Although upsets are bound to happen in the playoffs, don’t expect Tom Brady to be headed out the door early against Washington.
It’s not about how you start, but rather how you finish. And perhaps thanks to Ron Rivera’s riveting postgame speech before the bye week, the Washington Football Team is your NFC East champions.
In a battle of who wants it less, the four teams from the worst division in football duked it out down the stretch for the postseason. Washington won five of its final eight games to finish with a 7-9 record.
Despite Doug Pederson all but tanking in the season finale and a near implosion from Washington’s side, a 20-14 victory separated them as the front-runners over New York.
The playoffs are all about upset wins and teams playing hot at the right moment. That’s not Washington, nor has it been Washington all season. So for those out there wondering if this is the upset game of the week, stop now.
The Buccaneers should be heavy favorites over Washington
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed one more win to make things interesting in the NFC South. Instead, they might have landed the easiest path back to their home stadium come February for a Lombardi Trophy.
Even at 43 years old, Tom Brady is redefining the limitations put on by age. In the final month of action, Brady tallied a 4-0 record while throwing for 1,333 yards and 12 touchdowns against one interception. And his average pass? Try 9.75 yards per attempt.
The offensive line has rapidly hit their stride as well. Brady took five total sacks in his final four games on the year. The month prior, the Buccaneers allowed the former Patriot to be taken down eight times.
Sure, the potential loss of Mike Evans will sting, but the hope is he can return in a limited role. Evans might be the No.1 option, but it’s not the only one. Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin combined for 16 catches for 287 and four scores in the season finale against Atlanta.
Washington is limited on offense despite having one of the league’s better front sevens. Terry McLaurin is the only receiver on the team with more 80 catches and Logan Thomas is over 500 yards shy of being No.1 in receiving yards.
There’s also Tampa’s pass rush, which currently ranks third in sacks among playoff teams. Alex Smith took three sacks against Philadelphia and three sacks against the Steelers, both of whom had better production in the pass rush this season.
Meanwhile, Tampa’s top-ranked run defense should be able to contain surprise standout Antonio Gibson.
There’s no denying that when healthy, Washington could be a team on the rise. That’s the problem. There not healthy and the Buccaneers have hit their stride at the right moment.
That only ends in an early exit for one team and it’s certainly not the one Brady’s on.