The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going back to the playoffs and the ultimate goal is to reach Super Bowl LV in their own house, Raymond James Stadium, on February 7. But the Buccaneers will have to hit the road first, and their path back home starts in Landover, Maryland.
That's the site of FedEx Field, where the Buccaneers and the Washington Football Team will contest a Wild Card matchup on the evening of Saturday, January 9. The game, which is the final action in a "Super Wild Card" triple-header, is scheduled to kick off at 8:15 p.m. ET. It will be broadcast nationally by NBC.
The Buccaneers drew Washington in the opening round by virtue of locking up the fifth-overall seed in the NFC with a 44-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. That set up a matchup with the NFC East champion, which could have been one of three teams when the day began but proved to be the Football Team after their 20-14 win over Philadelphia on Sunday night. Tampa Bay's first playoff game since 2007 wasn't fully determined until the 256th and final game of the 2020 regular season was over.
This will mark the third time that Tampa Bay and Washington have met in the postseason, and the winner will get series bragging rights. The Buccaneers won a 1999 NFC Divisional Round game over Washington, 14-13, on their way to the conference championship game in St. Louis. Washington got its revenge in 2005 with a 17-10 win in the Wild Card round over the Buccaneers, who had won the NFC South with an 11-5 record. Both games were played at Raymond James Stadium.
Saturday's game will mark the Buccaneers' first playoff game on the road since the unforgettable 2002 NFC Championship Game at Philadelphia. The Bucs won that game, 27-10, to advance to Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego (a neutral site game), where they defeated the Oakland Raiders, 48-21, for their first NFL title.
Saturday's game will pit a red-hot Buccaneers' offense against one of the league's stingiest defenses. Tampa Bay finished as the league's third-highest scoring team with 492 points, trailing only Green Bay and Buffalo, and in its last 10 quarters of play racked up 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Washington allowed only 329 points on the season to rank 14th in scoring defense.
Washington's swarming defense is led by a defensive front loaded with recent first-round draft picks. The Football Team's entire starting defensive line is comprised of first-round picks over the last four years: ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat and tackles Da'Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen. Ryan Kerrigan, the franchise's all-time leader in sacks, comes off the bench and has another 5.5 QB takedowns this year. Washington came into the season's final weekend ranked fourth in sacks per pass attempt, and that pressure has also helped the team's defenders pick off 16 passes to tie for second in the league. The Football Team has been particularly tough to pass on, allowing only 191.9 net yards per game through the air.
The Football Team's offense hasn't been as dynamic and has obviously had issues at the quarterback position. Dwayne Haskins, the 2019 first-round pick who started six games this season and went 1-5, was waived at the beginning of Week 17. Veteran Alex Smith has made an inspirational comeback from a devastating 2018 leg injury and is now back at the helm after missing time with another leg injury. He threw two touchdown passes against Philadelphia on Sunday night but has relatively underwhelming numbers this year, including a 78.5 passer rating and an average of 6.3 yards per pass attempt.
The Washington offense is not without dangerous weapons. Terry McLaurin, the 12th receiver drafted in 2019, was a revelation as a rookie and has proved it wasn't a fluke with 1,148 yards on 87 catches this year. The Football Team hit on another Day Two draft pick in 2020 with running back Antonio Gibson, a late second-round selection who racked up 1,042 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns despite missing two games.
The winner of Saturday's game at FedEx Field will be headed to Green Bay in the Divisional Round unless one or both of the division-winning New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks lose in Round One. Unless all three NFC Wild Card teams win this weekend, the Buccaneers, who were 6-2 in games away from home this year, will be on the road again in Week Two. First things first, the Bucs need to stay on the path back to Raymond James Stadium with an opening-round win, and to get that they'll have to beat the Washington Football Team in its own house Saturday night.