The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the 2021 NFL regular season with a 13-4 record. While they barely missed out on home-field advantage and a first-round bye, the Bucs have as good a shot as anyone to make it out of the NFC. Bruce Arians’ squad has been missing several key players, the calvary is on its way. The defending Super Bowl champions are getting healthy, which bodes well for Tom Brady and company against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Tom Brady should get Leonard Fournette back for the Wild Card Round
Despite battling injuries throughout the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured the NFC’s No. 2 seed for the NFL playoffs. They’ll be getting even stronger as they prepare for a matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles during Wild Card Weekend.
In a recent press conference, head coach Bruce Arians announced that running back Leonard Fournette is on track to return from injury.
“Leonard looks great,” said Arians. “He’s been working good. He should be back.”
Fournette suffered a hamstring injury during the Week 15 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The team placed him on injured reserve, and he missed the last three games of the regular season.
Fournette’s return is massive news for the Buccaneers’ offense. The fifth-year running back leads the team in rushing with 812 yards and eight touchdowns on 180 carries. He has also recorded 69 receptions for 454 yards and two more scores.
Having the LSU product back in the mix is fantastic news for Tom Brady and the offense. With Chris Godwin injured and Antonio Brown no longer with the team, expect the Bucs to feature Fournette in the passing game.
Brady has proven that he can get the job done with less, but having a reliable running back will take some pressure off his shoulders.
The Buccaneers also expect to get key defensive starters back
Leonard Fournette gives the Buccaneers a significant boost on offense. Tampa Bay should also be getting some serious help on the defensive side of the ball.
Bruce Arians announced that outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul are trending in the right direction. The Bucs expect to have both players back for the wild-card game against the Eagles.
Barrett suffered a mild ACL and MCL sprain in the Week 16 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Pierre-Paul has been battling a torn rotator cuff and hasn’t played since Week 15 against the Saints.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’s unit has dealt with injuries throughout the season but will gladly welcome the two edge-rushers back into the fold.
Barrett led the team with 10 sacks. JPP only registered 2.5 sacks and five quarterback hits in 2021, but he still excels at creating havoc in the backfield. Not to mention, he has plenty of big-game experiences.
Lavonte David’s status for the first round of playoffs is up in the air, though. The Pro Bowl linebacker went down with a foot injury in the loss to the Saints. Arians wasn’t as sure about David’s status for Wild Card Weekend.
“He’ll be the one that’s the closest, said the Bucs head coach. “But he is starting to move around pretty good. So we’ll wait and see.”
Getting healthy on defense would also help Tom Brady and the offense navigate the postseason.
How Tampa Bay stacks up against the Eagles
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers probably got the best draw they could’ve asked for in the first round of the NFL playoffs.
The Philadelphia Eagles finished the regular season with a 9-8 record, securing the final wild-card spot in the NFC. They enter the postseason with first-year head coach Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts, who’s in his first season as full-time starting quarterback.
Tampa Bay matches up pretty well against Philadelphia. The two teams met in the regular season, with the Buccaneers pulling out a 28-22 victory.
The Bucs boast the NFL’s second-ranked offense, posting 405.9 yards and 30 points per game. The Eagles have a middle-of-the-pack defense. Tom Brady will look to push the ball down the field against a susceptible pass defense, even without Godwin and AB.
On the other side of the ball, Philadelphia runs the ball very well. Hurts leads the team in rushing (784 yards), with Miles Sanders not too far behind (754 yards). The second-year quarterback has 10 rushing touchdowns on the season. Sanders suffered a foot injury in Week 16 but could be back for this game.
Tampa Bay’s run defense is stout, though. The unit allowed just 92.5 yards per game on the ground, the third-best mark in the NFL. The Buccaneers will likely try to force Hurts to beat them with his arm, which puts pressure on tight end Dallas Goedert and rookie wideout DeVonta Smith.
The Bucs are the favorites, as they should be. They have the edge in all three phases. It’s difficult to imagine Tom Brady bowing out of the playoffs this soon.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.