The Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Washington looking for their first playoff win since the 2002 Super Bowl. Ben Steele expects Tom Brady to make the difference...
"Brady led the New England Patriots to the playoffs 17 times during his career, boasting a 27-11 record in January football making him comfortably the most experienced player in the game."
Experience beats youth as Brady betters Young
As the Washington Football Team clinched the NFC East title last week their defensive end Chase Young made sure everybody knew exactly how he felt about his next opponent. The rookie called out Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, turning to the camera and shouting "Tom Brady, I'm coming! I want Tom!" providing hours of material for NFL talk shows over the last week.
After a 21 years as a professional, Brady is no stranger to defensive players telling the media that they're going to make life difficult for him and, unfortunately for Chase Young, it is usually the 43-year-old who comes out on top and he's coming in to the game in unbelievable form. In his last three games Tampa's signal caller has racked up over 1,000 passing yards and has thrown 10 touchdowns but it is his playoff experience that Tampa will rely on this weekend. Brady led the New England Patriots to the playoffs 17 times during his career, boasting a 27-11 record in January football making him comfortably the most experienced player in the game.
By contrast Young is making his first playoff appearance, and he may well have some success on Saturday night, but in a team sport this isn't just an individual battle between an experienced quarterback and a precocious defensive end. When Brady drops back to pass he is protected by one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, who allowed the third fewest sacks this season (21), and has the option to pass to a plethora of playmakers highlighted by the fact 10 different Buccs players caught a touchdown pass this season.
Washington's defence is talented and come in to the game off the back of a great season against the pass, ranking second in yards per game allowed and third in yards per attempt, but Brady's veteran savvy should allow him to make just enough plays to earn the victory. I'm backing a Same Game Multi of Tom Brady to have Under 284.5 Passing yards in a Tampa Bay win.
Jones and Brown step up to replace injured Evans
Week 17 was a mixed one for Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans as he become the first receiver in NFL history to start his career with seven straight 1,000 yard seasons but also injured his knee after slipping in the endzone against the Atlanta Falcons. Evans has been Brady's favourite target this season and any doubts over his fitness coming in to Wild Card Weekend is likely to see a change of tactic by Buccs head coach Bruce Arians.
That switch of style could bode well for a pair of Evans' teammates, Antonio Brown and running back Ronald Jones, who have shown themselves more than capable of stepping up for Tampa in 2020. The controversial Brown only joined the Buccaneers midway through the year but still managed to end the regular season with 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns. That total was helped enormously last week when, following Evans' knee injury he became Brady's go to receiver, ending the game with 11 catches for 138 yards and two scores, if Evans isn't fully fit I'd expect Brady to turn to the former Pittsburgh Steeler with increased regularity.
With the receiving corps not fully fit and Washington's defensive prowess well known Brady can also turn to Ronald Jones; an unheralded sophomore who managed to cement himself as the undisputed lead back for the Buccs this year. The 23-year-old rushed for almost 1,000 yards despite the fact that Arians' offence scheme leans heavily on the pass game. Only two teams ran the ball less than Tampa Bay this season but Jones made the most of his touches when he got them, averaging over five yards a carry and scoring seven touchdowns
Look for both Brown and Jones to find the endzone in Washington as the Buccaneers offence showcases the incredible depth and versatility they have available.
Receivers can keep Washington alive
In a game that Tampa Bay are heavy favourites to win Washington's pass catchers Terry McLaurin and Logan Thomas could provide a potential outlet for success. The Buccaneers defence was the best in the league at stopping the run this season, but in the bottom 10 when it came to stopping the pass and that sets up nicely for Washington.
While running back Antonio Gibson was a solid player who scored 11 times he was somewhat of a flat track bully and his most productive outings often came against some of the worst run defences around, most notably the Dallas Cowboys, so he may well struggle tonight. With Washington potentially looking to move the ball down the field quickly they will turn to their two most reliable pass catchers, McLaurin and Thomas. Both men scored last week in Washington division clinching win and will be pivotal to any chances they have this weekend.
Thomas is a prototypical tight end, a reliable target who has is most effective in the red zone, where his large frame allows him to bully opposing defenders but it is McLaurin who is the real star, developing in to one of the best yardage accumulators in the NFL. Washington's problems at quarterback this season have been well documented but the second year receiver has been a constant, averaging 75 receiving yards a game and teaming up well with this weekend's starter Alex Smith to keep the ball moving.
While he isn't as much of a scoring threat as Thomas, the pair dovetail nicely and a Same Game Multi of McLaurin to rack up the yards and Thomas to score is well worth a look if Washington are to stand a chance of pulling off an upset.
Ben Steele NFL P/L:
Staked: 59 points
Returned: 67.4 points
P/L: +8.4 points
Same Game Multi: Tom Brady to have Under 284.5 Passing Yards and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win @ 2.3
Same Game Multi: Antonio Brown and Ronald Jones to both score a touchdown anytime @ 4.55
Same Game Multi: Back Logan Thomas to score a touchdown and Terry McLaurin to have Over 67.5 receiving yards @ 5.75
All 3 bets combined @ 53.17