Tom Brady posted a vintage post-season performance as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held off the Washington Football Team, 31-23, in the Wild Card round to advance in the NFL playoffs.

The 43-year-old showed his class at FedExField and clinched his 31st post-season victory, his first for the fifth-seed Bucs, while throwing for 381 yards and recording his 75th career post-season touchdown with scoring passes to Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin.

Led by rookie revelation Chase Young, Washington’s defense kept the NFC East champions in contention and stand-in quarterback Taylor Heinicke led an impressive comeback attempt but was unable to force Ron Rivera’s side back into the Wild Card contest.

Brady, 43, became the oldest player to throw a pass in an NFL playoff game as he led the Bucs on a 55-yard opening drive for a field goal before Heinicke, replacing starter Alex Smith who was sidelined with a calf injury, raced into Tampa Bay territory but his tipped pass ended up in the hands of Sean Murphy-Bunting for an interception.

Ex-Patriots signal caller, Brady, took advantage of the strong field position to find wide receiver Brown with a 36-yard play-action pass to extend the lead to nine, as kicker Ryan Succop’s extra point was blocked.

Alex Smith has been ruled out of the Washington Football Team's playoff clash with Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, meaning Taylor Heinicke will start at quarterback in the NFC wildcard game.

Veteran campaigner Smith was listed as questionable due to a calf injury coming into the Super Wild Card Weekend, and Washington have now confirmed the 36-year-old will be inactive.

Smith dislodged second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the 2020 campaign and has amassed 1,582 passing yards for six touchdowns and eight interceptions this season.

With Haskins having been released in December, Heinicke was promoted to second choice, and the sixth-year quarterback performed impressively during an appearance from the bench in Week 16, albeit he could not help Washington avoid a defeat to the Carolina Panthers.

Washington have not won a playoff game since the 2005 campaign. However, it was the Bucs who they prevailed over on that occasion.

On his second career start, Heinicke will be going up against the NFL's oldest player in Tom Brady, who has enjoyed a brilliant season with Tampa.

Six-time Super Bowl champion Brady threw for 40 touchdowns in the regular season, with the 43-year-old joining Peyton Manning as the only players in league history with 40-plus TD passes in a single year with multiple teams.

Only Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers (three) has had more seasons with 40-plus TD passes than Brady's two.

Tampa have also been boosted by confirmation that wide-receiver Mike Evans, who suffered a knee injury in a Week 17 win over the Atlanta Falcons, is fit to play.

The Washington Football Team may not be the biggest underdog of the Wild Card round - the oddsmakers have bestowed that ignominy on the Chicago Bears - but you would be hard-pressed to find many backing the NFC East champions to prevail at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday.

Washington's playoff run was the one nobody expected. A division winner at 7-9, Washington turned things around after going 2-7 through the first nine games.

It is the kind of postseason push that, in 2020, could only have happened in the dismal NFC East.

And it may have ended in disappointment had Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson not controversially benched Jalen Hurts for Nate Sudfeld during the Week 17 finale.

Despite being blessed with a young and fearsome defense, Washington's fairytale run is expected to come to an end at the hands of Tom Brady and the surging Buccaneers, who finished the season 11-5 following a four-game winning streak.

But what is the avenue to Washington subverting those expectations and condemning Brady to a second successive Wild Card round exit?

Here we examine the matchup and the numbers to assess how Washington can pull off a huge upset.

Get Gibson going, or get the ball out quick

Washington have relied predominantly on the pass in 2020 but arguably their most dynamic player on offense has been rookie running back Antonio Gibson.

Gibson's 11 rushing touchdowns in the regular season are the second-most by a rookie in franchise history.

Only two rookies, Jonathan Taylor and James Robinson, had a larger number of rushes of 10 yards or more than the 21 Gibson racked up during the regular season.

Quarterback Alex Smith, improbably in the mix to contest a playoff game just over two years on from a life-threatening leg injury, was pressured on 30.3 per cent of his dropbacks during eight regular-season games, the second-highest rate in the NFL.

With the Bucs pressuring quarterbacks at the second-highest rate in the NFL (27%), the wise play might be for Washington to lean on Gibson and the run game.

Yet the Bucs' defense is, by yards per game, the best in the league at defending the run having given up an average of 80.6 rushing yards this campaign.

If Washington cannot get things going with Gibson, the onus will be on Smith or his potential replacement Taylor Heinicke to get the ball out quickly to negate the pass rush.

Smith, whose team-high six passing touchdowns are the lowest tally for the leader of a playoff team since Jim McMahon in 1986, ranked 13th in the league in time to throw, which measures the average duration between the snap of the ball and a pass attempt, according to the NFL's NextGen Stats.

Either Smith or Heinicke may have to expedite that to prosper against the Tampa Bay defense, though they will need to do so while averaging a significantly higher number of completed air yards per pass attempt than the former's 2.5, which puts him second last in the league, ahead of only recently released team-mate Dwayne Haskins (2.4).

Setting things in motion

Finding a way to prevent the Buccaneers' defense from attacking downhill and wrecking Washington's gameplan is imperative for their potential success.

One way in which they may look to do that is through the use of backfield motion before the snap to get the defense flowing horizontally.

Just four teams employed motion on more plays during the regular season than Washington, who utilised it on 505 offensive snaps.

Washington's success on those plays was limited as they averaged just 4.69 yards on plays featuring motion. The Pittsburgh Steelers (4.15) and Philadelphia Eagles (4.27) were the two teams to perform worse in that regard.

Yet there is hope they could have success with motion against the Buccaneers, who ranked 18th in NFL in defending plays using motion, against which they gave up 5.51 yards per play.

If Washington's inefficient offense cannot find a way to move the ball on Tampa Bay, they will have to what they have done all season: lean on the defense, which will look to ruin Brady's day and carry them to victory.

Will Young meet old?

Should 43-year-old Brady meet 36-year-old Smith, they will have the oldest combined age of two starting quarterbacks in a playoff game in NFL history (80 years and 41 days).

Many believed Brady to be nearing the end of his legendary career after his time with the New England Patriots ended with a Wild Card loss to the Tennessee Titans.

However, he threw for 40 touchdowns in the regular season, becoming the first quarterback to reach that tally in his first season with a new team.

He has benefited, though, from excellent protection, having been pressured on just 17.2 per cent of his dropbacks.

If Washington can pressure Brady, they can turn him into a vastly different quarterback.

When pressured, Brady has completed just 52.3 per cent of his passes for 1,095 yards for five touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 66.8.

Those numbers should greatly excite a Washington pass rush led by Chase Young, who in 2020 became the first rookie to have at least 7.0 sacks, three forced fumbles and three opponent fumble recoveries in a season since Terrell Suggs in 2003. 

Washington's pressure rate of 25.4 per cent is the seven-highest in the league and consistently helped them stymie opposing offenses, who have scored on 31.4 per cent of drives against them, the fourth-lowest rate in the league.

The path for Washington surrounds consistently getting the Tampa Bay defense working sideline to sideline while their own wreaks havoc against Brady. The problem is that their performance this season suggests one of those tasks will be significantly harder than the other.

Despite getting under way in the middle of a pandemic, the NFL was able to complete its full regular season schedule. 

The drama is set to step up a gear as the postseason arrives this weekend, with only the Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers securing a first-round bye. 

Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski will be absent when the Browns make their first playoff appearance since 2002 having tested positive for COVID-19. The Pittsburgh Steelers are their opponents. 

The Los Angeles Rams have concerns over the fitness of Jared Goff – one of the many injury worries affecting those teams still left standing – ahead of their encounter with the Seattle Seahawks, while the Buffalo Bills will be aiming for a first postseason win since 1995 when they go up against the Indianapolis Colts.

SATURDAY'S GAMES

Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills – Saturday, 1.05pm (all times Eastern)

- The Colts claimed the third AFC Wild Card spot with an 11-5 record, the most wins for the franchise since 2014. Indianapolis have held opponents under 100 rush yards in each of their past five games – including playoffs, they have not done so in six straight since a seven-game run from October 27 to December 7, 1968. 

- The Bills claimed their first division title since 1995 and won 13 games this season, their best record since 1991. However, Buffalo are still seeking their first playoff win since the 1995 Wild Card round – their 24-season drought is the third-longest active streak in the NFL, behind the Cincinnati Bengals (30 seasons, including 2020) and Detroit Lions (29 seasons, including 2020).

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks – Saturday, 4.40pm

- Making his NFL debut against the Arizona Cardinals last week, backup quarterback John Wolford finished with 231 passing yards and 56 rushing yards, both game-highs. The 56 rushing yards were the most by a Rams QB since Roman Gabriel had 57 in Week 6, 1967.

- In the first eight games of the season, Russell Wilson averaged 317.6 passing yards and threw 28 touchdown passes, but in the last eight games, those numbers were just 208.9 and 12. However, Seattle went 6-2 in both sections of the season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team – Saturday, 8.15pm

- After starting the year 2-7, Washington finished on a 5-2 run to clinch their first division title since 2015. Washington's last playoff win came in the 2005 Wild Card Round against Tampa Bay - they are 0-4 since then. This season, they reached 30 points just once. 

- The Bucs have attempted 22 pass plays of at least 40 air yards this season, three more than any other team in the league, and its eight completions also lead the league. Washington have attempted just two such passes, tied with the New Orleans Saints for the fewest, and is one of two teams (also Cincinnati) without a completion.

SUNDAY'S GAMES

Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans – Sunday, 1.05pm

- The Titans have won three of the past four meetings with the Ravens, including a 30-24 overtime victory in Week 11 this season and a 28-12 win in last season's Divisional playoff. This will mark the fifth postseason meeting between the teams – they have split the previous four 2-2 with the visiting team winning each game.

- Tennessee won the AFC South for the first time since 2008, when they fell to the Ravens 13-10 in the Divisional playoff. The Titans scored at least 40 points five times this season, including in Week 17 against the Houston Texans, the most in the NFL this season and one shy of the all-time record (last set by the 2018 Saints).

Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints – Sunday, 4.40pm

- In his past six games, David Montgomery has averaged 99.7 rushing yards per game, and has seven rushing touchdowns. In his first nine games, he averaged just 52.4 yards per game and had one touchdown. His highest yardage total in that span came against New Orleans in Week 8 (89 yards).

- The Saints have lost each of their past two playoff games in overtime (against the Minnesota Vikings last season, and the Rams in 2018). No team has ever played three straight overtime playoff games – the Saints beat the Bears in overtime in Chicago in Week 8 this season.

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers – Sunday, 8.15pm

- The Browns and Steelers will meet in consecutive weeks after Cleveland pulled out a 24-22 victory at home in Week 17. This will be the teams' third meeting in the postseason and the third straight postseason game the Browns will face the Steelers – Pittsburgh won both of the previous two, most recently a 36-33 win in the 2002 Wild Card game.

- Ben Roethlisberger is expected to make his 22nd career postseason start, which would break a tie with John Elway for fifth most all-time. His 30 postseason passing touchdowns are tied for ninth most in NFL history, while his 24 career playoff interceptions are tied with Dan Marino for sixth most all-time.

Tom Brady's attention to detail has gone to another level ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' clash against the Washington Football Team, head coach Bruce Arians said.

The Buccaneers face Washington at FedExField on Saturday in their first playoff game since 2007.

With his performance against the Atlanta Falcons, Brady joined Peyton Manning as the only players in NFL history with 40-plus touchdown passes in a single season with multiple teams.

And Arians said the playoffs meant Brady had gone to another level ahead of the clash against Washington.

"It's just even more attention to detail," Arians told a news conference when asked what he had seen from Brady.

"Some things he might've let go and talked [about] on the side, he addresses immediately. Same with me.

"I don't accept anything this week at all. If it's a little bit off, if it's two yards off your reception area, you better get in the right spot."

Washington have won three of their past four meetings with the Buccaneers, most recently claiming a 16-3 victory in 2018.

Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith missed practice on Tuesday due to a calf injury.

Smith missed two games before returning in Sunday's 20-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles that saw Washington clinch the NFC East.

The QB missed practice on Tuesday, four days prior to the Wild Card Round clash against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Running back Antonio Gibson (toe) and wide receiver Terry McLaurin (ankle) were also listed to miss practice.

Smith has completed 168 of 252 passes for six touchdowns and eight interceptions this season.

He missed the entire 2019 season following a long road to recovery in the aftermath of a career-threatening injury to his right leg, which he suffered back in November 2018.

New York Giants coach Joe Judge fumed after Philadelphia Eagles' loss to the Washington Football Team and vowed that his side would never "disrespect the game".

Washington clinched the NFC East with a 20-14 win over Philadelphia as the Giants were eliminated from the playoff race, when a win by the Eagles would have seen Judge's team advance to the post-season.

Trailing 17-14 in the third quarter, Philadelphia passed on the chance to tie the game with a short field goal and took a fourth-down shot from the four yard line, which quarterback Jalen Hurts did not complete.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson then replaced starting QB Hurts in the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field and back-up Nate Sudfeld completed only five of 12 passes for 32 yards and an interception.

"There’s a number of sacrifices that have been made by all of the players and coaches in this league," Judge said.

"There’s a number of sacrifices that come along as well with the family members of the people connected to them.

"To disrespect the effort that everyone put forward to make this season a success for the National Football League, to disrespect the game by going out there and not competing for 60 minutes and doing everything you can to help those players to win...

"We will never do that as long as I am the head coach of the New York Giants."

The Green Bay Packers secured the NFC's top seed on Sunday, while Derrick Henry led the Tennessee Titans to the AFC South title.

Aaron Rodgers again powered the Packers, throwing four touchdown passes in a win over the Chicago Bears.

Despite their loss, the Bears clinched a playoff spot, as did the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams.

Meanwhile, Henry made history as the Titans won the AFC South, while the Washington Football Team claimed the NFC East.

 

RODGERS DOMINATES AGAIN AS PACKERS CLINCH TOP SEED

Rodgers completed 19 of 24 passes for 240 yards and four TDs in the Packers' 35-16 victory over the Bears.

The Packers quarterback connected for TDs with Robert Tonyan, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Dominique Dafney and Davante Adams.

Rodgers finished the regular season with 48 TD passes. Alongside Peyton Manning, they are the only players in NFL history with 45-plus TD passes in multiple seasons, according to NFL Research. They won the NFL MVP in each of the previous three instances.

While Green Bay finished with a 13-3 record, the 8-8 Bears also reached the playoffs.

 

HISTORY FOR HENRY AS TITANS WIN AFC SOUTH

The Titans claimed the AFC South for the first time since 2008 after a thrilling 41-38 win over the Houston Texans.

Henry became the eighth player in history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a single season.

He had 250 rushing yards and two TDs against the Texans. Of the eight players to achieve the feat, Henry was the only one who needed 200-plus yards in his last game to get there, according to Stats Perform.

A.J. Brown had 151 receiving yards, but the Titans needed Sam Sloman's 37-yard field goal as time expired to edge the Texans.

The Titans became the first team in NFL history to have a 250-yard rusher and 150-yard receiver in the same game.

 

WASHINGTON WIN NFC EAST AS COLTS, RAMS REACH PLAYOFFS

The Washington Football Team claimed the NFC East thanks to a 20-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions as Washington (7-9) claimed the division.

The Colts (11-5) reached the playoffs thanks to a 28-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Los Angeles Rams (10-6) are also into the postseason after beating the Arizona Cardinals 18-7.

 

Week 17 scores:

Minnesota Vikings 37-35 Detroit Lions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44-27 Atlanta Falcons
New England Patriots 28-14 New York Jets
Buffalo Bills 56-26 Miami Dolphins
Cleveland Browns 24-22 Pittsburgh Steelers
New York Giants 23-19 Dallas Cowboys
Baltimore Ravens 38-3 Cincinnati Bengals
Indianapolis Colts 28-14 Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans 41-38 Houston Texans
Los Angeles Rams 18-7 Arizona Cardinals
New Orleans Saints 33-7 Carolina Panthers
Green Bay Packers 35-16 Chicago Bears
Los Angeles Chargers 38-21 Kansas City Chiefs
Seattle Seahawks 26-23 San Francisco 49ers
Las Vegas Raiders 32-31 Denver Broncos
Washington Football Team 20-14 Philadelphia Eagles

The Green Bay Packers will hope to seal the top seed in the NFC when they face rivals the Chicago Bears, but the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks will be ready to pounce on any slip-up.

A tie on Sunday would be enough for the Packers to secure a first-round bye in the postseason, though they would also receive it regardless of their own result if the Seahawks fail to beat the San Francisco 49ers.

If the Seahawks are to head straight into the Divisional Round, they need to beat the 49ers and hope the Packers lose and the Saints fail to win against the Carolina Panthers.

New Orleans, meanwhile, need a victory over the Panthers to coincide with the Packers losing to the Bears and Seattle beating San Francisco.

Division titles are up for grabs in the AFC South and NFC East, with the Tennessee Titans and Washington Football Team looking to hold on and top their sections, while the Cleveland Browns will be aiming to reach the postseason for the first time since 2002 when they face a Pittsburgh Steelers side without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

 

FEATURED GAME

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears – Sunday, 4.25pm

- This will be the third Week 17 meeting since 2010 for the long-time rivals, and the previous two were critical games. In the 2010 campaign, the Packers needed to beat the Bears at Lambeau Field to make the postseason; they won 10-3 and went on to win Super Bowl XLV. The teams met in Week 17 three years later in Chicago; the Packers' 33-28 success earned them the NFC North crown and eliminated the Bears. 

- A win over Chicago would secure the NFC's top seed for Green Bay – as well as a second consecutive 13-3 season. The Packers have posted back-to-back seasons of 13 or more wins only once, in 1996 and 1997 with Brett Favre at quarterback. In the Super Bowl era, only one team has had consecutive seasons with at least 13 victories and no Super Bowl appearance: the Saints of 2018 and 2019.

- Aaron Rodgers has 51 touchdown passes against the Bears in his regular-season career, second only to Favre's 60. Including the 2010 NFC Championship Game, Rodgers is 20-5 versus Chicago for an .800 winning percentage, the fourth highest by any QB versus a single opponent since 1950 (minimum 25 starts; postseason included).

OTHER KEY GAMES

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers – Sunday, 4.25pm

- Alvin Kamara rushed for six touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day, tying the NFL record set by Ernie Nevers in 1929. Kamara's 58 scrimmage TDs rank as the third most by a player through his first four seasons all-time (Terrell Davis – 61, LaDainian Tomlinson – 60).

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers – Sunday, 4.25pm

- After hurting the Arizona Cardinals' postseason chances with a 20-12 win at State Farm Stadium on Saturday, the 49ers will hope to play spoiler for a second straight week. A win over Seattle on Sunday would give San Francisco a 4-2 record within the NFC West, which would be a division-best – even as they finish in last place.

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans – Sunday, 4.25pm

Tennessee will clinch its first AFC South title since 2008 with a win, or an Indianapolis Colts loss versus the Jacksonville Jaguars this week. A win over Houston would also tie the Titans franchise record for road wins in a season (currently 5-2: 6-2 in 1996, 2000, 2008).

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts – Sunday, 4.25pm

Indianapolis and Jacksonville both have eight players with over 250 receiving yards this season, the only two teams in the NFL with as many. The Jaguars had never had eight players with 250 receiving yards in the same season before, while the Colts had it happen once before (2016, eight players). If they are to snatch the AFC South division title, Indianapolis need to win and hope Tennessee fail to match them, or tie and see the Titans lose.

Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles - Sunday, 8.20pm

Washington have lost six of their past seven games against the Eagles, including three straight on the road. Their lone success came in Week 1 this year after they scored the final 27 points of the game and won 27-17. A tie would be enough for Washington to clinch the NFC East division title, as long as the Dallas Cowboys fail to beat the New York Giants.

ELSEWHERE…

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants – Sunday, 1.00pm

Daniel Jones has not thrown an interception in 162 consecutive pass attempts, the longest active streak in the NFL and the third-longest streak by a Giant in the past 30 seasons (Eli Manning – 176 in 2014, Phil Simms – 173 in 1993). To reach the playoffs, Dallas needs a win and for Washington not to match them, or a tie and a Washington loss. New York need a win and a Washington loss.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns – Sunday, 1.00pm

Nick Chubb is averaging 5.45 yards per carry this season and has run for 11 touchdowns. He is set to will become the second player in NFL history with 5.0+ yards per carry and 8+ rush TDs in three straight seasons, joining another Browns player in Leroy Kelly (1966-68). With a win or a Colts loss on Sunday, the Browns would snap their 17-season playoff drought, which is tied for the longest in the NFL since the merger (1970-86 Saints, 2000-16 Buffalo Bills).

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