Back in August, it seemed likely—if not inevitable—that this game would be a battle between one playoff contender and one potential spoiler.
We just thought it'd be the other way around.
But alas, August predictions don't always come to fruition. And as it turned out, Tampa Bay is the one contending for an NFC Wild Card spot, while the Eagles find themselves contending for the top overall draft pick.
The Andy Reid era hit yet another nadir last weekend, as a road loss to the hated Cowboys was followed by yet another assistant—this time Jim Washburn—getting the axe. He joins Juan Castillo in the unemployment pool, as will soon-to-be-retired OL coach Howard Mudd at season's end. Reid himself, one can only assume, won't be far behind them.
Tampa's surprising year has derailed a little bit the past couple of weeks. Following losses to two of the best teams in football (Atlanta and Denver), the Bucs now find themselves at 6-6—on the outside looking in if the playoffs started today.
But the Bucs were competitive in both of those losses, providing a silver lining as they trudge forward. If they can hold court against two sub-.500 teams (Philadelphia and St. Louis) at home, and win a Week 17 road game in Atlanta (where the Falcons will likely be resting starters), reaching nine wins seems pretty simple.
That leaves a crucial Week 15 tilt in New Orleans standing between the Bucs and a likely 10-6 record. In this year's NFL, that should be good enough for a playoff spot.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Bucs' potential march toward January starts this Sunday with Philadelphia. And if they can't take care of business at home, against the hapless Eagles, they don't deserve a spot in the postseason.
Let's take a look at what to watch for:
When: Sunday, Dec. 9 – 1:00 p.m. ET
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
TV: Fox (check local listings)
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Spread: Tampa Bay -7.5 (via VegasInsider.com – LVH)
Oh how the mighty have fallen, right? Who would have thought that Tampa Bay would be spotting the Eagles more than a touchdown in 2012?
It makes sense, though. At 8-2-2, Tampa Bay has the best ATS record in the NFL. On the other side of the coin, Philadelphia—whom bettors gave the benefit of the doubt to for far too long—is last in the league with an ATS record of 2-9-1.
And it should probably be 1-10-1. The Eagles pulled off one of the league's most miraculous covers last weekend, when a mostly meaningless punt return score by Damaris Johnson pulled them within the 10.5-point spread.
Four of Tampa's last five wins have come by more than 7.5 points, which means that even with their porous secondary, the Bucs are capable of winning big.
Don't count on that to change this week. Take Tampa laying 7.5.
Over/Under: 47.0 (via VegasInsider.com – LVH)
Even more remarkable than the Bucs' record ATS has been their propensity for covering the over. In their last nine games, they've gone over the total eight times—including a seven-game streak between Weeks 4 and 11.
Philly's offensive struggles have been well-documented and un-exaggerated. But they've actually surpassed 22 points in three of their last four games. Dallas and Carolina don't exactly have Super Bowl defenses, but then again, neither do the Bucs.
Look for a lot of points to be scored in Tampa this weekend.
Bet the over with confidence.
Philadelphia Eagles Injury Report (via USA Today – as of 12/6/12)
|S Nate Allen||Shoulder||Probable|
|CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie||Knee||Questionable|
|S Kurt Coleman||Sternum||Questionable|
|DT Fletcher Cox||Tailbone||Questionable|
|RB Chris Polk||Toe||Questionable|
|RB LeSean McCoy||Concussion||Doubtful|
|QB Michael Vick||Concussion||Doubtful|
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Injury Report (via USA Today – as of 12/6/12)
|LB LeQuan Lewis||Knee||Out|
Fantasy Big Plays
Philadelphia Eagles: QB Nick Foles
Now he gets a chance to build off that, against one of the worst pass defenses ever.
The Bucs will likely become the first team in league history to allow over 300 passing yards per game. They currently allow an average of 309—10 yards more than Washington, the league's second-worst pass defense.
Commingle that incompetence with Tampa Bay's high-scoring offense, and you have a recipe for massive numbers through the air. If Foles can't put up points this Sunday, it'll speak volumes about his future (or lack thereof) at the position.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Vincent Jackson
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Nnamdi has been one of the worst cover corners in the league this season. He currently ranks 97th out of 112 eligible candidates in terms of pure pass coverage. There once was a time when quarterbacks were scared to throw in his direction; now they have a passer rating of 110.3 when they do just that.
Once thought to be a product of San Diego's passing game, Jackson's success has been a revelation in Tampa Bay this season. Expect him to exorcise some demons against his former nemesis on Sunday.
Key to Victory
Philadelphia's Aerial Attack
If Philadelphia can't consistently move the ball through the air—be it the fault of Andy Reid, Nick Foles, King Dunlap or anybody else in the past, present or future of the organization—there's no way for them to win this game.
Plain and simple.
Tampa Bay's pass rush will need to get pressure on Nick Foles, a relatively simple chore against the Eagles' depleted offensive line. But if they give Foles time, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek could run rampant in the Bucs' Swiss cheese secondary.
The Bucs have everything to lose here; coming up short would effectively end their season.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are playing for nothing. They've quit on their coach, and as far as they're concerned, Week 17 couldn't come faster.
Look for more of the same this weekend.
Predicted Score: Tampa Bay 34, Philadelphia 20