The Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin their quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions, looking to become the first team since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots to win back-to-back Super Bowls. The first test standing in Tampa Bay's way is the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that went 7-3 over the final 10 games and rallied to claim a playoff spot after a 2-5 start.
Philadelphia and Tampa Bay faced off in Week 6, with the Buccaneers holding on to win 28-22 on "Thursday Night Football." The Buccaneers don't have Antonio Brown or Chris Godwin available for the rematch while the Eagles transformed their offense into the leading rushing attack in the NFL since Week 8. The second meeting between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay becomes all the more intriguing with the nature of the teams changing over the past few months. The Eagles are a dangerous No. 7 seed against a Super Bowl contender led by the greatest quarterback to ever play the game in Tom Brady.
Can the Eagles find a way to run past the Buccaneers? Can Brady will a banged up Tampa Bay team past Philadelphia? Here's a preview of the NFC wild-card showdown:
How to watch
Rob Gronkowski against Eagles defense
The Eagles are arguably the worst team covering tight ends this season, allowing a league-high 107 completions and 14 touchdowns to tight ends. Their 61 receiving yards per game allowed to tight ends is the sixth most in the NFL, which makes covering Rob Gronkowski a daunting task.
Gronkowski didn't play in the Week 6 matchup due to an injury, yet Brady still found his tight ends for nine catches for 75 yards and a score. Brady and Gronkowski have connected 55 times (eighth-most amongst quarterback-tight end combinations in the NFL) and 802 yards (fourth) and six touchdowns (sixth). Keep in mind Gronkowski played just 12 games this year and has 14 catches for 252 yards in his last two games.
The Eagles are going to have to stop Gronkowski to beat the Buccaneers. With no Chris Godwin and Cyril Grayson out, Brady will be searching for his tight ends a lot -- a glaring weakness in the Eagles defense.
Jalen Hurts vs. pressure
No team pressured Hurts this season like the Buccaneers, as the Eagles quarterback faced pressure on 55% of his dropbacks vs. Tampa Bay -- the highest rate of pressure Hurts faced all year. Hurts went just 12 of 26 for 115 yards with a touchdown and an interception in what was his worst passing performance of the year. Hurts did have 10 carries for 44 yards and two touchdowns in that game, using his legs to spark a comeback attempt.
Hurts has been composed under pressure, being sacked just 25 times (fourth fewest in NFL) with two interceptions (second fewest in NFL). He has completed just 43.7% of his passes when facing pressure with six touchdowns to two interceptions, as his 75.7 passer rating is 11th in the NFL. His 6.86 yards per attempt under pressure ranks seventh.
While Hurts has been solid under pressure, he'll be facing a lot of it against Tampa Bay Sunday. The Buccaneers get pressure on the opposing quarterback on 33% of dropbacks (the fifth-highest rate in the NFL) and blitz on 36% of dropbacks (second-highest rate in NFL).
The Buccaneers are heavily favored in this game for a reason. Tom Brady can tear apart the Eagles defense by getting to the tight ends in the middle of the field and the Buccaneers third-ranked run defense with Vita Vea can neutralize the Eagles' top-ranked rushing attack.
Philadelphia is a different team than the one Tampa Bay saw in Week 6, though. The Eagles are first in third-down conversion rate (49%) and average 189.9 rushing yards per game since Week 8, the most in the NFL. The Buccaneers have given up 130 rushing yards per game over the last two weeks, with the Jets and Panthers each having 26 carries. The Eagles averaged 32.3 attempts per game and won't abandon the run if it isn't working, so the Buccaneers will be challenged on the ground.
Hurts will play well and the Eagles will give the Buccaneers a game, but failing to cover Gronkowski and company will be enough for Tampa Bay to survive and host another playoff game next week.
Buccaneers 27, Eagles 25