Football Team

10 things on my mind ahead of Washington-Tampa on Saturday

Football Team

Aside from the few minutes when I've pondered which NBA games to take the over in or how some drivers are dumb enough to turn on their left blinker but then shift to the right, I've spent all week thinking about Washington and Tampa Bay squaring off on Wild Card Saturday.

And here are the 10 topics/angles I've kicked around the most. 

1) It's gonna be mega-bizarre to see Tom Brady at FedEx Field for a playoff game

The six-time Super Bowl champ has traveled to Landover just three instances in his career: 2003, 2011 and 2019. Those were all with the Patriots, of course, and all in the regular season. 

For perspective, in order for him to head to Washington's stadium for a post-Week 17 contest as he's about to do, the following things had to happen: 

  • Brady had to switch to the NFC after 19 years in the AFC
  • Brady and the Buccaneers had to enter the postseason as a wild card, something he's never done before in the NFL 
  • The Burgundy and Gold had to win the division, something that looked truly impossible after their 2-7 start

So, yeah, this is a very implausible trip he's about to embark on. I'll definitely be taking a probably-blurry of picture of the GOAT on my iPhone while he's warming up in order to capture the moment.

2) Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Tim Settle might be more critical than Chase Young and Montez Sweat

As entertaining as it would be to watch Young follow up his "I want Tom!" proclamation with a monster performance and see Sweat take over this one like he did the Pittsburgh triumph, Jack Del Rio very well might prefer that his interior guys have bigger nights than his edge studs.

Sure, Del Rio certainly wouldn't mind if Young and Sweat put their stamps on the showdown, but Brady has long proven adept at sneakily stepping up in the pocket when opponents are approaching him from either side. 

 

If there's no room to do that, though, because Allen, Payne and Settle are winning on the insidethen the hosts will really be onto something. 

3) Are we focusing enough on Antonio Brown?

Brown may not be at his peak anymore, but let's not forget he's just two years removed from a nearly 1,300-yard campaign with the Steelers, which was his sixth-straight time going for four digits. He's heating up, too.

In his last appearance, Brown was targeted 15 times and caught 11 balls for 138 yards and two touchdowns. It was a vintage afternoon for him. He also found the end zone in the two previous weeks.

4) So, about Taylor Heinicke...

I'm all for Ron Rivera trying to do something a little wacky with his backup signal caller. The way Scott Turner praised Heinicke's athleticism recently has really stuck with me, and if they want to give him a few packages or even an entire drive to run around, go for it. An underdog has to be willing to bark (I have no idea if that makes any sense, but I wrote it anyway).

Let's all remember this, though: He's Taylor Heinicke. He's not Taysom Hill. He's not Ryan Fitzpatrick. He's someone Washington signed last month, and he handled himself really admirably in his one quarter of action versus the Panthers a few Sundays ago. A bench superstar, however, he is not.

Again, if Alex Smith's mobility is a massive problem or if Washington needs a spark, give Heinicke a shot. But I'm just saying he's just as likely to, or even more likely to, make a mistake or struggle in his own right as he is to provide a boost or create a highlight.

5) The Bucs' run defense terrifies me

It's rare to see a unit in this league far outdo all the rest in any single category, but Todd Bowles' defense found a way to finish 10 yards ahead of every other run-stopping operation in the sport in 2020. On average, they give up just 80.6 yards on the ground.

80.6.

Eighty point six.

In nearly any other tilt, Rivera and Turner could help Smith and his banged-up calf out by calling for a bunch of handoffs to Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic. Maybe that'll be how they start things off. Yet it feels like that effort might be fruitless, and a one-dimensional Washington offense is not something anyone on their side wants to be a part of. 

6) Someone totally random has to come up huge

This isn't a 16-seed going to battle with a one-seed, but the Bucs are sizable favorites. So, what's usually a staple of a playoff upset?

An unsung hero coming out of nowhere to contribute.

To me, that means someone like special teams linebacker Jared Norris has to crunch a returner and force a fumble or the much-maligned Jeremy Sprinkle has to haul in a play-action pass on fourth-and-1. The Terry McLaurins and Kendall Fullers of the world certainly must be on point, but I also believe a player that the majority of the fan base is totally ignoring (or doesn’t even know) in the run-up to kickoff has to deliver as well.

 

7) I'm not buying into the Brady Bedtime Theory

The 43-year-old has gone just 1-3 in late games with Tampa, and Saturday's meeting with Washington doesn't commence until 8:15 p.m. Unfortunately, as much as I love jabbing 40-year-olds (I can't wait until JP and Mitch get to that age, by the way), I'm not putting a lot of stock into that stat.

For one, Brady's won six titles, and those Super Bowls all ended pretty well into the evening. Also, he's famous for being beyond meticulous in his prep, so I have no doubts he's adjusting his schedule to ensure he doesn't get sleepy in the second half.

If his postseason journey comes to an end in a handful of hours, it'll be because succumbed to overwhelming pressure from a talented D-line and not because he's missing his bed.

8) But I am somewhat buying into Rivera's constant "Why not us?" references

It's not like the coach is the originator of that phrase, but he absolutely has worn it out in press conferences the past few days, and I'm positive he's doing the same with his locker room. And I actually think it'll do something for that locker room.

It's become extremely obvious that Rivera's players love him and respect him. How could you not after what he experienced with his cancer fight?

On top of that, he's gotten rid of the pieces who didn't fit his vision and he's rewarded those who have by moving them into the lineup. Overall, he's been very honest and straightforward and — this is coming from them, not me — consistent. They'll listen to what he's preaching.

In addition, Washington's depth chart is a mostly-young group, many of whom are making their mid-January debut. They'll be fired up regardless, but I bet being discounted will only add to their energy.

I get this is the pros and not college. Still, I have a slight tingle that Rivera's "no one's backing us" mentality will inspire Washington.

9) Washington needs to survive the first two quarters

The Football Team falls behind constantly. It's a part of their identity, just like the numbers on their helmets and their facility out in Ashburn.

They can't let it happen on Saturday. Or, they at least can't let the gap get too wide.

Despite the fact that Rivera's charges tend to rebound in absurdly strong fashion — they ceded the fewest amount of second half points in the regular season — the Bucs have enough firepower to essentially put them away 30 minutes in. 

If Washington can remain within, say, a touchdown by intermission, then fans should have optimism. Anything over 10, on the other hand, would make for a difficult deficit to overcome.

10) Just being here is fun as hell

A 41-10 smackdown will dampen the mood to an extent, but Washington merely qualifying for the playoffs is awesome. Later on in Rivera's tenure, the bar has to be raised, but in Year 1, this'll do justttttt fine. 

 

Breaking down this matchup, having more Zoom pressers to conduct, etc. is something I could very much get used to. So, whatever goes down on Saturday, at the very minimum, getting one more taste of the NFL has been delightful.

And who knows — maybe the result few are expecting will happen and the ride will continue on to Lambeau.