It’s officially playoff week, Philadelphia. The Eagles are set to travel down to Tampa Bay to take on Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. The game will kickoff from Raymond James Stadium at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Leading up to this Wildcard contest, there are a few things to keep an eye on for both teams. Most notably, the health of some key players on both sides.
Let’s take a look at two of the biggest storylines to follow throughout the week leading up to Sunday’s matchup.
Miles Sanders’ availability
Running back Miles Sanders broke a bone in his hand back on December 26 in a game against the Giants. He wasn’t placed on IR, specifically so he could potentially suit up for a Wildcard game.
Nick Sirianni was asked about his running back’s health at his Monday morning press conference and said he’s “hopeful” to have Sanders back in the fold for Sunday.
While the Eagles rushing attack has been dominant no matter who’s carried the ball for them, Sanders adds a lot to this backfield. He has the best field vision of any back on the team and he provides the Eagles rushing attack with big play ability, something the other backs lack.
When the Eagles and Bucs faced each other earlier in the season, Sanders only finished with nine carries and recorded just one touch in the first half. The Eagles are a completely different team now — it almost feels like that first matchup was played during a different season.
Not only is Sanders expected to be back, but Sirianni also stated that Jordan Howard should be back in the lineup as well. A fully healthy Eagles backfield will be a nightmare for Tampa Bay’s rush defense.
The health of LB Lavonte David
The Bucs got some good news on Monday as far as their injury report is concerned. Leonard Fournette, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Shaq Barrett are all expected to be ready for Sunday’s game, per Bruce Arians.
The one name that was left off that list was linebacker Lavonte David, who’s missed the last three games with a foot injury. During his Monday press conference, Arians said that they won’t know David’s status until later in the week. If he’s unable to go, he’ll leave a huge hole in Tampa Bay’s rush defense.
The team’s defensive strength is still along their defensive line, but David is the guy who makes everything go. Without David in the lineup, Tampa’s rush defense has fallen off a bit. During his three-game absence, Tampa has surrendered an average of 4.83 yards per carry. Their opponents, the Jets and Panthers twice, rank 27th and 20th in total rushing respectively.
David’s by far the best linebacker on their team. His 77.6 overall grade on Pro Football Focus ranks eighth out of 88 qualifying linebackers. The other starting linebackers, Devin White and Kevin Minter, rank 80th and 45th respectively, according to PFF.
Philly should still be able to run the ball against Tampa regardless, but if the Bucs are without one of their most valuable defensive pieces, the Eagles may not need to pass the ball at all.