Tom Brady looks to have played his last Super Bowl.

The quarterback extraordinaire has decided to retire after completing a second year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ESPN reported on Saturday.

It means there will be no farewell season for Brady, no lap of honour, and he has declared on seven Super Bowls and out.

Brady could have walked away after capturing a sixth Lombardi Trophy with the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII three years ago with his legacy as the greatest of all time secured.

But whether it was down to a desire to outstrip Michael Jordan's six NBA titles, win a Super Bowl without Bill Belichick or simply because of his love of competing and winning, Brady felt the need to keep going further into his 40s in search of a seventh.

That came in emphatic fashion in his first season since leaving Belichick and the Patriots, as the Buccaneers routed the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 at Raymond James Stadium 12 months ago.

The man who entered the NFL as a skinny sixth-round pick in 2000 proved yet again that it is foolish to doubt him, and now he has gone about surprising everyone again by deciding time is up. At the age of 44, Brady is done with throwing touchdown passes.

Here, we rank Brady's seven wins on the grandest stage.

7. Super Bowl LIII

Brady's last triumph with the Patriots was probably his least impressive, at least in the vacuum of the game itself.

An uninspiring defensive struggle with the Los Angeles Rams unsurprisingly fell in Belichick's favour as he outcoached Sean McVay in a 13-3 win. Brady did, however, connect with Rob Gronkowski for the telling blow, a 29-yard pass that set up Sony Michel for the game's only touchdown. 

Boosting Brady here is the fact he led the Patriots to victory over Mahomes and the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, but that's not enough to move it off the bottom of the list.

6. Super Bowl XXXIX

Last year's Super Bowl was the second in which Brady dealt a defeat to Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, but the 39th edition of the Greatest Show on Earth was a much tighter affair as Brady guided the Patriots to back-to-back Lombardi trophies.

But Reid, who in this February 2005 game was coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, perhaps bore as much responsibility for the Patriots' victory as Brady. Reid was significantly criticised in the aftermath of the Eagles' 24-21 loss for a lack of time management, their final scoring drive taking up nearly four minutes and making New England's task in closing out the game much easier.

Reid's shortcomings in that regard do not take away from Brady's performance or the achievement in winning successive Super Bowls, one that has not since been repeated. But, in terms of memorable performances, this is not one that ranks highly.

5. Super Bowl XXXVIII

Brady's second Super Bowl win is one that deserves more recognition than it gets as the Patriots held off an underdog Carolina Panthers team that refused to lie down. 

After the Panthers overturned a 21-10 deficit to lead in the fourth quarter, Brady led an 11-play drive to restore the Patriots' advantage and, after Carolina responded in kind, orchestrated a game-winning field goal in the final 58 seconds of regulation to secure a 32-29 triumph.

It was a perfect encapsulation of Brady's ability to deliver when the moment is the biggest, one which he has demonstrated time and again with all the marbles on the line.

4. Super Bowl LV

Brady's first Super Bowl win outside of New England may have been one of the most unexpected, but it doesn't quite crack the top three.

There is so much Brady deserves credit for. From taking the chance to leave his familiar surroundings and successfully adapting to a new offense to the manner in which he dissected the Chiefs defense in the first half.

But the Buccaneers' victory was a team performance built as much on a swarming defense that continually had Patrick Mahomes running for his life as it was on Brady's prowess leading the offense.

Brady was a deserved winner of the Super Bowl MVP but, without the Bucs' pass rush, this would have been a very different game, one in which the Chiefs' offense may have been able to change the outcome.

3. Super Bowl XXXVI

Brady was not close to being the quarterback he would become, and that is what makes his first Super Bowl still so incredible.

In his second season in the NFL, Brady came in and successfully filled the void after starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered a chest injury in Week 2 of the 2001 season and led them to an 11-5 record, but he was not expected to go blow for blow with the vaunted St. Louis Rams offense.

As it happened, he received significant help from an excellent defensive display by New England, but the defining moment came in the final 90 seconds, with legendary commentator John Madden calling for the Patriots to play for overtime. Belichick had the faith in Brady to go the opposite route.

He promptly delivered a nine-play, 53-yard drive that began the legend, setting up Adam Vinatieri for a 48-yard field goal that clinched a 20-17 win for the Patriots and their first title. For a player of his relative inexperience to deliver in a situation of that magnitude, it remains one of Brady's most remarkable achievements.

2. Super Bowl XLIX

It gets lost with the fact that Brady and the Patriots would have lost this game to the Seattle Seahawks if not for Malcolm Butler's goal-line interception, but his fourth quarter in a 28-24 classic was one of the finest periods produced by any quarterback in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots trailed by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter, but Brady fearlessly and precisely led them on two touchdown drives against one of the best defenses in NFL history to turn the tide in their favour.

Of course, this game will always be remembered for the Seahawks' inexplicable decision to attempt a pass on the one-yard line with victory in their grasp, but the game never gets to that point without what was at the time Brady's greatest comeback effort in the Super Bowl.

1. Super Bowl LI

It was always unlikely Brady would ever top this performance, his Super Bowl piece de resistance.

All seemed lost for Brady when the Patriots trailed 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons in the third quarter, but what followed was an accumulation of all the clutch moments he has produced in his unparalleled career.

The Falcons were reduced to near helpless spectators as Brady masterfully instigated the biggest fightback in Super Bowl history.

When the Patriots won the coin toss to start overtime, their 34-28 triumph was inevitable. Everyone knew what was about to happen, with the Falcons as powerless to stop it as the Chiefs were last year.

It was a revival that added immeasurably to Brady's aura, his desire to collect Super Bowl rings unsurpassed in the sport's history.

Tom Brady is retiring from the NFL after 22 seasons, according to a report from ESPN.

Reports emerged prior to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Divisional Round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams that the 44-year-old was non-committal about playing beyond the 2021 season.

The seven-time Super Bowl champion had previously expressed a desire to play to age 45 and was open to the idea of playing until 50.

But speaking on the 'Let's Go' podcast this week, Brady said of his wife and family: "It pains her to see me get hit out there. And she deserves what she needs from me as a husband and my kids deserve what they need from me as a dad.

"Playing football, I get so much joy from [it]. I love it. But not playing football, there's a lot of joy in that for me also now, too, with my kids getting older and seeing them develop and grow. So, all these things need to be considered and they will be."

Those words proved to be foreshadowing on Brady's part, with the three-time MVP calling time on a career that has seen him established as unquestionably the greatest quarterback of all time.

Brady infamously fell to the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft before being selected by the New England Patriots with the 199th overall pick.

He was a spectator for the majority of his rookie year but was catapulted to stardom in the 2001 campaign when, after an injury to starter Drew Bledsoe, he improbably guided the Patriots to their first Super Bowl crown with an upset win over the then-St. Louis Rams.

That victory in Super Bowl XXXVI was followed by further triumphs in the 2003 and 2004 campaigns, with the Patriots still the last team to win the Lombardi Trophy in back-to-back years.

Brady led the Patriots to an unbeaten regular season in 2007, only to suffer an incredible defeat to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII in arguably the greatest upset in NFL history. It was the first of two defeats on the grandest stage to the Giants, the second coming in the 2011 season.

New England's barren run was ended in the 2014 season with a dramatic victory over the Seattle Seahawks, with Brady's finest hour the coming two years later when the Patriots fought back from 28-3 down to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI in the most incredible comeback the league has seen.

The Philadelphia Eagles ensured the Patriots fell at the final hurdle a year later before Brady's last Super Bowl win with New England came in the 2018 campaign, fittingly against the Rams.

He and the Patriots stunningly parted ways after a Wild Card round the following season, Brady joining the Buccaneers and proving he could win the title without Bill Belichick as they crushed the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 in Super Bowl LV.

Tampa Bay could not repeat the feat this year, with Brady electing to bow out after a trademark comeback from 27-3 down to the Rams fell just short as the Bucs lost 30-27 on a last-second field goal.

 A five-time Super Bowl MVP, Brady led the NFL in passing touchdowns five times and in passing yards on four occasions.

He holds the NFL record for most career quarterback wins (243), passing touchdowns (624) and passing yards (84,520).

His legacy, however, is defined by his postseason dominance. He is the only player to have won seven Super Bowl titles and his 35 playoff wins are 19 more than his nearest challenger among quarterbacks, Brady's boyhood idol Joe Montana.

Tom Brady is retiring from the NFL after 22 seasons, according to a report from ESPN.

Rob Gronkowski is seriously considering retiring for a second time after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season was ended by the Los Angeles Rams.

The Bucs' bid to win back-to-back Super Bowls was brought to a dramatic halt when the Rams won a thrilling Divisional Round showdown 30-27 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.

Tight end Gronkowski scored two touchdowns when Tampa Bay beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV last February, but there will be no repeat this year.

The 32-year-old is a free agent and that loss to the Rams may prove to be his last NFL game amid uncertainty over whether the Bucs' legendary quarterback Tom Brady will prolong his incredible career.

Gronkowski quit in 2019 before coming out of retirement to join Brady in Tampa Bay the following year and says he is unsure whether he will play again.

"If they're like, 'Rob, you've got to decide right now, right this second if you're playing next year,' I would say no right now. It's two days after the season," he told TMZ.

"I would be like, 'No, I'm not playing.' ... You've got to give it some time. You've got to rest. I would say to see how everything goes, how everything plays out.

"If I had an answer right now, it would be no. But in three weeks, it might be yes."

Tom Brady has not yet made a decision on retirement, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will give the quarterback "all the time he needs".

The Bucs' season ended on Sunday with a dramatic Divisional Round defeat to the Los Angeles Rams, going down 30-27 after Brady had led his team back from 27-3 down to tie the game.

But talk before the game had suggested it could be Brady's last if Tampa lost, as transpired.

The 44-year-old told his Let's Go podcast that he will be making any decision together with his family, refusing to rule out the possibility of quitting the NFL after seven Super Bowl triumphs.

"Playing football I get so much joy from. I love it," Brady said on the podcast. "But not playing football, there's a lot of joy in that for me also now, too, with my kids getting older and seeing them develop and grow.

"So all these things need to be considered and they will be."

After two outstanding years with the Bucs, Brady said he would only continue if he was operating at "a championship level".

The veteran QB surely still represents Tampa's best possible option under center, but coach Bruce Arians insisted on Monday he would give Brady time.

"I haven't talked to him yet," Arians said. "He'll take all the time he needs and we'll see."

The Bucs had won the championship at the end of the 2020 season and brought the entire team back for a title defence, but an ageing group could not deliver again.

There will be no "rebuild", though, as Arians responded to that suggestion: "No, I think it's just a reload, like it is every year.

"For us, free agency will be our guys. We'll see how many we can get back and build the team from there. I always look forward to that part of it and the draft.

"Each year is so different and so new. Last year, to get everybody back, that was amazing. I doubt we can do that again this year, but we're still going to give it our best."

Tight end Rob Gronkowski, a team-mate of Brady's with the New England Patriots and then the Bucs, insisted his future was not necessarily linked to the QB's.

"Whatever Tom does Tom's going to do," he said. "I'm sure that he needs time to himself, too, to see where he's at at this stage. We'll see in couple of weeks where I'm at."

Matthew Stafford revelled in "stealing somebody's soul" after he helped the Los Angeles Rams end the Tamp Bay Buccaneers' playoff hopes.

The Rams prevailed 30-27 over last season's Super Bowl champions on Sunday to reach the NFC Championship game, which will be a matchup between two underdogs after the San Francisco 49ers' win over the Green Bay Packers.

Yet it could very well have gone badly wrong for Los Angeles, who had led 27-3 until a Tom Brady-inspired comeback from the Bucs in the final quarter.

Brady connected with Mike Evans for a 55-yard touchdown pass, with the possibility of a turnaround that would rank as the joint-fourth largest in postseason history coming into view.

Evans' score made the game 27-20 and another Rams mistake allowed the Bucs to level the scores through Leonard Fournette.

Yet Stafford had other ideas, with the 33-year-old – who joined from the Detroit Lions ahead of this season – combining with wide receiver Cooper Kupp to set up a Matt Gray field goal.

"In my mind, I live for those kinds of moments," said Stafford, who has now made 43 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. That is the most of any player since the QB first featured in the NFL in 2009.

"I would have loved to have been taking a knee up three scores, but it's a whole lot more fun when you've got to make a play like that to win the game and just steal somebody's soul.

"That's what it feels like sometimes where they're sitting there going, 'Man, we just had this great comeback.' And you get to reach in there and take it from them. That's a whole lot of fun."

Stafford threw for 366 yards against Tampa Bay, a high mark for the season, besting his previous high of 365 set against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5 and bringing up the third-highest yardage in a single postseason game in Rams history.

He also threw for two touchdowns, rushed another and registered a pass completion rate of 73.7 per cent, finding his target with 28 of 38 attempts.

One of those touchdown passes was a 70-yard combination with Kupp, who led the way in the regular season for receiving yards (1,947), receiving touchdowns (16) and receptions (145).

However, Kupp was not happy with how the Rams' offense performed in the midst of Tampa Bay’s fightback.

"As an offense, we first and foremost did a terrible job of executing for this team in the second half," Kupp said.

"We can't do the things that we did. Put our defense, our team in a really bad spot."

Yet head coach Sean McVay was happy to reflect on a thrilling win, saying: "That's why you play four quarters and try to finish that game out.

"That was something else. That was something else.

"Those guys did a great job. I thought Matthew Stafford was unbelievable throughout the whole day. Just his poise, his command, his decision-making."

Tom Brady declined to discuss his playing future amid retirement talk after almost pulling off a miracle comeback as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers crashed out of the NFL playoffs.

The Bucs trailed 27-3 but fought back to level the game in the final quarter before eventually losing 30-27 to the Los Angeles Rams in Sunday's Divisional playoff.

Brady threw a spectacular pass for Mike Evans for a 55-yard touchdown to make it 27-20 in the fourth quarter.

Tampa Bay's exit comes amid growing speculation about the 44-year-old quarterback's future, with one year remaining on his Bucs contract.

"I haven’t put a lot of thought into it. Just take it day-by-day and see where we’re at,” Brady told reporters after the game.

Brady added: "The truth of it is I'm only thinking about this game. I'm not thinking about anything past five minutes from now."

Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians offered no insight into the situation either, stating "that's up to Tom" when pressed on the issue.

Brady completed 30 of 54 attempts for 329 yards and one touchdown in Sunday's defeat. The seven-time Super Bowl champion had a 67.5 percent completion rate for a career-high 5,316 yards with 43 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season.

The Bucs had entered the playoffs as the NFC's second seed but fell short after going all the way last season as fifth seeds.

"Always tough losing at the end of the year," Brady said.

"Obviously we showed a lot of fight but at the end of the day when you lose a game, you lose a game."

Tom Brady fell agonisingly short of another remarkable playoff recovery as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 30-27 at the last to the Los Angeles Rams in what could yet be the great quarterback's final game.

Discussion around 44-year-old Brady's future increased as this Divisional Round game approached at Raymond James Stadium.

If this was the end for the seven-time Super Bowl champion, who has not committed to playing next year, it befitted the rest of his outstanding career.

Brady will be a spectator next week when the Rams face NFC West rivals the San Francisco 49ers – helmed by his former backup Jimmy Garoppolo – in the NFC Championship Game, but he could hardly have done more to prolong the Buccaneers' title defence.

The Rams led 27-3 halfway through the third quarter, but errors crept into their play and Brady sniffed an opportunity.

Attempting a repeat of his Super Bowl LI fightback from 28-3 down, Brady led the Bucs to 24 unanswered points to tie the game with just seconds remaining.

The veteran had endured a frustrating first half that included his first career penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct as he fumed at officials when a hit from Von Miller left him with a bloodied lip.

That incident had long been forgotten by the time Brady connected with Mike Evans for a 55-yard touchdown pass, with the possibility of a turnaround that would rank as the joint-fourth largest in postseason history coming into view.

Evans' score made the game 27-20 and another Rams mistake allowed the Bucs to level the scores.

A sloppy second half seemed to have peaked when a Miller strip sack of Brady was immediately followed by LA's snap missing Matthew Stafford, who was looking the other way. Instead, the Rams outdid themselves as Cam Akers' second fumble gave Brady the ball back late on.

Brady handed off to Leonard Fournette and overtime loomed, yet Stafford and triple crown wide receiver Cooper Kupp – having earlier combined for a 70-yard score on third and 20 – had the final say.

A 44-yard completion gave Matt Gay a winning field goal with time up. After a third road win and a third winning field goal in this Divisional Round, now the Rams must beat a 49ers team they have twice lost to this year.

Tom Brady has paid tribute to the "tremendous" Los Angeles Rams defense that he is tasked with getting the better of in the NFL playoffs.

In one of the standout games of the Divisional Round, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host NFC West winners the Rams on Sunday.

The defending Super Bowl champions were beaten by the Rams on the road in Week 3 of the regular season but have home advantage this time around after claiming the number two seed in the NFC.

Tampa Bay eased to a 31-15 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round, while the Rams also encountered few problems in beating the Arizona Cardinals 34-11.

A star Rams defense, which includes the likes of cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, held Arizona to just 183 yards.

It was the second-fewest total yards allowed in a playoff game in franchise history, behind only their 1989 Championship Game win over Tampa Bay.

Brady does not need any reminders about how difficult it is to play the Rams, who have won seven of their last eight meetings against the Bucs.

"It's a very, very challenging team," Brady told reporters ahead of the game. "Really good offense, tremendous defense, really well-coached, great specialists, so it can be very, very difficult game for us.

"It's a very talented football team, obviously one of the great teams in the NFL.

"This team does a lot of good things well. Obviously they rush the passer well, they cover you really well in the secondary, get a lot of turnovers - they sack the quarterback, strip sacks. 

"They have a lot of dynamic players. Obviously, Jalen Ramsey is one of the great corners in the league. So between the guys that they have in the secondary as well as the front, you know that you have no place that you can take off. 

"These guys are they can turn you over. They can make big plays like they did the other night when David Long got the pick six [against Arizona]."

Brady and the Bucs will take lessons from the 34-24 regular season defeat, but the veteran quarterback does not believe it can be factored in too much due to both teams changing since then.

He added: "All these games are a little bit independent from one another. 

"Any time you know your opponent, that always gives you a little bit of understanding of kind of what they do well and things you wish you would have done. 

"But it doesn't really matter what happened in October when we played them last. It's really about this game and what we learned from last game.  

"We had a very different team and I think it was a little bit of a different team they had too. It is going to require its own individual performance."

Last season the Bucs put a strong run together to finish the regular season that continued into postseason glory.

Brady, who is now three wins away from winning an eighth Super Bowl, was asked how he always seems to find another gear once the NFL season gets to December and beyond.

"For all of us, it's repeating good process – that is the important part about getting this time of year," added the 44-year-old.

"You don't do much different, you just do more of which got you here. The things that work we do more of and you try to eliminate all the other distractions. 

"I won't do anything extra this week. I just want to do football. That's all I want to do to prepare and get ready. That is how we should all approach it. 

"This isn't the time for trips to the movie theatres, it is time to lock in on football because this is all we have - three days left [of the season] and we have got to earn more. 

"So you just look at it like that, everything you can kind of put off till the end of the year. We just certainly hope the end of the year is not on Sunday night."

The win over the Eagles was Brady's 18th career playoff win by double digits. 

He has more playoff wins by double digits (18) and by single digits (17) than any other QB has total playoff wins (second is Joe Montana with 16 wins).

Matthew Stafford is convinced the Los Angeles Rams will have to put up big points to stand any chance of knocking Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of the playoffs.

Sunday's Divisional Round game at Raymond James Stadium will be the third NFL postseason meeting between the Rams and Buccaneers.

The Rams have won the previous two as the teams combined for just 26 points in those games (9-0 Rams in 1989 NFC Championship, 11-6 Rams in 1999 NFC Championship). 

But Stafford, whose side cruised past the Arizona Cardinals in a 34-11 win last week, expects a high-scoring affair this time around.

Their Week 3 matchup this season did see plenty of scoring, and the Rams won 34-24, but Brady is a formidable opponent in the playoffs.

"The biggest thing about going against a guy like Tom is just knowing his consistency and his ability to get his team in the end zone," said Stafford.

"He's done a great job throughout his career, both in New England and in Tampa of scoring points and doing it kind of every which way.

"Whether they're going to run it, throw it, throw it deep, throw underneath – whatever it is, he always has a great game plan to go out there and execute at a high level. 

"So as an offense, we know we need to do the same. We have packed a great defense. Those guys are unbelievable players and dominated the game for us on Monday. 

"But at the same time, as an offense, you know you're going to have to go out there and score points, and enough to compete with the team that's led by Tom. It's a challenge.

"He's shown year in and year out how capable he is at doing that, especially this time of year. So it's a fun, exciting opportunity. We are playing the whole team, but he [Brady] is definitely a big part of it."

The win over the Cardinals was Stafford's first career postseason victory, meaning the Bucs clash will be his first taste of action in the Divisional Round. He only had to throw a season-low 17 pass attempts last week.

"That was just flow the game and nobody's ever talking about that number," he said. "We know we want to be balanced, like we always are. 

"We are just trying to go out there and feel the flow of the game, I think it's a credit to our guys up front, moving those guys in creating rush lanes, our guys did a great job around the football. 

"And then our defense was doing such a good job of giving us a short field. There's so many times where we had the ball with great field position, and those don't sometimes equate to long drives.

"Less plays, less opportunities to throw the football, but I take it as a positive. 

"I love throwing the ball, no doubt, but I love it when I hand it off, and our guys are getting 10 to 12 yards a pop. At this point I'll take [the yards] any way I can get them!

"This is a great opportunity. We've earned these opportunities as a team. I've loved being a part of this team. So I'm hoping that we continue to earn more opportunities. That's the goal at this point.

"Find ways to win games no matter what it looks like – hopefully, it looks great, like it did on Monday night, but sometimes games shakeout all different, you've got to find ways to win them."

Bruce Arians is hoping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can keep an offensive line he believes is the best in football together after Tristan Wirfs suffered an ankle injury in their Wild Card round win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

An ankle injury to right tackle Wirfs, which he unsuccessfully tried to return from, was one of the few blots on a routine 31-15 victory for the Buccaneers.

Center Ryan Jensen also suffered an injury but returned to the game, with Tampa Bay's win and the San Francisco 49ers' upset triumph over the Dallas Cowboys meaning the Bucs will face either the Los Angeles Rams or Arizona Cardinals in the Divisional Round.

Asked about the injury to Wirfs, Arians told a media conference: "He's got a sprained ankle, we'll see.

"Hopefully they're [the injuries] not super serious, Jensen came back in, Tristan tried it, other than that we came out pretty clean.

"Hopefully we can keep our offensive line intact because I think they're the best in football, Tristan especially, they'll be working on that ankle non-stop."

Running back Leonard Fournette, whose performance in the postseason last year was key to the Buccaneers winning Super Bowl LV, was not activated for this game as he tries to return from a hamstring injury.

On Fournette, Arians said: "Until he's top speed we're not going to use him."

While Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts struggled and threw a pair of interceptions in his first playoff start, Tom Brady was faultless in his record 46th postseason start.

He completed 29 of 37 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns including a 36-yard strike to Mike Evans.

"Once Tom figures you out, you're in trouble," Arians added. "That was a dime he threw to Mike for that long touchdown, he's a surgeon, man, once he figures you out and we can put him in a position and protect him, he's gonna eat you up."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' hopes of winning back-to-back Super Bowls remain firmly intact after a crushing 31-15 Wild Card round win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Tampa Bay's defense welcomed back two stars of their Super Bowl LV blowout of the Kansas City Chiefs in the form of Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett, and that group dominated an Eagles team that looked ill-prepared for the challenge of knocking off the defending champions.

Philadelphia did not beat a single team that qualified for the playoffs in their nine-win regular season, and this contest soon had the look of a mismatch as the Eagles punted three times, turned the ball over on downs and saw Jalen Hurts throw the first of his two interceptions on their opening five offensive series.

Touchdown runs by Giovani Bernard and Ke'Shawn Vaughn propelled the Bucs to a 17-0 half-time lead and, as Hurts struggled in his first playoff start, Tom Brady showed the benefit of his experience in his record 46th postseason start.

A muffed punt by Jalen Reagor set up a Brady touchdown pass to another seemingly ageless wonder in Rob Gronkowski and Hurts' second interception was followed immediately by a 36-yard strike to Mike Evans.

Late Eagles scores from Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell proved little more than consolations on a day when the only concern for the Buccaneers was a worrying ankle injury to right tackle Tristan Wirfs.

After the Patriots saw their playoff campaign emphatically come to an end on Saturday, the man who left New England to further his legacy begins his quest for an eighth ring on Sunday.

Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be expected to win in routine fashion in their Wild Card round matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, while the team they beat in last season's Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs, are anticipated to end Ben Roethlisberger's career with a routine victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Sandwiched between those two potential blowouts is the game of the weekend as two storied rivals, the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, contest a long overdue renewal of acquaintances in the postseason.

As Stats Perform's look at Sunday's action explains, both the Niners and the Cowboys possess the offense firepower to ensure the matchup lives up to its lofty expectations.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The defending champion Bucs are unsurprisingly the heavy favourites against an Eagles team that claimed nine wins in the regular season, none of which came against an opponent that made the postseason.

Not much stock will be put in the history of this encounter, even if it does make pleasant reading for any Eagles fans looking for reason for hope.

The Eagles and Buccaneers have split their 20 all-time meetings, with each team winning eight regular-season games and two in postseason play. Their only postseason matchup in Tampa was a 24-17 win by the Bucs in 1979, their first-ever playoff win.

All eyes at Raymond James Stadium will be on Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, who is set for another piece of history in his seemingly endless career.

Brady will be playing in his 19th postseason and in his 46th career playoff start, the most by any player in NFL history. At age 44, Brady will break his own record for the oldest quarterback to start a playoff game. Brady has more playoff wins since turning 36 years old (17) than any other QB has in his entire career.

Carmelo Anthony says LeBron James' early-season prediction that the Los Angeles Lakers would emerge victorious like Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers is proving true.

The Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook during the off-season and brought in the likes of Anthony, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan and Trevor Ariza.

After some underwhelming results, the Lakers hit form with four wins in a row to start 2022 before losing 127-119 to in-form Memphis Grizzlies last time out.

It was a similar story for Brady in his first year with the Bucs last time out when 7-5 overall before their season truly took off, culminating in a 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.

Sitting seventh in the Western Conference with a record of 21-20, Anthony agrees with James' comparison that the Lakers could be heading for similar success.

"Just from the standpoint of starting off slow and having new guys on the team, a new system, guys trying to figure it out, guys trying to figure out how to play with LeBron and [Anthony Davis] and now incorporating Russ and just now everybody figuring out what their role is," he said. 

"And what made it beautiful for the Bucs is that once it came together, it came together and you saw what happened with that."

Anthony has averaged 13.2 points across his 41 games for the Lakers this season – the fourth most behind Westbrook (19), Davis (23.3) and James (28.9), and similar to the 13.4 averaged in his final year with the Portland Trail Blazers.

With the Lakers now halfway through their campaign, Anthony admits it was always going to be a long-term process after plenty of close-season changes.

"It was just kind of preparing ourselves for whatever happens, whatever comes along," he said when reflecting on the past three months.

"I think we were, I don't want to say prepared for those [difficult] moments and those times mentally and emotionally, but yeah, those were conversations that were happening."

The Lakers have back-to-back road games coming up against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded for Rob Gronkowski back in April 2020, it was tough to picture the future Hall of Fame tight end having a substantial impact.

After all, Gronkowski had appeared to have spent his last reserves in Super Bowl LIII when he hauled his clearly ailing body downfield and made a diving grab for a 29-yard fourth-quarter reception that set up the New England Patriots' only touchdown of their 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

It was a catch that at the time served as a spectacular last ember of an incredible career, but the Bucs put stock in Tom Brady's belief that Gronkowski's fire to deliver at the highest level still burned brightly, and they have been emphatically vindicated.

He caught seven touchdowns in the 2020 regular season, but he once again saved his best for the grandest stage with a dominant two-touchdown performance in the Bucs' Super Bowl LV rout of the Chiefs.

And, with Tampa Bay shorn of most of their depth at the wide receiver position, there will be an even greater emphasis on Gronkowski to rise to the occasion as the Bucs attempt to defend their title.

His numbers from a surprisingly efficient 2021 suggest he is more than up to the task.

Running out of receiving weapons

Last year, opposing defenses weren't able to consistently dedicate special attention to Gronkowski, such was the wealth of options at Brady's disposal.

They went into the previous campaign's postseason with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown at receiver as well as having Gronkowski at tight end.

Evans remains and remains an extremely gifted number one receiver who perhaps does not get the credit he deserves for his hugely impressive consistency.

In Week 18, Evans surpassed 1,000 yards receiving for the eighth successive year, an NFL record for the longest streak to start a career.

He leads all wideouts (min. 100 targets) in burn percentage, which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted. Evans has won 75.2 per cent of those matchups this season, while he is also first among receivers who meet that threshold with a big play rate of 43.1 per cent.

However, Brown's departure from the team leaves the Bucs without a receiver tied third for burn yards per route (4.0) among receivers with at least 50 targets.

Godwin is on the shelf with torn ligaments in his knee, robbing Tampa of another top pass-catcher who on the list of wideouts with triple-digit targets trails only Evans, Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs with his burn rate of 70.4.

Their absences place Gronkowski's ability to produce elite play at tight end into sharper focus and his efforts at the age of 32 should give great encouragement to Tampa.

Gatecrashing the elite

Gronkowski was long since seen as the gold standard at the tight end position. A mismatch as a receiver and a tremendous blocker, peak Gronk is the blueprint for modern-day NFL tight ends.

But when he re-entered the league after a retirement that lasted only one season, a new order of top tight ends had been established.

George Kittle and Travis Kelce are regarded as the best of the best at tight end, with Darren Waller a tick below that duo. This season, Mark Andrews and Dallas Goedert have taken leaps to threaten to join the elite.

Yet in several metrics, it is Gronkowski who stands above that group at the top of the pile.

Gronkowski's burn rate of 72.1 per cent trails only Goedert and Kelce among tight ends with at least 25 targets. However, he is first in burn yards per target (13.00), burn yards per route (3.5) and big play rate (45.7 per cent).

Simply put, no tight end in the NFL has done a better job at creating separation and turning his targets into explosive plays than Gronkowski, whose rapport with Brady shows no sign of dissipating.

Indeed, when he targeted Gronkowski in the regular season, Brady had a passer rating of 113.6. To put that into context, the best overall passer rating this season was Aaron Rodgers' 111.9.

When Brady needed a big play in his final Super Bowl with the Patriots, he turned to Gronkowski, and it was their combination that was arguably the most crucial offensive aspect of the defeat of the Chiefs last year.

With Brown gone and Godwin out, the cupboard is not as well-stocked for the Bucs heading into this postseason, meaning if Brady is to claim ring number eight, he will again need to turn to the man whose renaissance in Tampa is arguably as impressive as his own ceaseless brilliance.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.