It's finally here: Wild Card Weekend. And this time, the Buccaneers are in it. After finishing 11-5 in the regular season, the Bucs will now enter the postseason as the NFC's fifth seed and take on the Washington Football Team as the winners of the NFC East.
Because Tampa Bay got in as a wild card team, they'll have to travel up to FedEx Field. They're also on a short week given that the game will be in primetime on "Super Wild Card Saturday." They've met the team from Washington twice before in the playoffs – the last time coming after the 2005 season, the last time the Bucs were 11-5, when Washington knocked Tampa Bay out of the playoffs. The first time the two teams met following the 1999 regular season, the Buccaneers advanced.
Saturday will be the tiebreaker.
Read on for how to watch the NFC South matchup, along with some key facts about the game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) vs. Washington Football Team (7-9)
Postseason Record: 1-1
All-Time Record: Washington leads series 12-11
Road record: 4-6
Key Matchups (via Scott Smith)
1. Buccaneers T Tristan Wirfs vs. Football Team DE Montez Sweat
Buccaneer veterans such as Lavonte David and Will Gholston have had to wait a long time for their first crack at the playoffs, but rookie tackle Tristan Wirfs is one-for-one so far in his career. Of course, Wirfs' own excellent performance is a big reason why Tampa Bay is headed back to the postseason. The Buccaneers traded up in the first round of the 2020 draft to ensure they could snag the former Iowa star with the 13th pick and immediately installed him at right tackle. While even the most talented rookie linemen can struggle in the early going, Wirfs has played at a Pro Bowl level from the first day to the end of the season. He never missed an offensive snap and was credited with allowing only one sack the entire season. Wirfs' quick feet, incredible athleticism and ability to adjust on the fly to stunts and blitzes make him a very valuable resource against the Football Team's loaded defensive front. Sweat, a first-round pick in 2019, led that group with 9.0 sacks and 20 quarterback hits and he set a career-high in the season finale with five quarterback pressures, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The Football team will bring Sweat and fellow first-round monster Chase Young from both sides, but the Next Gen pre-snap location heat map shows Sweat more often on the left end of the team's line and Young more often on the right end. That means Sweat will get a lot of work against Wirfs on Saturday night. Sweat has a very quick first step and long strides that eat up the ground to the quarterback if he gets free. Wirfs will have to contend with Sweat's long arms, which he uses to push and pull blockers, often in combination moves. The right end of the Bucs' offensive line should be a great battle of two extremely talented and technically-sound players on Saturday night.
2. Football Team WR Terry McLaurin vs. Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis
The Buccaneers are hoping to get Davis back from a two-game absence due to a groin injury on Saturday and that would be helpful in the efforts to stop Washington's leading receiver, who finished 13th in the NFL with 1,118 receiving yards plus four touchdowns on 87 catches. That's an impressive feat for a former third-round pick only in his second NFL season, but McLaurin showed he could star at the NFL level from the very beginning of his career, which he began with a 125-yard, one-touchdown outing in the 2019 season opener. Like Davis, McLaurin is dealing with an injury, in his case an ankle sprain that sidelined him in Week 16 and has limited him in practice this week. Still, it's a good bet that both of these competitors will grit through their ailments and play on Saturday night. When they do, Davis will have to deal with McLaurin's sharp routes, his ability to beat press coverage and his impressive run-after-the-catch ability. Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles noted this week that McLaurin is very polished and can run the route tree very fast. He ranked sixth in the NFL with his 468 yards gained after the catch this season, and seven with an average of 5.38 YAC per reception. Meanwhile, McLaurin will have to deal with a defender who has developed into one of the NFL's best shut-down corners in his third season. Davis is extremely sticky in coverage and was able to finish tied for second in the NFL in passes defensed with 18 despite missing the last two games. Davis spends most of his time at left cornerback, on the right side of the offense, while McLaurin has more often lined up to the left side of the offense this year. However, he has still seen plenty of action on the right side, and in addition the Buccaneers could choose to have Davis shadow McLaurin as he has done against several top receivers in the last two seasons.
3. Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown vs. Football Team CB Ronald Darby
Brown joined the Buccaneers on October 27 and, as Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich noted on Wednesday, it was obviously going to take the veteran receiver a few games to get his legs under him to the point where he could be as dynamic with the football in his hands as he has been throughout his career. Brown has certainly found his groove now, with 266 yards and four touchdowns over the final three games of the season. After Mike Evans went out with a knee injury in the first quarter of last week's game, Brown moved to the 'X' spot usually occupied by the Bucs' top receiver and racked up 11 catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. He's made several big plays on deep balls in the season's last month but has also been a favored target for Brady on quick hitters that allow him to pick up yards after the catch. Brown figures to be an integral part of the Bucs' passing attack under any circumstances on Saturday night but that would be even more true if Evans is sidelined or limited by his injury. Brown has taken more snaps split out to the right than the left, and that's where Darby spends almost all of his time. A second-round pick by Buffalo in 2015, Darby had a strong rookie campaign but struggled with injuries and inconsistency over three seasons in Philadelphia. Washington signed him to a one-year prove it deal as an unrestricted free agent after cutting Josh Norman and trading Quinton Dunbar, and Darby won the starting job opposite Kendall Fuller. Darby has responded with a bounce-back season, leading the team with 16 passes defensed and having to face a high number of targets as opposing teams look away from Fuller, who has four interceptions.
4. Football Team G Brandon Scherff vs. Buccaneers DT Ndamukong Suh
Scherff made the Pro Bowl this year for the fourth time in his six seasons and is now the anchor of a Washington line that no longer features star left tackle Trent Williams. This season started out poorly for Scherff, who had missed 13 games over the past two seasons due to various injuries, when he suffered a knee sprain in Week Two and landed on injured reserve. However, he returned as quickly as he possibly could, missing just three games, and since has been a force up front, as usual. The 6-5, 315-pound Scherff is particularly powerful in the run game, able to consistently move blockers and open up lanes. He also moves well on plays when he's asked to pull and can get secondary blocks downfield. Scherff was a tackle in college and it shows in his pass protection, in which he can anchor and lock in pass rushers with his hands, or find a free rusher and get in his way quickly. The Buccaneers have an interior lineman who can match Scherff's power and ability to move bodies in Suh, who is coming off an outstanding season in the middle of the Bucs' defense. Not only was Suh instrumental in keeping the Bucs' run defense at the very top of the NFL rankings, especially after the Week Five loss of Vita Vea to injured reserve, but he applied quite a bit of pressure on quarterbacks, as well. Suh finished the season with 6.0 sacks, his highest total in a season since 2015, and also had 19 quarterback hits, just one off Will Gholston's team-high total. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Suh has more QB pressures since the start of the 2019 season than all NFL interior linemen except Aaron Donald, Cam Heyward and Washington's Jonathan Allen.
Watch on TV:
- Saturday, January 9, 2021
- Kickoff: 8:15 p.m. ET
- Location: FedExField
- Television Network: NBC
- Broadcast Crew: Mike Tirico (play-by-play), Tony Dungy (color), Kathryn Tappen (reporter)
Watch on Mobile:
The stream is available through Yahoo Sports, the Buccaneers Official App and online at Buccaneers.com.
*Please check local listings to confirm availability. Geographic and device restrictions apply. Local & primetime games only. Data charges may apply.
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