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January 14, 2022

NFL wild card picks: Rounding up the experts' predictions for Eagles vs. Bucs

Eagles NFL

To the surprise of many — at least compared to how they viewed this team heading into the season — the Philadelphia Eagles are in the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years after missing out on the postseason in 2021. 

That's largely thanks to a midseason turnaround sparked by a seismic shift in offensive philosophy under first-year head coach Nick Sirianni, one that saw the Eagles go from one of the most run-adverse teams in the NFL to the league's best ground attack. And sure, an easy schedule down the stretch didn't hurt matters either, but the Eagles simply won the games in front of them — and there's not much else you can ask for from a team that admitted prior to the season that it was one "in transition" as it tries to determine if second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts is the right guy to lead the team moving forward.

And what do the Eagles get for their efforts? The newly-added third wild card spot, the seventh seed overall in the NFC, and a first-round date with Tom Brady and the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

The task is a tall one for Sirianni's team, which is currently an 8.5-point underdog for Sunday afternoon's wild-card game in Tampa, with not many people picking them to win outright and advance to face the Packers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. And we know, because we've done the legwork.

As we do every week, we've rounded up a slew of predictions from both the local and national media get a sense of how the experts see this Eagles vs. Buccaneers wild card matchup playing out — including a few against picks the spread. Let's dive right in... 

• PhillyVoice: All our writers are in agreement for this one, with all seven of us picking against the Birds on Sunday. That includes John McMullen, who finished the regular season with an impressive 14-3 record picking Eagles games. Here's some of why he thinks the Bucs come away with a 33-22 win...

Perhaps Jason Kelce and Landon Dickerson can do a better job than most teams with Vita Vea or Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata can make things difficult for Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. Maybe Darius Slay puts the punctuation of an All-Pro season by shutting down Mike Evans, Dallas Goedert highlights that the future at tight end is better than the standard at the tight end position for so many years in Rob Gronkowski and the Eagles' No. 1 ground game cracks 150.

Heck, it's even conceivable that the Eagles show up with their A-game and the Bucs are at a C, but how do you overcome 46 vs. 1?

Generally, it's cliched and obtuse to boil down an NFL game to the quarterbacks. But the best ever, Tampa's Tom Brady, will be starting playoff game No. 46 on Sunday and the Eagles' first-year starter, Jalen Hurts, will embark on No. 1.

Learning how to win in the postseason is a process and it's always good to kickstart it but picking anything other than Brady win No. 35 in the playoffs is wishful thinking.

• All three of their writers are picking the Bucs over the Eagles, including Jeff McLane, who sees the Birds keeping it close but ultimately falling by a touchdown, 30-23.

It’s pretty simple, in my mind, what the Eagles need to do if they are to upset Tom Brady and Co. and it starts up front. On defense, limit early-down runs, and when the quarterback does drop, disrupt his rhythm. It’s virtually impossible to keep the Tampa passing attack in check, but containing Brady can be done several ways. Jonathan Gannon just needs to create some pre-snap doubt in Brady’s head with his disguises, and post-snap with exotic pressures.

If the defense can limit long-sustaining drives, the offense should be able to help keep the ball out of Brady’s hands with their rejuvenated run game. Right tackle Lane Johnson didn’t play in the first meeting and he’s an obvious upgrade on the line. ...

If the Eagles can execute the above, and my feeling is they will, it should be a relatively tight contest. They haven’t played a top team nor a top quarterback in a long time, though. If they come out slow, like they’ve done against lesser teams over the last month, the Bucs are likely to pounce and that could be all she wrote. But I think the Eagles have enough in the trenches to compete. Even so, I can’t pick against Brady. Five of their six writers think the Eagles' season comes to an end on Sunday, including Mike Kaye, who believes the Eagles cover but that the game isn't necessarily as close as the final score suggests... 

The Eagles’ epic regular-season turnaround should be celebrated, but unfortunately for them, they’re about to run into a buzzsaw in Tampa Bay. The Bucs defeated the Eagles, 28-22, in a Week 6 game that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated. The Bucs are better than the Eagles from top to bottom, and while Philly’s running game could keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands, the Bucs should be able to carve up the defense when they do regain possession.

PICK: Buccaneers 31, Eagles 27.

• Bleeding Green Nation: They actually have a majority on the Birds, with four of their seven writers picking the Eagles.

• The Athletic: Both of their Eagles beat writers, Zach Berman and Bo Wulf, have the Eagles losing a one-score game on Sunday. Here's more from Berman:

The Eagles deserve considerable credit for reaching this point, and I don’t expect them to be the happy-to-be-there team that folds to the Super Bowl champions. The challenge with drawing the Eagles has always been that they’re going to force you into a wrestling match for three hours, and not every opponent is eager for that type of afternoon. I expect the Bucs to answer the bell; they’re similarly strong along the lines of scrimmage. They also have the better quarterback. Maybe the Bucs’ undermanned skill group turns into a bigger problem than I’m expecting, but I’d feel better about the Eagles’ chances if they had a decided advantage along the lines. The Eagles will be competitive, but it won’t be enough. Look for a better performance than in Week 6, but the lack of offensive firepower will be apparent and the offseason begins Monday. Bucs 27, Eagles 23

MORE: Eagles vs. Bucs: Predictions, betting odds and more

• Gregg Rosenthal, Bucs 27, Eagles 23

The Buccaneers’ ability to return from injury is the biggest variable of this game. What versions of Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Leonard Fournette are we going to see Sunday? Will they look better in future rounds if the team makes it, and will they look like themselves after serious injuries? The injured are among the most valuable players on the team.

I like the Eagles to keep it close because of Jalen Hurts and their running game. That famous Bucs run defense has been living on reputation rather than results for a while. Tampa's 16th in rush defense EPA since Week 9, a stretch in which Philly has fielded one of the league's most dynamic ground games. This could be a seven-possession game for each team, and I don’t see the Bucs getting a lot of quick stops, so it won't surprise me if Tom Brady is required to pull off some fourth-quarter magic like he did in Super Wild Card Weekend a year ago. 

• ESPN: All 11 of their experts are picking Tampa to win this game.

• Tim McManus, ESPN: Bucs 31, Eagles 30

• Jenna Laine, ESPN: Bucs 31, Eagles 26

 Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Bucs 26, Eagles 20

The Bucs beat the Eagles, 28-22, in Week 6 on a Thursday night. The Eagles were struggling at the time, especially running the football. But it was after that game that their run game took off when they made a commitment to it, resulting in them leading the league in rushing. That will be the key here, but the Bucs are good against the run. Tampa Bay did give up 109 rushing yards per game in the last three, well over their season average of 92.5. The Eagles didn't sack Tom Brady in the last meeting, so they have to be better in that area. I think the combination of Brady missing two of his top passing targets in Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown the rest of the way will slow them down some. That, coupled with the Eagles running it, will keep this close.

• CBS Sports: Seven of their eight experts are picking Tampa over Philly, however six of the eight think the Birds will cover the 8.5-point spread.

• ProFootballTalk: Both Mike Florio and Michael David Smith are picking the Bucs to beat the Eagles. Here's more from the latter, who sees the closer game of the two.

MDS’s take: I see the Eagles running the ball a lot and trying to play keep-away from Tom Brady. That will result in a close game, but ultimately a Buccaneers victory.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 20, Eagles 17.

MORE: Five bets we like for Eagles vs. Buccaneers

• Bleacher Report: Bucs 28, Eagles 19 (NOTE: That's their "consensus" score prediction. Below is more from Connor Rogers, who sees it a little closer than that, with a predicted final score of 31-27, Bucs.)

The Eagles come into the postseason as a polarizing opponent. There aren't many marquee wins from their regular season, but they've established a top-flight rushing attack built for playoff success. On the other side, the Bucs have taken a lot of blows between injuries and the Antonio Brown saga. Brady has been through enough adversity where it's not enough to pick against them, but 9.5 points? That's way too much. Philadelphia won't get run out of the building in this one.

Sheil Kapadia, The Athletic: Sheil picks games against the spread every week, and this week he thinks the Bucs not only beat the Eagles, but they cover the 8.5-point spread as well.

... Offensively, it would not surprise me if the Eagles strung together drives and were efficient. It’s the defense that is a big concern. The Eagles finished 25th in defensive DVOA, although that ranking took a big hit in Week 18 when their backups got gashed against the Dallas Cowboys. Still, they had nine defensive performances all season that qualified as above-average in terms of Expected Points Added (EPA) per drive. Those performances came against the following starting quarterbacks: Jake Fromm, Jared Goff, Matt Ryan, Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, Trevor Siemian, Taylor Heinicke, Mike Glennon and Garrett Gilbert. It’s possible that only one of those quarterbacks will be starting in the NFL next season.

Generally speaking, the Eagles’ Plan A, B, and C on defense is for their pass rush to dominate. But going up against a great Bucs offensive line and a quarterback in Brady who consistently gets the ball out on time, I’m not sure the Eagles’ defense is going to be able put up much of a fight.

Their run game keeps the game relatively close, but Tampa pulls away late.

The pick: Bucs (-8.5)

• Bill Bender, Sporting News: Bucs 31, Eagles 21

The Eagles have been impressive with Jalen Hurts, but this is a large ask on the road. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers have put the drama around Antonio Brown's release in the rear-view mirror. Tampa Bay will have to generate a running game to keep the Eagles' defense honest, but Brady will connect with Rob Gronkowski for a pair of TDs. Chances are that the tandem remembers Super Bowl LII. 

• Vinny Iyer, Sporting News: Bucs 27, Eagles 17

This is another rematch from the regular season. Tampa Bay won at Philadelphia 28-22 on a Thursday night in Week 6. Unfortunately for the Eagles, their offensive strengths and defensive weaknesses don't mesh with beating the Buccaneers this time, either. The run-heavy approach won't work against the Bucs' stout run defense.

The issues in stopping the run and handling tight ends and bigger wideouts don't bode well against Tom Bradys' backs and receiving targets. Brady led the Bucs over a weak NFC East team to open last year's playoffs. He got more locked in, adjusting to no Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown in Week 18 and should also get rushing and defensive reinforcements to better support him this week.

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MORE: NFL wild card odds, totals and betting tips for every game

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