The time has finally come. The playoffs have come at last.
The 9-8 Philadelphia Eagles entered 2021 with plenty of unknowns, new staff and players, and the lingering threat of COVID-19 over their heads. Now, this is their true test. Philadelphia has made it into the dance for the Lombardi Trophy for the first time since the 2019-’20 season.
The Eagles have not seen late January football since their home loss in 2019 against the Seattle Seahawks, where then quarterback Carson Wentz famously left with a concussion after a controversial hit by then defensive end Jadaveon Clowney.
Many of those who were a part of the Super Bowl run just five years ago are long gone, but some remain, with the key experience that young players strive to gain. Leaders such as center Jason Kelce, right tackle Lane Johnson and safety Rodney McLeod still bring the offensive and defensive sides of the ball together. In this moment, they will once again lead the charge into the chaos of the playoffs.
Philadelphia is being led by first-year head coach Nick Sirianni, with fellow first-years in offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. Quarterback Jalen Hurts has come off his second regular season, while other standout players such as rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who enters this postseason fresh off breaking DeSean Jackson’s Eagles rookie receiving yards record. Next to the standout receiver in Smith comes the running game for the Birds, as they have rushed the most yards in their franchise’s history this season coming into Wild Card Weekend.
Tampa Bay comes into this game with home field advantage on their side, and the No. 2 seed to boot. With Los Angeles losing to San Francisco last week, it ensured the Birds travel to the Floridian Coast. Tom Brady looks to repeat for his second Super Bowl Championship with the Bucs, and eighth overall. Star players such as linebacker Lavonte David and running back Leonard Fournette are set to return from injured reserve, with Tampa’s defensive line returning to full strength with the return of lineman Jason Pierre-Paul. No matter what comes for the Eagles, they will certainly have quite the challenge at hand against the defending champions.
Philadelphia is certainly an underdog in this matchup between David and Goliath, but they are up for the task. If defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon can focus more on the man coverage rather than the scheme they had against Tampa Bay in Week 6, it would change the offensive attack that the Buccaneers let loose against the Birds all those weeks ago.
Focusing on the run game is key. If the Eagles get too pass happy, it will not bode well for them in Tampa. For Nick Sirianni and Co., they’re playing with house money. Nobody expected them to be here, and nobody expects them to win. However, the Eagles have the proven ability to shock the world against the G.O.A.T, and potentially punch their ticket to Lambeau Field next week.
The Buccaneers and the Eagles have faced off in the playoffs four times coming into this Sunday, with the postseason series between them tied two-a-piece.
My prediction for this game is that the Eagles come out with the win, 28-21. Go Birds.