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Why Washington-Bucs is the most underrated game in the Wild Card round of the 2021 NFL Playoffs

I’ve been rolling my eyes at this matchup since it was set, but history tells us this Wild Card showdown in prime time may be more interesting than we’d think at first glance.

Head coach Ron Rivera of the Washington Football Team looks on in the first half against the New York Giants at FedExField on November 08, 2020 in Landover, Maryland. Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Tom Brady and the Bucs will travel to FexExField for a Saturday night game kicking off at 8:15 p.m. ET. Brady’s record in the post-season with the New England Patriots sits at 30-11, which is enough to think they’ll easily have this game in the bag. However, we might have enough narrative (and defensive prowess) to consider otherwise.

Washington’s surprise season

The quality of football in the NFC East suffered in 2020. Not a single team finished above .500, but hey, someone had to win the division. The Washington Football Team finished 2020 sitting at 7-9, and it seems miraculous considering the tumultuous year the organization has had. From allegations of misconduct among leadership and former coaching staff, down to a maskless night at the strip club for their 15th overall pick in the 2019 draft, it’s been a mess.

Despite the tough times, Washington is officially a “worst-to-first” fairytale in the NFC East under Ron Rivera in his first season as head coach. This unit offensive unit struggled, ranking bottom-six in yards produced, yards per play, scoring percentage and passing touchdowns. Washington has had one shining light through all of it, though — the defense.

Football Outsiders ranks Washington’s unit No. 3 in Defense DVOA to close out the regular season. They finished with 47 sacks (sixth-most among NFL teams), a pressure rate of 25.6% (fifth-highest) and 27 turnovers, with top-six grades from PFF in tackling, pass rush and coverage against receivers. Is there any team (let alone the Washington Football Team) that can match up against a Bucs offense that’s scored 122 points in their last three outings?

What the Tom Brady Bunch is serving up

The Bucs are a well-balanced roster — no doubt about that. From their depth at wide receiver (with or without Mike Evans) to their bolstered offensive line, to the linebackers room (two second-team All-Pro selections in 2020), they’ve shown throughout the season that they’re able to secure a W on either side of the ball.

Though the Bucs themselves may not have a recent playoff history, they do find themselves in good company with Tom Brady, who has plenty of experience under his belt. Brady has played a total of 41 games in 17 playoff runs throughout his career — the most in each category for any NFL QB in history. He holds an overall record of 30-11 in the post-season (including nine Super Bowl appearances), and astonishingly, just eight of those playoff games took place on the road — not a single one of them in the Wild Card round.

It speaks to the dominance of the Patriots dynasty (R.I.P.) that we have such a small sample of these games, but Brady’s Home/Away splits are worth noting. On the road in the post-season, Brady holds a 4-4 record and with a total of 9 passing TDs and 10 INTs and NFL passer rating of 76.1. It’s a stark contrast to his 20-4 post-season record at home, where he’s thrown 46 TDs and 19 INTs and a passer rating of 91.8.

Ron Rivera against the Bucs

Though Ron Rivera is in his first year as head coach with Washington, let’s not forget — he knows the Bucs well. In his time as a head coach with the Carolina Panthers, Rivera has faced Tampa Bay a total of 18 times. His total record against the team sits at 10-6.

The Panthers relieved Rivera of his duties after an embarrassing home loss in 2019 (to Washington — who else?), but not before he coached the team to a 1-1 record against the Bucs on the season. They last met in Week 6 at Raymond James Stadium, where Jameis Winston attempted 54 passes — five of which were intercepted by Carolina to pull off a surprise win 37-26. No Panther exited that game looking flashy in the box score, as the Bucs held even Christian McCaffrey to just 57 scrimmage yards, but the plays they make counted big-time.

Bucs Players vs. Ron Rivera as HC

Players Games vs. Ron Rivera (2011-2019) Targets/Game Receptions/Game Avg Yds Avg TDs
Players Games vs. Ron Rivera (2011-2019) Targets/Game Receptions/Game Avg Yds Avg TDs
Mike Evans 12 9.7 4.5 60.3 0.3
Chris Godwin 6 6.3 4.8 86.5 0.3
Antonio Brown 2 8 8 93 1.5
Rob Gronkowski 2 6 4.5 69.5 0.5

Can Rivera and Co. force an upset?

Though it seems like the most mismatched Wild Card game of all-time, we shouldn’t write it off just yet. Washington is just the third NFL team in the Super Bowl era to make the playoffs without a winning record. The two teams that did it before them? The 2010 Seahawks and 2014 Panthers — the latter of which was coached by none other than Ron Rivera himself. Each of those teams entered the Wild Card round as an underdog... and both advanced to the Divisional Round in their respective playoff brackets.

Current odds on DraftKings Sportsbook

Spread: Bucs -8, Washington +8
Moneyline: Bucs -375, Washington +310
Total: 44.5

Notable player props

Antonio Brown to score a TD: +140
Chris Godwin to have more receiving yards than Terry McLaurin: +105
Rob Gronkowski Over 33.5 receiving yards: -112