The No. 7-seeded Eagles (9-8) are on the road in the wild card round to face the No. 2-seeded Buccaneers (13-4) at Raymond James Stadium.
To the predictions:
Reuben Frank (12-5)
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I don’t think they’re going to be able to stop Tom Brady. I don’t think they’re going to be able to cover Mike Evans or Gronk. I don’t think they’re going to be able to run the ball on that Tampa defensive front. I don’t think Jalen Hurts is going to be able to make enough plays down the field. I don’t think the Eagles have enough offensive playmakers. I don’t think the Eagles can generate enough pass pressure. I don’t think the Eagles can overcome their slow starts, penalties or lack of takeaways. I don’t think a rookie head coach is going to be able to match wits with a Super Bowl winner. I don’t think the Eagles will be able to stop the Bucs on third down. I don’t think the Eagles are going to get enough out of their return game. I don’t think a 23-year-old quarterback in his first season as a full-time starter will be able to win a road playoff game against the defending Super Bowl champions. I don’t think the Eagles are going to lose.
Eagles 31, Buccaneers 30
Dave Zangaro (14-3)
The Eagles ought to be able to put up a much better fight against the Bucs this time around. Back in Week 6, the Bucs won that game 28-22 and that final score might lead you to believe the game was closer than it was. Because in October, the Bucs jumped out to a 28-7 lead and really just cruised to a victory. Since then, the Eagles have transformed on both sides of the ball. They became a run-first offensive attack led by a quarterback in Jalen Hurts, who continues to grow. And on defense, Jonathan Gannon has figured out his personnel and the Eagles actually ended up with a top-10 defense. Here comes the but.
Tom Brady. Maybe that’s oversimplifying things because he’s still a mortal. But it’s hard for me to imagine the Eagles going on the road and defeating the 44-year-old GOAT even without Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown at his disposal. That Bucs offense is still an absolute handful and that Todd Bowles defense can give young quarterbacks headaches. The Eagles should be able to keep this close but I can’t pick ‘em.
Buccaneers 31, Eagles 27
Ray Didinger (14-3)
So what will the Eagles face in Sunday's NFC Wild Card game? Well, as the No. 7 seed, they will play the defending Super Bowl champions in their home stadium and it just happens to be the stadium where they won that Super Bowl 11 months ago.
Oh and that team (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) has the best quarterback of all-time (Tom Brady) playing behind an offensive line with three Pro Bowlers (Ryan Jensen, Ali Marpet and Tristan Wirfs) and a tight end (Rob Gronkowski) who has more post-season receptions (89) and touchdowns (14) than any other tight end in history.
To say this is a steep climb for the Eagles is an understatement.
The Eagles come into this game with momentum — forget the Dallas loss, it meant nothing — and they have the league's best running attack which they foolishly left on the shelf when they lost to the Bucs earlier this season. I don't expect them to make that mistake again but I still don't think they have enough to take down the champs.
Buccaneers 27, Eagles 17
Barrett Brooks (10-7)
Eagles vs. Tom Brady. That's what I'm hearing all week. Brady has played 45 postseason games, vs. Jalen Hurts’ first postseason game. I still love our chances. This game could virtually seal Hurts as the QB of the future for the Birds. Hurts and the Eagles are playing on house money.
I know this will be a challenge. The Bucs have a top 5 defense against the run and the No. 1 passing offense in the league. I can go on and on giving stats and reasons why the Eagles won't win. I will give you one reason why they will: Heart! This team plays for each other and feel like they belong on the same field as the Bucs! This is a totally different team than the Bucs faced in Week 6.
Eagles 31, Buccaneers 27
Mike Mulhern (11-6)
As the week has gone on my level of confidence in the Eagles being able to pull off the upset has waned, due largely to the Buccaneers’ improving injury report. On Sunday, four players will be game-time decisions for Tampa Bay: pass rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett, as well as linebacker Lavonte David and running back Leonard Fournette. They all seem poised to play, making a second Bucs win over the Birds this season that much more likely.
Surely, Tom Brady will miss his two top targets from that Week 6 meeting. Chris Godwin is out for the season with a torn ACL and Antonio Brown is off questioning whether he and the quarterback were ever really friends. But Brady will have Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski for another playoff run. Brady’s won 16 of 20 postseason games with his trusted tight end at his disposal, hooking up 83 times for 1,273 yards and 14 touchdowns. Partially by design and partially based on personnel, the Eagles have had issues with tight ends this season. I anticipate we’ll see plenty of Gronk Sunday, and I don’t just mean in USAA commercials.
Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts and the Eagles have made a complete offensive transformation since the first matchup. While the Bucs still rank 3rd in the league in rush defense, if you dig deeper into the numbers, running on them isn’t the daunting task you might expect. Yet the offense’s overall success will come down to Jalen Hurts’ ability to make plays from the pocket. I believe he’ll do enough to have them in front late.
However, the last time Hurts played in Raymond James Stadium he was a true freshman facing off with Clemson in the National Championship Game. He #leftthefieldwiththelead with just over two minutes to play, only to watch DeShaun Watson lead the Tigers to a last-second touchdown and the win. With Tom Brady on the other side, history repeats.
Buccaneers 27, Eagles 23