TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS at WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM, 8:15 PM ET (Saturday)
BetOnline NFL Playoff Odds: Bucs -8 (-104), Total 44.5 (Over -115, Under -105)
It isn’t all that difficult to make a case for Tampa Bay, when you look at this thing on paper. After all, the Bucs have so many receivers that you can’t hardly cover them all. Mike Evans is the only one who went beyond 1000 yards, but that’s because it gets spread around so well (he is listed questionable, but fully intends to play). Chris Godwin (840 yards) made the Pro Bowl last season, Scott Miller (501 yards) is a consistent outlet, and of course we all know about Antonio Brown, who reached 45 receptions, which made Tom Brady very happy. Then there’s Rob Gronkowski, who had 45 catches and seven TD’s after coming out of retirement.
And speaking of Brady, at age 43, he still finished third in the NFL in passing yards (4633) with 40 touchdowns. And he was sacked only 21 times, which we suppose is pretty good news against this Washington defense. He’s got the running backs if he wants them (Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, who had 978 yards). And Brady did not “short-arm” the ball either; he threw it an average of 9.1 yards beyond the scrimmage line, which was highest among NFL quarterbacks. That, of course, is a reflection not only on the receivers he has at his disposal but also the philosophy of coach Bruce Arians, who doesn’t necessarily believe in a lot of “west coast offense.”
With totals of 47 and 44 points in their last two games against Detroit and Atlanta, at least they show that they are in decent form, if not the subject of a lot of resistance.
And the Bucs defend well, especially the run, as they are perhaps the best overall in the NFL at doing that. Football Outsiders has an overall efficiency metric called “Adjusted Line Yards,” and they are #1 in that measurement. They also “stuff” the opposition’s ground attack (i.e., prevent them from getting back to the line of scrimmage) at the second highest frequency rate in the league.
So as the dust has settled on a tumultuous regular season, is there a case to be made for the Team Formerly Known as the Redskins?
Well, BetOnline patrons may be interested in knowing that home dogs have covered 15 of the last 21 in the NFL playoffs, so we should mention that. We should take note of some of the teams who, like Washington, came to the post-season with a losing record. One of the teams that won in that situation was the 2014 Carolina Panthers, who beat the Arizona Cardinals (albeit a Cards team down to a fourth-string QB). But there is irony here, as Carolina was coached by Ron Rivera, while Arians was on the sideline for Arizona.
Smith, back from 17 different operations on his leg (you’ve heard all about it by now), ultimately replaced the since-released Dwayne Haskins and has not lit it up that often. Sure, he’s completed 66.7% (two-thirds) of his passes, but he’s averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt, and has more INT’s (8) than TD’s (6). And while Brady throws it 9.1 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, Smith throws it just 5.1 yards.
Yet he is 5-1 as the starter, while the Washingtonians are 4-8 in the other games, showing us they are better than their record indicates…. maybe.
The backfield combo isn’t bad with rookie Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic, who seem to complement each other’s skills, and Terry McLaurin has 1118 receiving yards, more than anyone on the Tampa Bay side. Logan Thomas might have been a good emergency QB, if not for the fact that he has so much value as a tight end (72 catches).
But would the “WFT” be here had Doug Pederson not yanked Jalen Hurts in favor of Nate Sudfeld last week?
But since we have moved on from that, let’s look at this Washington defense, which measures up in about every way possible. They are behind only the Rams and Steelers when it comes to points AND yards allowed per drive; they are forcing punts on 40% of their opponents’ possessions; they are fifth in stuff rate, fourth in sack percentage, and brilliant in the red zone, where they have yielded touchdowns only 53.5 % of the time.
In other words, their stop unit is elite.
And let’s note that when encountered by pretty good defenses, the Bucs have often faltered. Against the group of teams that includes the Saints, Rams, Bears and Packers, for example, they have averaged 284 yards against those teams. That isn’t championship material. And you can argue that Washington has a better defense than all of them.
So the moral of the story (and for morals, we won’t consult with Daniel Snyder) is that Washington has enough going for it to keep this one pretty tight. That means we take the points.
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