The NFL playoffs have finally arrived and the headline matchup of Wild Card Weekend day one will take place on Saturday night when the Washington Football Team faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Despite an up-and-down, turbulent season in the dreadful NFC East, Washington was able to clinch the division and a home playoff game after beating the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday.
In order to win this week, against a much tougher opponent who will actually be trying to get the victory, Washington will need to put forth better efforts on both sides of the ball.
For the defense, the key to success will be to get consistent pressure on Brady and throw off his rhythm within the pocket, as past teams have done against the six-time Super Bowl winner. This means that all eyes will be on the battle in the trenches between Washington’s stud defensive line and Tampa’s stout offensive line – especially after talented rookie Chase Young said he was coming for Brady following the win against the Eagles.
But that is always easier said than done. Brady has only been sacked 21 times, which is the fourth fewest in the league for quarterbacks who have started at least 15 games, according to ESPN.
The ability to get pressure on Brady is also important for Washington’s secondary who faces a difficult test from a Buccaneers offense that features weapons like Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, and had the second most passing yards per game this year behind only Kansas City, according to ESPN.
It will be interesting to see if the Buccaneers number one wide receiver Mike Evans suits up and how effective he will be if cleared to play. Tampa’s injury report currently lists Evans as questionable with a knee injury and he was not a full participant in practice all week.
Washington’s defense ranks 3rd overall, 2nd against the pass and 13th against the run, per Pro Football Reference.
On the other side of the ball, everything starts with quarterback Alex Smith.
As pointed out by Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians this week, Washington went 5-1 in games that Smith started during the season, compared to 2-8 when Dwayne Haskins, who has since been released by the team, and Kyle Allen were under center.
Even though Washington is unequivocally a better team with Smith as the starter, he has been dealing with a calf strain for several weeks now and struggled to move around the pocket at times against the Eagles. According to the Washington injury report, Smith is listed as questionable after being a limited participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday.
Washington head coach Ron Rivera said this week that the plan is to start Smith if healthy, but second-string quarterback Taylor Heinicke could be inserted if necessary, the Washington Post reported.
The health of running back Antonio Gibson (toe) and wide receiver Terry McLaurin (ankle) will also play a factor, but both should be good to go Saturday after playing through injuries last week.
However, the Buccaneers defense is not something to gloss over – even without its star linebacker Devin White who is on the NFL reserve/COVID-19 list. According to Pro Football Reference, Tampa Bay has the 8th ranked defense in the NFL – 21st against the pass and 1st in stopping the run.
With the defense playing better overall, whether or not Washington’s offense can score points will be a deciding factor in the game.
As of Friday evening, the game’s spread is +8 Washington with an over/under of 44.5 points. And the money line for the Football team is +330, according to William Hill Sportsbook.
Saturday’s game is the first playoff appearance for Washington since 2015, but local Football Team fans in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. will not be allowed to attend the game in-person because of local COVID restrictions on gathering, the team announced on Monday.
Kickoff is at 8:15 p.m. EST with coverage on NBC.
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