiver who will be active.
In terms of pass rush, the Eagles are one of the very worst in the league. However, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave is a problem in the middle of the defensive line. He leads the team with 7.5 sacks. Defensive end Josh Sweat also has 7.5 sacks and is another name to keep an eye on.
Rookie receiver Devonta Smith leads the team in receiving yards (916) and receiving touchdowns (5). Tight End Dallas Goedert is the other big pass catching threat with 830 yards and 4 touchdowns. These numbers aren’t anything to write home about, but the Eagles are more of a running team. Jalen Hurts leads the way in that department with 784 yards and 10 touchdowns. Miles Sanders is his counterpart in the backfield and averages 5.5 yards per carry.
The Eagles might be the lowest seeded team in the NFC, but this will by no means be an easy out. They are strong in the trenches and have a clear identity of who they are. Running the ball and stopping the run are always critical to victory, but even more so if the weather is bad (like it is projected to be on Sunday).
Make no mistake, the Buccaneers should win this game. They are the better team even with the slew of injuries they have suffered in recent weeks. However, I see a pathway for an Eagles upset if the Buccaneers can’t neutralize the Eagles rushing attack.