Tom Brady‘s quest to win a seventh Super Bowl, and his first with a team other than the New England Patriots, begins on Saturday. The future Hall of Famer will lead the 11-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Washington Football Team at FedEx Field in the Wild Card round.
Washington backed into the postseason after beating the Philadelphia Eagles, 20-14, in Week 17. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson controversially lent a helping hand by sitting quarterback Jalen Hurts with the game still in the balance.
Washington’s good fortune came at the expense of the New York Giants. Ron Rivera‘s team finished 7-9 but boasts a defense strong enough to worry Brady. Rookie pass-rush sensation Chase Young has already made Brady a marked man.
If there’s any psychological edge to be gained from history, Washington shades the all-time series, 12-11. The two teams have split their most recent playoff encounters, with Washington winning after the 2005 season, while the Bucs edged a classic following the 1999 campaign.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chase Young frothing at the mouth to take down Brady has drawn varied responses from the Bucs. Tampa head coach Bruce Arians fired a warning at 2020’s second overall pick.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 5, 2021
Brady himself took the comments more in his stride.
the #Bucs QB, Tom Brady, on the Chase Young "I want Tom" comment: "He is obviously a great young player and we have our hands full with that line … he went to Ohio State so I think that Ohio State Michigan thing wears off on him a little bit"
— Gabby Shirley (@Gabby_Shirley_) January 6, 2021
It’s easy to be magnanimous in your 21st season with six Lombardi Trophies on your jacket. Brady did touch on the central theme of this game, though, when he referenced the threat of Washington’s defensive line.
Tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne can generate an awesome push inside. This quintet combined for 27 sacks during the regular season, while rotational pass-rusher Tim Settle recorded a further five quarterback takedowns.
Brady offers defenses a static target, and he’s historically struggled against a relentless front four. Think about those two Super Bowl defeats to the Giants.
The Bucs have allowed 13 sacks since Week 7, including five in the last three games. Expect Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to instruct Young and co. to play the run strictly as an afterthought on their way to Brady.
If Brady gets a clean pocket, he’ll pick Washington apart throwing to Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, and the underrated Chris Godwin. There truly isn’t another quarterback in the NFC playoff bracket with the same range of weapons as Brady.
Washington Football Team
Just getting Smith onto the field will be a moral victory for Washington. He noticeably grimaced whenever he broke above a gentle trot against the Eagles.
Rivera needs the 36-year-old healthy because Smith knows how to protect the football. He also knows how to spread it around.
Washington isn’t loaded with playmakers on offense, but Smith will get wideout Terry McLaurin, tight end Logan Thomas, and running back J.D. McKissic involved. Going to McKissic and dynamic rookie Antonio Gibson out of the backfield will be key to beating the blitz pressure Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles loves to send.
Rivera’s nightmare scenario is Smith not being able to go. It would mean handing Heinicke the keys.
Looks like Taylor Heinicke will run the show in practice today. pic.twitter.com/4EDcwC2d2b
— michael phillips (@michaelpRTD) January 6, 2021
Rivera has even talked up maybe rotating his quarterbacks. It might keep the Bucs off balance for a play or two, but a carousel at football’s most important position would be a disaster when playing for postseason stakes.
Date: Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021
Start Time: 8:15 p.m. EST
Location: Landover, Md.
Stadium: FedEx Field
TV Info: NBC
Betting Odds Sponsored by Jazz Sportsbook
Point Spread: TB -9 (-110) | WAS +9 (-110)
Moneyline: TB -500 | WAS +350
Over/Under: O 44.5 (-110) | U 44.5 (-110)
Washington’s hamstrung offense won’t keep pace with the Bucs if Brady finds his groove. Both defenses are tough, though, so it’s safe to go for the under in this one.
Washington is not healthy on offense at the worst time, while Brady has looked ominously good in recent weeks. There’s potential for this one to turn ugly, but Rivera’s defense should keep things close for three quarters until Young and the rest eventually tire of trying to corral the GOAT.
Final Score: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24, Washington Football Team 10
Follow James Dudko on Twitter @JamesDudko
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