Sure, the Buccaneers aren’t good, but Philly kinda sucks too
The Bucs made it this far because they managed to suck the least in a crappy division, capping it off with an underwhelming, division-clinching 9-0 victory over the NFL-worst 2-15 Carolina Panthers to close the regular season.
The Philadelphia Eagles are 1-5 over their last six games after a 10-1 start and looked as lifeless as ever in their Week 18 matchup with the Tyrod Taylor-led New York Giants, losing 27-10 in a game where Philly QB Jalen Hurts sustained a finger injury. Rookie safety Sydney Brown sustained a ruptured ACL, effectively ending any chances of his making an appearance in the Eagles’ playoff run, however sustained it may be.
Philly, much like many other teams hobbling into the playoffs following this grueling 18-game season, has a laundry list of other injuries to starting players, including corner Darius Slay, receivers AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith, Hurts, and running back D’Andre Swift all being listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
While Brown’s knee injury wasn’t believed to be serious initially, he didn’t practice Thursday, and while it’d be hard to imagine a large portion of those players missing a playoff game, both Brown and Hurts (that finger looks gruesome) look like they could be dealing with some real issues in regards to their respective ailments.
Player health is certainly a huge reason to be worried, but the Eagles’ struggles to finish the year (their season-ending loss put the dirty birds in the position of having to travel to Tampa Bay instead of being at home in their first playoff matchup) might be an even bigger concern than any injury.
Philly has been bad against mediocre, out-of-the-playoff, teams such as the aforementioned Giants, the Arizona Cardinals, and the Seattle Seahawks, taking Ls to all of those teams to end their season with a thud.
However, at the beginning of their season the Eagles were able to take down the elite of the elite, like the Bills, Kansas City, the Dolphins, and the Cowboys (and the Bucs, if you want to talk about playoff-bound opponents).
So… which team is Philadelphia? The amazing, firing-on-all-cylinders squad that dominated the first half of the season, or are the Eagles the sorry-ass team that has lost some questionable games against the trash of the league?
It’s hard to say. Philly is just as talented on paper as any team in football. From the beginning of the season ’til about Week 16, they’ve been my Super Bowl favorites (not sold on them anymore, but hey, crazier things have happened), and if they’re healthy, committed, and have a seemingly good gameplan (not all things that can be counted on from week to week), they can beat anyone.
But, as many problems as the Eagles have, the Bucs have quite a few themselves.
Tampa Bay’s secondary is still a huge issue, and even the banged up Eagles still have an incredibly talented group of receivers. Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield looked rough last week dealing with an ankle injury and his mobility is going to be a huge talking point throughout the game on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs struggled so mightily last week due to Baker being banged up, but their inability to run the ball against the Panthers brought up those thought-to-be-subsided concerns about Tampa’s running game, which had a resurgence in the home stretch of the season throughout a strong December.
The Eagles have just as suspect of a secondary as the Bucs do, but one thing that hasn’t changed is Philadelphia’s stout defensive line. Rookie Jalen Carter has been just as good as expected, Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick are elite edge rushers, and veteran Fletcher Cox, once an elite defensive tackle, is still a formidable presence up the middle.
Interior offensive line play has been inconsistent for Tampa Bay to say the least, making Philly’s strength on the defensive line even more pronounced.
All of this to say, the Bucs might face an uphill battle come Sunday. Philly may be the most favorable matchup the Buccaneers could’ve drawn with the Eagles’ recent play being so putrid, but my goodness the Bucs haven’t looked very good the last couple weeks either.
Tampa Bay’s loss to the Saints was a tough display of offensive ineptitude, and following it up with a gross single-digit scoring performance against the worst team in football did little to distill any anxieties in regards to the Bucs offensive woes. To put it in simple terms, over the last two weeks, the Bucs have gone without a TD in seven quarters of football.
I’m going to take Philly in a 16-10 dogfight, with neither team looking like it’ll produce much of a game in the divisional round regardless of the opponent.
Hopefully I’m wrong, because hey, it’s fun watching Buccaneers playoff football, no matter how steep the odds.
So here’s to me getting one more prediction wrong to extend the season.