Back on Dec. 1, one might have assumed two things about a Philadelphia Eagles-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game in the first round of the playoffs: that it would be played in Philly and that the Eagles would be darn near double-digit favourites.
That was before the Eagles unravelled, losing five of six games in the season’s final month to go into this wild-card game as just three-point favourites at Raymond James Stadium Monday at 8:15 p.m. ET.
The game was the second-tightest spread on the board all week after Cleveland-Houston and that one turned into a blowout for the underdog, another bad omen for Philadelphia, which lost by 17 to the hapless New York Giants in the final game of the season – with Jalen Hurts and the starters getting action. Tampa hosts this one despite having a significantly worse record by virtue of winning the mediocre NFC South.
The Eagles will be trying to return to their early-season ways. They won their first five games, including a 25-11 road win over the Buccaneers in Week 3.
The winner of this game will play at Detroit in the second round of the NFL playoffs.
Eagles vs. Buccaneers odds
|Eagles Moneyline Odds
|Buccaneers Moneyline Odds
|Eagles -3 (+100)
|43.5 points (over -110, under -110)
|January 15, 8:15 p.m. ET
|Broadcast: TSN, DAZN
About the Eagles (11-6 SU, 6-8-3 ATS, 9-8 o/u)
The Eagles were probably not as good as their record indicated when they jumped to a 10-1 start and they’re probably not as bad as their 1-5 finish. The statistics paint them as a slightly better than mediocre team overall.
Philly finished the regular season ranked eighth in total offence, powered mostly by the run game, and a 26th overall defence, a unit that is particularly porous against the pass, ranking 31st. What made the Eagles look particularly awful in December was turnovers. For the season, they finished -10 in turnover differential, a stark contrast to the +8 on the Tampa Bay side.
The focus all week has been on the status of Hurts’ injured middle finger, an injury he sustained against the Giants. He wasn’t exactly playing his best football to begin with and now there are questions about how effective he will be with a compromised hand. If his throwing is affected, look for Philly coaches to design more running plays for Hurts. He tends to run a bit more in the post-season anyway. In his playoff games, including last year’s Super Bowl, he has five rushing touchdowns.
Hurts rushed for 15 touchdowns this season, which tied an NFL record for quarterbacks. Of course, several of those came on “tush push,” plays, in which a tight end or running back helps push Hurts into the end zone on short-yardage pays.
Not only is Hurts banged up, but receiver A.J. Brown was ruled out for this game on Saturday due to a knee injury and several other players are dealing with injuries as well.
About the Buccaneers (9-8 SU, 11-6 ATS, 6-11 o/u)
The Buccaneers won five of their last six games to get here, riding a competent offence powered by a resurgent quarterback and two excellent receivers.
Tampa Bay took a flyer on Baker Mayfield, signing him to a one-year, $4 million contract figuring that, if it didn’t work out, it could draft a quarterback next April. Now, it looks like Mayfield may be in line for a fat contract extension after making the most of the opportunity to revive his career by completing 64% of his passes for 4,044 yards and 28 touchdowns and fixing the turnover problems that plagued him in Cleveland, Carolina and L.A.
Mike Evans’ greatness is probably not discussed often enough. Not only is he nearly a lock near the goal line, but he had the second-most deep receiving touchdowns in the league with seven.
The defence isn’t great, raking 23rd in total defence, having allowed an average of 344.2 yards per game and 34 touchdowns, but it is good at stopping the run, ranking fifth, with teams gaining just 95.3 yards on the ground and reaching the end zone 11 times.
One thing to keep in mind when Philly gets near the goal line. The Buccaneers were one of the few teams to get a stop when Philly attempted the tush push. On a third-and-goal in the teams’ first meeting, Tampa stuffed Hurts for no gain from the one.
The Eagles’ secondary isn’t exactly an impermeable membrane. The team’s 31st-ranked pass defence is mostly the product of defensive backs who allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for an average of 252.7 yards per game. Covering Evans and Chris Godwin could be a task that’s too much for cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry.
Evans and Godwin are one of only three sets of receivers to pick up 1,000 or more receiving yards in 2022 and 2023, joining Miami’s Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle and Philly’s Brown and DeVonta Smith.
Evans is a particularly enticing target near the goal line. His 13 TD catches were tied with Hill for the NFL lead.
Mike Evans anytime TD
In addition to the Hurts and Brown injuries, Philly is dealing with questionable statuses for WR Smith, S Reed Blankenship (groin), RB D’Andre Swift (illness and CB Slay (knee). Smith, Swift and Slay were listed as full participants at Saturday’s practice.
Tampa’s injury report includes Mayfield (ribs, ankle) and LT Tristan Wirfs (illness), who missed some practice time early in the week, but returned. They will both play in this game.
Forecasts are calling for light rain near kickoff, but it should diminish as the game moves along with temperatures of about 18 C and light winds of about 6 km/h from the south.
- The line opened many places at Philly -1.5, moved up to three within two days and then bounced back and forth between -2.5 and -3.
- Buccaneers games exceeded the 43.5-point total in this one just five times in 17 games.
- The Eagles and their opponents averaged 46.3 points per game, appreciably more than the over/under in this one.
- Philly games have gone over the total in two of the last three. Tampa went under in its last three games.
Player prop trends
- Only Josh Allen reached the end zone on foot as frequently as Hurts did this season among quarterbacks. Hurts ran for a touchdown in six of the Eagles’ final six games. He is -120 to score a touchdown in this one.
- Evans tied Tyreek Hill for the NFL in receiving touchdowns and crossed the goal line at least once in six of his team’s last nine games. He is +110 to score an anytime touchdown.
- Mayfield is feeling the effects of rib and shoulder injuries, which clearly affected him as he finished with just 137 yards passing and no touchdowns against Carolina. His passing prop is set at 236.5 (at -110) in this one.
Wagers to consider
- Mayfield’s iffy performance against Carolina seems to have prompted the sportsbooks to set his passing yards too low for this one (237.5). He averaged 237.9 yards for the season and 252 at home. If the Bucs fall behind in the second half, he’s even more likely to eclipse that number. With two great receivers and a week of treatment for what ails him, it seems like he could be ready to break out. He’s always liked the big stage.
- There are too many bad storylines piling up on the Eagles. Rumours have started to swirl that the locker room isn’t fully behind Hurts, for example. And, with Brown out, he’s not going to have one of his best weapons for this one. Though the Bucs are the definition of a mediocre team, consider taking the home underdog.