Tampa Bay (11-5) at Washington (7-9)
When: Saturday, January 9th, 2021
Where: FedEx Field,
Time: 8:15 ET | TV: NBC
Opening Odds: Tampa Bay -6.5/46.5
The Washington Football Team has been through a lot this year including a name change that has given them a different identity. The season did not start well either. The Football Team was 2-7, but because of the weak NFC East, had a chance still. Quarterback Alex Smith has not only rebounded from a gruesome leg injury in November 2018 that required 17 surgeries, but played very well and posted a 5-1 record as a starter this season. That helped Washington win the NFC East at 7-9 and will now host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady in Saturday night’s Wild Card game. The Football Team clinched their first division title since 2015 on the last NFL game of the season, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14 on the road. Smith was limited in practice on Wednesday, leading to backup Taylor Heinicke receiving first-team reps. Rookie running back Antonio Gibson (795 yards, 11 TD) and wideout Terry McLaurin (87 catches, 1,118 receiving yards) were also listed as limited in practice on Wednesday. In order for Washington to advance past this weekend, they’ll have to figure out a way to slow down this Tampa Bay offense. Brady has led the Bucs to their first playoff game since 2007 and still hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. Brady, who of course won six Super Bowls in New England, is the NFL’s all-time leader in playoff wins (30), completions (1,025), passing yards (11,388) and touchdown passes (73). Tampa completed an 11-5 season with four-straight wins while going 4-1 ATS in their last five games.
It’s no surprise that Tampa Bay is the big favorites here against a Washington team with a losing record. The Bucs opened as 6.5-point favorites, but that line quickly changed and is now sitting at 8.5 as of Thursday morning. The teams don’t have much of a history together outside of some preseason games, but the Football Team defeated Tampa Bay 16-3 the last time they met in 2018. Alex Smith ran the offense that day, while Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 406 yards and two interceptions. The under is 4-1 in Tampa Bay’s last five games in Washington, while the Bucs are 2-6 ATS in their last eight January games and 0-4 ATS in their last four wildcard games.
For everyone who thinks Brady is washed up, take a look at these season numbers: 4,633 passing yards (3rd in the NFL) and 40 TDs (tied with Russell Wilson for 2nd). The offense seems to be getting stronger, recording 122 points in the final three regular season games, thanks to a receiver core of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown. Evans, however, was forced to leave the Week 17 game due to a knee injury, although he is reportedly likely to play on Saturday. The Bucs’ defense is expected to hold Washington’s anemic offense this week. Tampa is allowing 22.2 points per game this season – eighth in the league – and they rank No. 1 in stopping the run (80.6). The Bucs seem to start slow and finish strong, as they’ve been outscored 100-88 in the first quarter by opponents. Cornerback Carlton Davis was able to practice in a limited capacity on Wednesday as he attempts to heal a groin injury.
Washington will need their defense to win this game and it is one of the best front sevens in the league. During the regular season, Washington ranked among the top teams in the NFL in pass defense and overall defense, while allowing just 20.6 points a game. Montez Sweat and Chase Young were each able to shut down opponent’s run games and pass games. Young gave Tampa some bulletin board material this week saying, “Tom Brady, Tom Brady, I’m coming! I want Tom! I want Tom.” The Football Team has 47 sacks on the season and an 8.16 defensive sack percentage (fourth overall). Smith hasn’t been a superstar, but he has at least stabilized Washington’s offense. He threw for just 162 yards with two TDs and two interceptions and he was sacked three times in last weeks win over the Eagles. The running game also ranks near the bottom of the league at 100.7 yards per contest.
For some reason Brady has struggled in night games recently, going 0-7 ATS in his last seven prime time affairs. Still, the Bucs have enough on both sides of the ball to win this game, but Washington’s defense can give him problems. I expect an ugly and low scoring game, so I will take these points.
Pick: Washington +8.5
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