2022 NFC Wild Card preview: (7) Eagles vs. (2) Buccaneers
The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin their playoff run facing the NFC 7th seed Philadelphia Eagles in NFL Super Wild Card weekend.
For the third game of Super Wild Card weekend, the Eagles and Buccaneers kick off the Sunday NFL action in a Week 6 rematch.
When these teams met on Thursday Night Football in October, it turned into more of a game than most people were expecting. The Buccaneers jumped out to a 21-7 lead by half time and a scoring drive early in the third quarter put them up by three possessions.
An Eagles comeback seemed unfathomable. However, Jalen Hurts led the Eagles on two touchdown drives, aided by a handful of solid runs from Miles Sanders. The Eagles reduced the Buccaneers lead to just six but Tom Brady led the Buccaneers on a drive that would drain out the rest of the clock, over five minutes, ending the game 28-22.
The Eagles finished 9-8 in head coach Nick Sirianni’s first season, receiving the seventh and final NFC wild card berth. Many had doubts about Sirianni due to the way he had answered some questions during press conferences throughout the season. But Sirianni silenced his doubters leading the Eagles, a team many had believed to be a rebuilding organization, to the playoffs in his rookie season as Head Coach.
Jalen Hurts finished the season with 3,144 passing yards and 16 touchdowns through the air. He also led the Eagles in rushing with 784 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Hurts threw nine interceptions this season and while it’s a fairly average mark, to beat the Buccaneers in the playoffs Hurts is going to have to play more efficiently and protect the football.
In their first matchup, the Eagles struggled moving the ball in the passing game. Hurts found success scrambling against the Buccaneers, but it wasn’t enough to push the Eagles over the Bucs. The Eagles need to be multi-dimensional on offense and threaten Tampa Bay in both the running and passing game if they want to have success.
You can’t beat the Buccaneers without playing your best game because they can still win without playing their best.
Receiving the last wild card spot not only means the toughest road through the playoffs, but having to take on the conference's second seed in the first round under the 14 team playoff format. This year’s second seed happens to be the defending Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers finished the season 13-4 tied for the best record in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers who had the tie-breaker and took the first seed. This makes the road to defending its title longer for Tampa Bay but they are looking to make quick work of this first round matchup.
At the age of 44, Tom Brady still continues to dominate the NFL. Brady finished first in the NFL in; passing yards (5,316), attempts (719), completions (485), and passing touchdowns (43). While there is an argument to be made for Brady to win MVP, the playoffs are his and his team's primary focus.
The Buccaneers offense seemed to move effortlessly against the Eagles in their matchup during the regular season. Brady finished the game 34-42 passing for 297 yards and two touchdowns. However, he did throw an interception which sparked some momentum for Philadelphia. Leonard Fournette had 81 yards on the ground in the game and two rushing touchdowns. The Buccaneers were able to clock a team to death with over five minutes remaining in the game. Only the best offenses have that kind of control and dictation over the game, and the Eagles are already proven victims.
This game feels oddly similar to the Buccaneers wild card matchup last year, against the Washington Football Team when the world met Taylor Heinicke. Except last year, the Buccaneers were the wild card team as the Saints won the division in Drew Brees’ final season, so they had to go on the road to play the NFC East champions who had a losing record. That game ended up being close but the Buccaneers won 31-23, just by one score.
I could see this game outcome being comparable, especially with how these teams played each other earlier in the season. The Buccaneers have the ability to blow the Eagles out, undoubtedly following the Cowboys 50-point day against them in Week 18. But the Buccaneers also know how to pace themselves to a win, style points don’t matter in the NFL, and the Buccaneers know how to control a game without a large lead.
The Buccaneers are averaging 30.1 points per game this season, the second most in the NFL, I think they will reach that against the Eagles. The Bucs defense may have trouble keeping up with Jalen Hurts and if he is able to scramble to extend drives and gain scoring opportunities, the Eagles could hang around in the game.
Kickoff is at 10 a.m. PST on Fox.
Prediction: Eagles 29 - Buccaneers 38