After 13 long years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back in the N.F.L. playoffs and will be in our nation’s capital Saturday night in a wildcard matchup against the Washington Football Team.
On paper, this is no contest. Washington played in the weakest division in football, the N.F.C. East and won the division with a 7-9 record. The Buccaneers finished second in the N.F.C. South with an 11-5 record, their best record since 2005.
Tom Brady, the 43-year-old quarterback of the Buccaneers, had the best season of his career since 2007 as he passed for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns. Brady played his best football of the season the last four games leading the Bucs to a 4-0 record and helping the team secure the fifth seed in the N.F.C. playoffs.
Although Washington finished with a 7-9 record, they finished the season strong going 5-1 with Alex Smith at quarterback. Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians were quick to point out that this is a good Washington team with Alex Smith at quarterback:
“We don’t see them as a 7-9 team. We see them as a 4-1 team because every time Alex Smith has played, they went 4-1 and had a plus-three turnover margin. It’s a different team when Alex is playing, and we know that. We’re playing that 4-1 team, not that 7-9 team.”
Ron Rivera’s decision to start Dwayne Haskins and name him a captain hurt the Washington football team as he proved not to be ready to lead the team. Had Alex Smith been the starting quarterback all season, this Washington team could easily have been a 9-7 team.
This team has been a series of feel-good stories this season. Ron Rivera, overcoming prostate cancer. Alex Smith saw his first action in just under two years at quarterback for Washington, and the team won the N.F.C. East for the first time since 2015.
Although the Bucs finished 11-5, this team had higher expectations. Many inside the Buccaneer organization thought this would be a 12-13 win team and take the N.F.C. South crown from the Saints. The Bucs have been hurt by their defense, specifically the pass defense. Although they have played well in spurts, the defense has been inconsistent throughout the season.
Tampa’s run defense has been outstanding as they led the league giving up 80.6 yards per game. Washington can’t run the ball very well (100.7 per game), so this will be one of the matchups to watch in this game. Will Washington be able to get anything going on the ground against this Bucs run defense?
Overall, Washington’s offense has not been good, as they rank 30th in the N.F.L., averaging 317 yards per game.
This game will be won or lost in the trenches. Washington has one of the best defensive lines in the N.F.L. Chase Young, who could win the rookie of the year said, “I want Tom Brady.”
When you challenge the G.O.A.T., there is usually a price to pay. When asked about it this week in his press conference, Brady did not take the bait:
“He’s obviously a great young player, so we’ve got our hands full with that d-line. It’s one of the best d-lines in the league. Chase is a great young player. We’re prepared for a tough challenge, and it should be a fun game.”
Young, when given the opportunity did not back down from that comment on Wednesday:
“I play ball. I’m excited to go against the best. I’m excited about every game. And Tom Brady, you think I’m not gonna be excited to play against the GOAT? Then you trippin’. And that is what it is. I’m excited to play against Big Tom. I’m not gonna apologize for saying I want Tom. No, I want Tom Brady. I want every quarterback I play against.”
Young and the rest of his defensive teammates will get that chance on Saturday. Young finished second on the team with 7.5 sacks as Washington recorded 48 sacks as a team.
Another matchup in the trenches to watch will be the matchup between Bucs tackle Tristan Wirfs and Washington defensive end Montez Sweat. These two played against each other one another time in the Outback Bowl in 2018.
Wirfs remembers quite well playing against Montez Sweat:
“I remember him having really long arms and being really fast. That was a fun game, getting to go against him, because I remember it being my sophomore season, getting to go against a premier edge rusher like that.”
Sweat has been impressive in his second season in Washington, leading Washington with nine sacks. Sweat also has 12 tackles for loss and 20 quarterback hits. Wirfs will be challenged on Saturday, but he has been one of the Buc’s best offensive linemen all season.
Buccaneer Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans will be a game-time decision along with defensive back Carlton Davis. Evans is recovering from a hyperextended knee, and Davis recovers from a groin injury.
Linebacker Devin White the Bucs leading tackler will miss the game due to being on the reserve/COVID 19 list.
Edge rusher Shaquill Barrett is off the reserve/COVID 19 list and will play on Saturday.
If the Washington defense can get to Tom Brady, it will be a long game for the Bucs. When under pressure this season, Brady has had his worst games. When playing against a top-five defense this season, the Bucs are 0-3 losing twice to the New Orleans Saints and losing to the L.A. Rams.
This Bucs team is focused. They are on a roll playing their best offensive football of the season. Tom Brady is on a mission. He wants to prove to everyone that he can win a Super Bowl without Belichick.
The Bucs will get it started in Washington Saturday. The Bucs will win a low scoring affair. 21-18.