Florida Football Friday: Buccaneers Visit Nation’s Capital for Wild Card Game

Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For the 12th straight season, Tom Brady will be playing in the playoffs. For the first time in his career however, he’ll open the postseason on the road.

Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will head to the nation’s capital on Saturday night to take on the Washington Football Team. Just 7-9 during the regular season, Washington became just the third team since the 1982 strike year to make the playoffs with a losing record.

The good news for Washington? The last two won the Wild Card game.

Washington clinched the NFC East on Sunday night with an ugly 20-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. It is the first playoff appearance for the franchise since 2015 when it also won the division. Tampa Bay finished 11-5 to snap the NFC’s longest playoff drought as it is in the postseason for the first time since 2007.

As for Brady, the 43-year-old had an outstanding season, finishing third in the NFL in passing yards with 4,633 and tied for second with 40 touchdown passes. When it comes to weapons, Tampa Bay has plenty.

Mike Evans led the Buccaneers with 1,006 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns, but Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin and tight end Rob Gronkowski are all outstanding. Running back Ronald Jones finished just 22 rushing yards shy of 1,000.

For Washington to have any chance, its pass rush will need to be at its best. Montez Sweat and rookie Chase Young combined for 16.5 sacks this season. Linebacker Jon Bostic and cornerback Kendall Fuller also had solid years for a Washington defense that ranked second in the NFL in total defense and fourth in scoring defense.

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Washington made the playoffs by winning five of its final seven games after a 2-7 start. A big reason for the turnaround was the play of veteran quarterback Alex Smith, who was coming off a gruesome leg injury that many thought would end his career.

Smith threw more interceptions than touchdowns this season, but was 5-1 as a starter. There are questions about his mobility entering Saturday. Washington will hope for big games from running back Antonio Gibson and wide receiver Terry McLaurin . McLaurin finished with more than 1,100 yards receiving this year while Gibson ranked seventh in the NFL with 11 rushing touchdowns.

Tampa Bay ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense and eighth in scoring defense in 2020. Linebacker Devin White had an outstanding season, ranking fifth in the NFL with 140 total tackles to go with nine sacks. Jason Pierre-Paul led the Buccaneers with 9.5 sacks.

Saturday’s contest will be the third playoff meeting between Washington and the Buccaneers, but the first in the nation’s capital. The teams split the previous two meetings with Washington winning most recently in the Wild Card round during the 2005 season. The Wild Card showdown begins at 8:15 p.m. ET and airs nationally on NBC.

Prediction: Tampa Bay 27, Washington 17

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.