The Bucs signed the greatest quarterback of all-time to a free-agent contract with a win-now agenda. Washington drafted defensive end Chase Young with the second pick in the draft, added widely-regarded head coach Ron Rivera and appeared headed towards a slower rebuild.
Football is a funny game, however. And it has led the two sides to FedEx Field on Saturday night (8:15 p.m., NBC) for an NFC wild-card game between the 11-5 Buccaneers and the 7-9 Washington Football Team
Brady has had some ups-and-downs under head coach Bruce Arians, who has always enjoyed an offense that featured down the field passing as opposed to Brady’s more game-controlled approach. The two have slowly melded an offense that led the Bucs to an 11-5 record overall record, a second-place finish in the NFC South and a “don’t want to play them” tag.
Washington meanwhile has had more drama off the field than on it, but that gets pushed to back burner with a playoff berth. One of the dramas could be who starts at quarterback, where Rivera is toying with a two-quarterback system between Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke because of Smith’s ankle injury which limited his effectiveness against the Eagles in a 20-14 division clinching win on Sunday night.
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The sports betting information
On FOXBet.com Sportsbook, the Bucs are 8½-point road favorites with a money line of -350. (A $350 bet would pay out $100.) The Football Team are +280 (a $100 bet pays $280) with the over-under of 44.5. Against the number this year, the Bucs and Washington are both 9-7. The Bucs are on a four-game win streak and are an impressive 6-2 on the road but have has some issues at night going 1-3 in primetime.
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The two teams have met just 23 times. Washington has a 12-11 edge including a split of a pair of playoff contests in 2000 (Tampa won 14-13) and 2005 (Washington won 17-10.) This will be the first playoff game for the two in Washington.
All time in the playoffs, the Bucs are 6-9 and are 1-6 in their history on the road. (The lone victory was the 2002 NFC Championship game against the Eagles in Philadelphia.) Washington has not won a playoff game since beating the Bucs in 2005 in Tampa and hasn’t won a home playoff game since a wild-card weekend win over the Detroit Lions on Jan. 8, 2000.
The storylines to watch
When Tom Brady signed with the Bucs, Tampa became one of the favorites for the Super Bowl. The Bucs have now reached the playoffs, but the questions still remain if they can actually contend. Several hurdles remain, Washington’s defensive front seven is scary good, and has 47 sacks this season. With Bucs receiver Mike Evans questionable, Brady could be down a weapon. While he has only been sacked 21 times this year, this may be a group that can get to Brady and force turnovers.
Meanwhile, Rivera and company know this can’t be a shootout. Alex Smith has been good but not good enough to win this game on his own. The Bucs have 48 sacks this year and Smith is not mobile enough to handle the pressure Tampa plans to bring without help. It will be vital for Washington to keep forcing pressure on the Bucs defense and find a way to keep the game close.