The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are beginning their quest to defend their Super Bowl championship, seeking to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots. Of course, Tom Brady was the last quarterback to repeat as the Super Bowl champion -- so he knows how to get the most out of a talented roster.
Tampa Bay is still one of the best teams in the NFL, even with the injuries and in-season drama involving Antonio Brown. Brady doesn't have Brown and Chris Godwin at wide receiver, and No. 4 target Cyril Grayson will also be out Sunday. Even with the injuries surrounding the Buccaneers, Brady was able to put the team on his back and get them to a 13-4 record and the No. 2 seed in the conference.
The Buccaneers had the second-ranked offense (in points scored and yards) in the NFL and a top-five scoring defense. They also had a top-five run defense and a pass rush that was able to get to the quarterback, the basis of their Super Bowl championship run last year.
Even though Tampa Bay doesn't have all the pieces in place, the Buccaneers are talented enough to get back to the Super Bowl with Brady having his best season since his MVP campaign in 2007 -- at the age of 44. The first test for teh Buccaneers are the upstart Philadelphia Eagles, who rallied from a 2-5 start to reach the playoffs in Nick Sirianni's first year as the head coach.
Tampa Bay beat Philadelphia 28-22 in the first meeting, yet both teams are drastically different this time around. Here's how Tampa Bay takes care of Philadelphia in the rematch and advances to the divisional round of the playoffs:Rob Gronkowski creates dreams and nightmares
Gronkowski didn't play in the Week 6 matchup against the Eagles, yet Tampa Bay tight ends still had nine catches for 75 yards and a touchdown in his absence. The future Hall of Fame tight end is back for the playoff game and is a matchup nightmare for an Eagles team that has allowed a league-high 107 completions and 14 touchdowns to tight ends this year.
With Antonio Brown off the roster, Chris Godwin done for the year, and Cyril Grayson out, Tom Brady will be looking for his reliable target in Gronkowski throughout the afternoon. 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) this season. Gronkowski played in just 12 games this year and has 14 catches for 252 yards in his last two games, so he's getting hot at the right time.
Gronkowski is primed to have a huge day against an Eagles defense that struggles to cover tight ends. The Eagles may not have an answer for him.Tom Brady will have a high completion rate
Brady completed 81% of his passes in the Week 6 matchup against the Eagles, throwing 42 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. Philadelphia allowed opponents to have a 69.4% completion rate against its defense this season and Tampa Bay throws the ball 66% of the time -- the most in the league. The stage is set for Brady -- who threw for 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns this season -- to have a bunch of completions and yards against the Eagles.
Philadelphia does allow the second-fewest yards per completion in the league (9.2) and a 4.8% touchdown per pass attempt rate this year (the fourth-highest amongst playoff teams). There's an opportunity for Brady to pick apart the Eagles defense again and move the chains, controlling the time of possession again (the Buccaneers held the ball for 39:56 in the first meeting).
Brady's ability to get rid of the ball quick against a pass rush that has just a 4.7% sack rate (second-lowest in NFL) is a recipe for disaster against the Eagles defense.Brady won't get touched much
The Buccaneers offensive line has done an excellent job protecting Brady this year, as he was sacked just 22 times on 719 pass attempts -- the best mark in the NFL. The Eagles don't get a lot of sacks, as their 29 are the second-fewest in the league this season. That needs to change if Philadelphia wants to get Brady off his spot and make him uncomfortable.