IT’S WILDCARD WEEKEND, BABY!
That’s right, Buc Nation. Playoff football is back in Tampa Bay, and after a 14-year drought, the Buccaneers are FINALLY hosting a playoff game in Raymond James Stadium in front of their home crowd.
- I was in my early 30’s the last year this happened.
- George Bush Jr. was President the last year this happened.
- The first iPhone was released the last year this happened.
- The first Transformers movie came out the last year this happened.
- Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s home run record the last year this happened.
You, get what I’m saying here, people? It’s been a long damn time. Too long! It’s fitting that the first home playoff game in 14 years is against one of the Buccaneers’ most hated old rivals. The Philadelphia Eagles were an old nemesis of ours in the early 2000s — back when they had Andy Reid at head coach and Donovan McNabb at quarterback. Back when their offense was more through the air than on the ground.
Boy, how times have changed.
This new Eagles team is different. Different head coach. Different quarterback. Different offense. This Philadelphia team is even different from the one the Bucs faced in Week 6 of this season. But then again, so is Tampa Bay. How so, you may ask? Well, I’m about to tell you.
The Eagles’ offense ended up ranked 14th in the league averaging 360 total yards per game, including 200 yards passing (25th) and 160 yards rushing (1st). Jalen Hurts finished his sophomore regular season completing 61% of his passes for 3,144 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He was also the team’s leading rusher with 784 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Their second-leading rusher, Miles Sanders, finished with 754 yards on the ground averaging 5.5 yards per carry, but had no rushing touchdowns. They also had three other running backs (Howard, Scott, and Gainwell) that averaged 4.3 yards per carry or more. Their run game is for real and will provide a tough challenge for the Buccaneers 3rd ranked rushing defense.
Their passing game is less daunting but still has its own challenges. Their leading receiver, DeVonta Smith, finished with 916 yards and 5 touchdowns. Their second-leading receiver was tight end Dallas Goedert with 830 yards and 4 touchdowns. The only other receiver with more than 300 yards was Quez Watkins with 647 yards and a touchdown. However, keep an eye on Jalen Reagor because he’s a threat with the ball in his hands, even though he only had 33 catches for 299 yards and 3 touchdowns this season.
This offense is no joke. They averaged 26 points per game (12th) and scored 30+ points seven times, going 6-1 in those games. They scored 40+ points twice, and one of those was against the Saints, a team that shut out the Bucs offense here at home about a month ago. When the Bucs played the Eagles in Week 6, the defense held this offense to 213 total yards and 22 points. Jalen Hurts went 12 of 26 for 115 yards, a touchdown, and an interception and had 44 yards rushing, along with two more scores. They limited Miles Sanders to just 56 yards, although it was on just 9 carries, and Quez Watkins was their leading receiver with just 3 catches for 44 yards. And they did all of that WITHOUT Lavonte David, Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, AND Antoine Winfield. They’ll have all of them back for this game.
Philly’s defense isn’t bad either, finishing the season ranked 10th in the league allowing just 329 total yards per game, including 221 passing (11th) and 108 rushing (9th). They allowed 22.6 points per game (18th) and gave up 25+ points in seven games. They gave up 92 points in two games versus the Cowboys (41 and 51) and gave up 41 points to the Chiefs, so they have had difficulties stopping good offenses. Then again, they gave up less than 20 points ten times going 8-2 in those games.
The Eagles’ leading tacklers are linebackers Alex Singleton and TJ Edwards, both with 130+ tackles this season. They have two guys with 7.5 sacks, which leads the team, in defensive end Josh Sweat and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who both also lead the team in tackles for loss. They also have two players with 9 passes defensed, which leads the team, in cornerbacks Avonte Maddox and Darius Slay, who also leads the team with 3 interceptions.
The strength of this defense is their front. They play a 4-3 defense, meaning they have four down linemen in their base. Those four players, Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Josh Sweat, have combined for 20.5 sacks and 30 tackles for loss. They can get after it. And if they can’t, that’s when those linebackers Singleton and Edwards clean up the mess. It’s going to be a solid test for a Buccaneers offensive line that gave up the fewest sacks in the league this season.
WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT
Yeah, you’re seeing this list correctly. It’s quite long and a little unnerving. Fortunately, only two guys on it have been officially ruled “out” for this game as of right now. Ronald Jones (ankle) and Cyril Grayson (hamstring) will not be available for Sunday’s game. However, the Bucs will be getting a number of key players back from injuries. Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) and Shaq Barrett (knee) will be back as the bookends of the defensive line. Lavonte David (foot) has been activated off of IR after missing the last three games and will play. Jamel Dean (hamstring) is playing after leaving the game with an injury last week. They have decided NOT to activate Leonard Fournette (hamstring) just yet, which means he is now “out” for this game. That leaves the duo of Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Leveon Bell once again. Giovanni Bernard (hip) was also just activated off of IR and could be in that mix as well. Cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting were late add-ons to the injury report this week, and they’re both listed as “questionable“. However, the fact that the team just released Rashard Robinson tells me that they’re both probably fine and will play. If David, Davis, and Murphy-Bunting do, in fact, play, it will be the first time the Bucs’ entire starting defense will be on the field at the same time this season. The Bucs also just signed former Cardinals receiver John Brown to the practice squad, but it doesn’t sound like he’s going to be “active” for this game. Receiver Justin Watson has been waived so that means the Bucs would likely be rolling with Mike Evans, Breshad Perriman, Tyler Johnson, Scotty Miller, and Jaelon Darden once again at receiver. Despite this lengthy injury report, the Bucs are starting to get healthy again, and it’s just in the nick of time.
Philly’s injury report isn’t quite as complicated. They only have two players listed as “questionable“, which are Josh Sweat (illness) and Nate Herbig (ankle). Sweat looks like he’s a go, but Herbig could be a game-time decision. That’s a big loss if he can’t go — considering he’s their starting right tackle. That would leave a backup having to contend with Vita Vea, which is never an ideal situation for the opposing team.
The Eagles have been playing good football over the second half of the season. They went 6-2 over their last eight games, and that includes the 51-26 loss to the Cowboys while not playing their starters. They may have finished 9-8 this season, but they’re still a playoff team. If the Bucs go into this game overlooking them, they’re going to get beat. However, these Eagles are 0-7 against teams with winning records this season. The Bucs are 6-1 in such games. That being said, this Eagle team can run the ball and play defense. That’s a winning formula in the playoffs. The Buccaneers better bring it and leave no doubt about who the better team is, or it could be a disappointing afternoon for Tampa Bay fans.
- Vita Vea vs Jason Kelce
Kelce was just voted in as an All-Pro, and Vea is an unstoppable force up the middle. This is going to be a fun battle to watch throughout this game.
- Tristan Wirfs vs. Josh Sweat
Sweat has been dealing with some kind of stomach bug, so it’s unclear if he’ll be 100% for this game. If he is, then it will be a good chess match to watch between him and the Bucs’ first All-Pro offensive lineman in team history.
- Donovan Smith vs. Derek Barnett
I don’t put Smith in here every week to pick on him, but his job is to protect the blindside of the “GOAT” and probably this year’s NFL MVP, so it’s kind of an important task no matter who he’s up against. This week, he’s matched up with a pretty darn good defensive end in Barnett, so he’ll have his hands full.
- Ali Marpet vs. Fletcher Cox
You may notice a pattern here with four of my five key matchups being on the offensive line. That’s how good this defensive front is for the Eagles. Marpet will be matched up with one of the best to ever do it in this game. Even though Cox is getting up there in age, he’s going to test Marpet all afternoon.
- Devin White vs. Jalen Hurts
I have a feeling that Todd Bowles might keep an eye on Jalen Hurts in this game. In their last meeting, Hurts had 10 carries for 44 yards and 2 touchdowns. If Bowles decides not to let Hurts beat them with his legs, he could put White on him as a spy like Monte Kiffin used to do with Derrick Brooks on Michael Vick in Atlanta.
The last time these two teams met, the Bucs were missing Rob Gronkowski, Lavonte David, Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Antoine Winfield. They had nearly twice as many total yards as the Eagles (399-213), and they had nearly twice as many first downs as the Eagles (27-16). They ran 26 more plays than the Eagles (73-47). And they had nearly twice as much time of possession (39:56-20:04). That game wasn’t as close as the 28-22 score made it out to be. This one won’t be close either. That is IF the real Buccaneers show up to play.
Bucs 34 Eagles 17
During their historic Super Bowl season last year, the Bucs defense had nine starters that played at least 70% of the defensive snaps. This year, they only have two in Devin White and Antoine Winfield. That’s how bad the injuries have been on that side of the ball this year. There’s a good chance that the entire Bucs defense will be on the field together for the first time this season for this game. They’re getting healthy at just the right time. If they can win this week, then they could be getting Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, AND Cyril Grayson back for next week’s game. Barring any serious injuries in this game, that would be the healthiest this team has been all season.
But that’s next week.
This week, they still have to defend the bay and beat the Philadelphia Eagles. And now, since you know all you need to know about them, it’s time for me to say:
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES, YOUR ASSES ARE ON THE CLOCK!