Although the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5, 6-2 away) finished with four more victories than the Washington Football Team (7-9, 3-5 home), Washington will host the Bucs in an NFC wild-card matchup on Saturday. The Football Team earned the four-seed by winning the wild NFC East, while the Buccaneers achieved the five-seed and top wild-card spot. Kickoff is at 8:15 p.m. EST inside FedEx Field in Landover, MD. Tampa Bay is an 8-point road favorite in the opening weekend of the NFL playoffs.
What to Know – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007 after finishing second in the NFC South behind the New Orleans Saints. The Buccaneers ride a four-game winning streak into the postseason, averaging 37 points per game over those four contests.
Tom Brady left New England for the first time in his career and took his talents to Tampa. The postseason appearance marks Brady’s 12 in-a-row, last missing the 2008 playoffs after suffering a torn ACL. Brady capped his first season in Tampa, throwing for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns, the second-most touchdown passes in a regular-season for the veteran.
The Buccaneers’ rushing attack was led by third-year running back Ronald Jones II. Jones set career-highs in rushing attempts (192), rushing yards (978), and rushing touchdowns (7) in 14 games this season. Veteran rusher Leonard Fournette added 367 yards and six touchdowns as a backup to Jones.
Wide receiver Mike Evans (70 receptions, 1,006 yards, 13 touchdowns) suffered what appeared to be a pretty severe knee injury in Sunday’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons. An MRI revealed no structural damage, and Evans is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game. If Evans can’t go, no worries for the Bucs’ passing game with Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, Rob Gronkowski, and Antonio Brown ready to go.
What to Know – Washington Football Team
Washington began the season 1-5 but closed out the final ten games of their season with a 6-4 mark. The Football Team is the fifth team in league history to make the postseason with a losing record and first since the Carolina Panthers got in with a 7-9 mark in 2014.
Three quarterbacks logged starts for Washington this season, with Alex Smith’s return as the most-noteworthy of them all, playing in eight games this season after missing last year rehabbing a gruesome leg injury. The 16-year veteran amassed 1,582 yards and six touchdowns in his limited play this season.
Rookie running back Antonio Gibson has shined in his first season in the league. The Memphis University product tallied 170 carries, 795 yards, and 11 touchdowns over his rookie campaign. Backup rusher J.D. McKissic provided 365 yards on the ground and 589 yards receiving as Washington’s third-down back.
Wide receiver Terry McLaurin hauled in 87 passes for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns to led the Football Team’s receiving core. Tight End Logan Thomas caught 72 passes for 670 yards and a team-high six touchdowns after a slow start through the first two months of the season.
The Pick is In
Tampa is a darkhorse favorite by some to make the Super Bowl behind their top-10 offense and defense. From coaching to player personnel, the Buccaneers have a distinct advantage against the young Football Team. Washington’s defense is one of the league’s best, and they will give Brady fits at times, but the Football Team will lose this game with their inability to move the ball on offense.
The Pick: Tampa Bay -8