1. QB Tom Brady
After an uncharacteristic performance in New Orleans, the Bucs signal caller has all the motivation he needs to have a bounceback game against the Washington Football Team. It's the first time Brady will face the league's last-ranked passing defense since 2003 and the first time he'll do it while captaining the league's top-ranked passing offense – even if it may be down a few players.
Brady is also likely to be in position to execute the Bucs' productive offense as he pleases. Brady has the second-fastest time to throw of any quarterback this season, releasing the ball in an average of just 2.50 seconds. Not only that, but a majority of the passes he attempts are quick throws, trying for a nine-yard-or-less completion 53.9% of the time, which ranks third in the NFL. On such throws, he has a 77.3% completion rate, 12 touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 117.6 passer rating. That's the best touchdown to interception ratio and second-best passer rating in such situations, according to NFL Research. Couple that with the fact that Washington will be without defensive end Montez Sweat, who has the second-most sacks on the team this season and the defensive front Washington relies on may not be as effective.
History would rule in Brady's favor, too. In six career games against Washington, Brady averages 330 passing yards per game, has thrown for 15 touchdowns and has a 102.2 rating. He's 5-1 against Washington and came away with a win in their last meeting during the wildcard round of the 2020 playoffs.
2. WR Mike Evans
Because of the aforementioned injured receiver corps, more responsibility could fall on Evans this game. Wide receiver Antonio Brown is out, Chris Godwin is listed as questionable and the team has Scotty Miller still on injured reserve as of Friday afternoon. Miller is in the designated to return window and Head Coach Bruce Arians said his return was possible in Washington, but even if he does, the Bucs may not want to push him.
Evans has also found success against Washington. Despite playing with a hyperextended knee suffered just six days prior in their last meeting, Evans went off in his first ever playoff game. He caught six passes from Brady for 119 yards, becoming the work horse for the Tampa Bay offense. Evans may just have to do that again this time around. Should he get into the end zone, the score will give Evans 71 career touchdowns, which will tie Mike Alstott's franchise record for most touchdowns by any player in Bucs history. Evans will also join a group of four Hall of Famers as the only five players in NFL history with 70+ TDs and 8,500+ receiving yards through 115 career games, according to Bucs Communications.
3. OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul is taking a tour of his former division as he gets set to take on another NFC East team. Pierre-Paul spent the entirety of his pre-Bucs career with the New York Giants and has played 13 career games against Washington. In those games, he has. 12.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Though he hasn't practiced all week due to a broken finger and torn rotator cuff, Pierre-Paul is officially listed as questionable and if the past few weeks are any indication, is expected to play. Prior to both the Bears and Saints games, Pierre-Paul did not physically practice, though he was on the sideline taking mental reps, and playing in both contests. That should likely be the expectation again as he gets set to take on his former rivals.
4. S Antoine Winfield Jr.
I hope I'm not jinxing anything by saying this but I just have a feeling Winfield could have a big game for the Bucs' defense against Washington. If the Bucs are successful in disrupting quarterback Taylor Heinicke and forcing him to throw on the run or from uncomfortable positions, it could result in some errant throws… that could land in the hands of Winfield Jr. Or perhaps another member of the Bucs' secondary.
Tampa Bay should have cornerback Richard Sherman back and could even potentially get Sean Murphy-Bunting back, who is also in the designated-to-return window from injured reserve. Along with Miller, Arians left the door open for Murphy-Bunting to be activated on Friday. While cornerback Carlton Davis is still out, a rotation of Sherman, Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean could mean an almost-return to normalcy for a secondary that has constantly been in flux and it could end up being the safeties, specifically Winfield Jr., that reap the benefits.
5. Bucs O-line
While Sweat is out, the Bucs will still have to contend with the Washington sack leader in Jonathan Allen. The defensive tackle has 6.0 sacks this season and has 19 quarterback hits, which is tied for second-most in the NFL and sits behind only Cleveland's Myles Garrett. That makes Allen formidable on the interior of Washington's 4-3 defensive front and it means the Bucs' offensive line will be put to the test.
The good news is, it's a line that has allowed the second-fewest sacks in the league so far this season. I like those odds.