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NFC Wild Card Preview: Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After limping into the playoffs, losing five of their last six games, the Philadelphia Eagles now have to travel to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers, who won five of their last six, on Monday night for the conclusion of Super Wild Card Weekend. The Eagles finished the regular season 11-6 after starting 10-1 and looking like the team to beat in the NFC. The Bucs clinched their third straight NFC South title last weekend with a 9-0 win over the Carolina Panthers as they finished at 9-8. This matchup, featuring the 5th-seeded Eagles and 4th-seeded Buccaneers, kicks off at 8:00 p.m. ET at Raymond James Stadium on ESPN and ABC, with the Manningcast on ESPN2. 

The last time these teams met was back in Week 3, when the Eagles crushed Tampa Bay, 25-11, behind the strength of their defense. But a lot has happened since then and these two teams are much different going into the playoffs. This is also a rematch of Jalen Hurts’ first playoff game back in 2022, when the Eagles lost, 31-15, in the Wild Card round. Will the Eagles be able to exercise their late-season demons and get to the Divisional Round or will they completely choke away their season?

Game Info

Date: Monday, January 14

Start Time: 8:00 EST

Location: Tampa Bay, Florida

Stadium: Raymond James Stadium


Keys to Victory for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

No. 1) Make Hurts do it Himself

Hurts has shown all season that he struggles when getting pressured and doesn’t get time to go through his reads. He has thrown for just 23 touchdowns while getting picked off 15 times, including two interceptions to one touchdown the first time these teams played. Not letting the Eagles get the run game going and not allowing Hurts any time will make things difficult for the struggling quarterback. Throwing multiple pressure packages at Hurts can rattle him and affect his progressions and timing. It seems as though Hurts hasn’t been able to take things into his own hands like he did last year, and when he has to abort the pocket, he either can’t find someone open downfield or fails to scramble as he should. 

No. 2) Give Baker Time

The Buccaneers have the league-worst rushing game, and to have a chance at winning this game, they must give Baker Mayfield time in the pocket to find his receivers against a shaky Eagles’ secondary. If they give him time, things downfield will open up, as the Philly secondary has been on a downward spiral this season. James Bradberry has had an awful season, and despite Darius Slay being back, the Buccaneers can attack the middle of the field. The Birds haven’t been able to slow any offense down since Week 11. Mayfield is at his best when throwing between the numbers - completing 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,967 yards, 14 touchdowns, and five interceptions in that area of the field. ​

No. 3) Score First

The Bucs offense just isn’t good enough to play catchup. Hell, they only scored nine freaking points against the Carolina Panthers in the regular season finale. It was their defense that won them the game. As shaky as the Eagles have been of late, their offense is still dangerous even without Brown and can score quickly at any time. If Tampa Bay pounces early, they can rely on their defense to force the Eagles to get aggressive and sporadic. 

Keys to Victory for the Philadelphia Eagles

No. 1) DeVonta and Dallas Need to Step Up 

After spraining his knee in the Eagles’ Week 18 loss to the New York Giants, star receiver AJ Brown was ruled out for Monday’s game. Brown made enough progress in his rehab that he could return should Philadelphia make it to the Divisional Round. But for this game, Jalen Hurts will have to look elsewhere in the air. That means DeVonta Smith will be the top receiver at Hurts’ disposal, and tight end Dallas Goedert will also be a key target. Against a defense that was ranked second-to-last in passing defense, these guys must step up. 

Smith missed the regular season finale against the Giants after injuring his right ankle in the Week 17 loss against the Arizona Cardinals. He has recorded just seven catches on 10 targets in his last two games, though he did come up with a 36-yard touchdown catch in Week 16 against the Giants. Smith recorded his second-straight 1,000-yard season this year and needs to be on his best game Monday night. 

Then you have Goedert, who broke his right forearm in Week 9 against the Dallas Cowboys and was sidelined until Week 14. Outside of that, Goedert hasn’t had his best season when he’s been on the field. That has to change on Monday. In the five weeks since returning from the injury, Goedert has one touchdown catch and 21 receptions on 31 targets. The Bucs have played horribly against tight ends this season, as they have allowed the second-most fantasy points on average to that position (8.24) as well as the second-most average yards per reception (64.06).

No. 2) Limit the Mistakes

In an attempt to not state the obvious, the Eagles have to just plain play clean football, which they haven’t done since their 1-5 slide began. After turning the ball over 16 times over the first 12 weeks, the Birds coughed up the rock 12 times over the last six weeks. Ironically (or maybe is it unironically?), their most turnovers in a game were four, which came in two losses at Metlife Stadium - one to the Jets and one to the Giants. Turning the ball over an average of two times a game won't get it done. The only game over the final six in which Philly didn’t turn the ball over was the game that started the slide, against the 49ers, but the defense got smoked as they lost 42-19. The Eagles have also struggled with tackling through these six weeks, with linebackers Nicholas Morrow and Zach Cunningham missing seven tackles since Week 11. But those two haven’t been the only Eagles to miss tackles; it’s essentially been everybody. “It’s the whole team!” - Jason Kelce 

No. 3) Back to the Basics

The Eagles need to get back to what led to them getting off to a 10-1 start and what got them to the Super Bowl last year. Of course, they don’t have either of their coordinators from last year, so that’s easier said than done. But the biggest 'basic' that the Eagles need to get back to is winning at the line of scrimmage and leaning on their offensive and defensive lines. They need to establish the run game to keep a stout Bucs’ front seven honest. Call RPOs, let Hurts use his legs, and get D’Andre Swift going again. If they can establish any kind of steady running game, that will open things up for Hurts in the passing game against a bottom-tier passing defense. 

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles must create pressure on Baker Mayfield and go all out on stopping a league-worst running game. If they get enough pressure on Mayfield, Tampa Bay will have trouble getting things going in the air. The Eagles also see the return of Darius Slay this week, which will be a factor for the Bucs’ passing game. Slay held Mike Evans to 13 yards on two catches for the first three-quarters of the last matchup. But the story of the secondary all season has been injuries, and that will once again be the case on Monday, as they will be without stud young safety Sydney Brown. The secondary will have its hands full with the receivers led by Evans and Chris Godwin, so the defensive line getting pressure will be key. That is something the Eagles haven’t been able to do much over this slide, so that is what needs to change for them to win. 

Points Spread: PHI -2.5 (-120) | TB +2.5 (-102)

Moneyline: PHI (-156) | TB (+132)

Over/Under: O 42.5 (-118) | U 42.5 (-104)

Lines via FanDuel as of Sunday, January 14

Prediction: After Week 11, I would’ve said the Eagles would blow out the Bucs again. And I certainly wouldn’t have said the Birds would be playing on the road at Tampa Bay. But here we are, and the Eagles haven’t exalted much confidence of late that they could even beat this Bucs team. Losing five of six, including losses to the Cardinals and Giants, will certainly make you doubt. Ultimately, it’s gonna come down to Hurts turning back into 2022 Hurts and the Eagles winning the battle of the trenches. This will be a lot closer than the first matchup, but the Eagles find a way to survive and advance. Dallas Goedert is a huge factor in the game, while Darius Slay comes up with a big interception late to seal the deal. 

Final Score: Eagles 21, Buccaneers 17 

Extra Spice

The 49ers have resorted to talking trash again, even though they aren’t even playing this week as the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Wide receiver Jauan Jennings took a shot at the Eagles over Instagram on Sunday, reposting a graphic of Hurts and Quez Watkins on his story while even tagging Hurts in the caption.

“Jalen Hurts prolly wishing he had me. Who else they got at WR? Because I truly don’t know. Is Number 6 playing? Sheesh I hope so or it’s over for them folks.”

Outside of the terrible grammar, Jennings just needs to sit down. Anyway, this trash talk won’t even be put in play on the field until the NFC Championship if both teams make it there. With the Green Bay Packers blowing the Dallas Cowboys out on Sunday, the Packers will be traveling to San Francisco next weekend in the Divisional Round. 

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