Playoff Game Preview

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Buccaneers-Washington: NFC Super Wild Card Weekend preview

Viewers can watch the broadcast live on NBC/Universo at 8:15 pm ET on Saturday as well as stream live on the NFL App and Yahoo Sports app.

(Editor's Note: On Saturday afternoon, Washington announced that starting quarterback Alex Smith will be inactive. Taylor Heinicke will start at quarterback against Tampa Bay.)

The Backstory

The top story and the comeback stories collide on Saturday night.

Tom Brady and the fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) face rookie defensive end Chase Young and the host fourth-seeded Washington Football Team (7-9), champion of the NFC East, at 8:15 p.m. ET Saturday from FedEx Field.

Since Washington clinched the NFC East by way of defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in an instantly infamous game, this matchup had some added oomph when Washington's standout rookie defensive end Chase Young found the camera and bellowed, "I want Tom!"

It's a storyline that's carried on through the week, akin to a young and hungry fighter selling a title bout with a veteran champion. But this story is but a week-long, whereas Brady's Bucs and Smith and coach Ron Rivera's Washington squad have had some of the most prevalent storylines throughout the season.

When Brady left New England and parted ways with the Patriots and the NFL's most successful run of all-time, he became arguably the most storied free agent in league history. When he arrived in Tampa Bay, expectations of grand success arrived with him and a band of all-stars followed -- names such as an unretired Rob Gronkowski, an unwanted Leonard Fournette and an unsuspended Antonio Brown.

The new additions added to the old standouts -- receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and running back Ronald Jones -- and there was promise and confusion early.

It's taken some time for everything to click, but the Buccaneers are riding a four-game winning streak over a trio of non-playoff teams into the postseason. And this is what they've been working for since Brady came to be a Buc. This isn't a long-term plan for the Bucs, this is a right-here-and-right-now plan.

Tampa Bay will face a Washington squad that's just the third team (excluding the 1982 strike-shortened season), to advance to the playoffs with a sub-.500 record. Having emerged from a historically bad NFC East, Washington is viewed by many as a band of fortunate sons privileged to be in the postseason dance.

But Washington is here and continuing two uplifting tales. Alex Smith hadn't played since 2018, when he sustained a gruesome leg injury that actually threatened his life at one point. But the QB has ignited Washington's playoff push and behind it all has been head coach Ron Rivera. Rivera was tasked with turning around the Washington franchise and has taken a huge step and amazingly done so while battling through cancer.

Now, as the consummate winner Brady aims to deliver Tampa its first playoff win since 2002, Smith, who was ruled out Saturday due to a calf injury, and Rivera are aiming for Washington's initial postseason victory since 2005 -- and the first for a losing team in the playoffs since Rivera's 2014 Panthers.

Under Pressure

Tom Brady, quarterback, Buccaneers: A model of amazing for all these years, including this one, Brady has thus far done what his signing promised. He's made the Bucs a playoff team and a viable Super Bowl contender in a wide-open NFC -- lest we forget that this fifth-seeded Brady bunch walloped the top-seeded Packers earlier this season. For all that must be appreciated when it comes to what the 43-year-old signal-caller has done, he moves forward into the playoffs with plenty of pressure upon his shoulders. This is the winning time and this is what Brady is all about, this is why he's been called the greatest more than anyone. Ridiculously mercurial for much of the season, the Bucs are rolling right now with Brady playing his best ball all season -- and likely better than all of his last season with the Patriots. Brady, who's making his 18th trip to the playoffs, tossed a franchise-record 40 touchdown passes -- the second-most in his illustrious career. His 4,633 yards passing were his highest total since 2015. What lies ahead for Brady and many of the Bucs' notable names after Tampa Bay's last season is a great unknown, and it's up to Brady more than anyone to delay answering that unknown for as long as possible.

Chase Young, defensive end, Washington: Just seconds after a resounding rookie regular season had concluded, Young sounded off that he wanted Brady and let it be known that he can hype up a game as well as anyone. In many ways, the Washington Football Team has little pressure on it, NFC East champions who many give little chance of prevailing to. But for the brash bruiser who bellowed for Brady, he has beckoned the spotlight. Young, whose postseason might well include winning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year after posting a rookie-best 7.5 sacks, isn't the only standout out on the Washington defense. There are other former first rounders on the front such as Montez Sweat (nine sacks) and Ryan Kerrigan (5.5 sacks) contributing to the NFL's No. 2 overall defense. However, Young has become the face of it, having delivered an impact and promise since being selected second overall in the draft. Young's rookie showing portends to a bright future, but in the here and now, he's the first-year dynamo with the big game and big words who's going to need to show up in a big way.

Matchup to Watch

Alex Smith vs. Bucs defense: Upon the marquee it will be Brady and the Buccaneers passing game against the Washington defense and its potent pass rush. That's the battle of strength versus strength, but how much Washington's offense can do against the Buccaneers defense is likely to tell the tale in this one. Smith has been dealing with a calf strain and is questionable to play, but Washington needs him. Though Taylor Heinicke looked good enough in his one appearance for the team, Smith is 5-1 as a starter. Washington has struggled to score points, but has promise within the steady hands and fleet feet of promising youngers Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson and has been a winner with Smith under center. Tampa Bay's defense has been that overlooked and underrated unit for the last two seasons, but though it finished the as the No. 6 total defense and tops against the run, it's susceptible against the pass (21st in the NFL). If Washington is to pull off the upset, the offense must show up. And, obviously, the Buccaneers defense needs to stand tall if the win many prognosticate them to get is to come to fruition.

Final Thought

This was the last playoff matchup finalized and the one most believe is the easiest to predict. But anything can happen on any given Sunday (or Saturday, as it were here) in the NFL. Not to mention, each team has just one win against a playoff team (Washington over Pittsburgh; Tampa Bay over Green Bay).

Regardless of the outcome, history will be made on this night. The 43-year-old Brady will look to further his remarkable career by delivering Tampa its first postseason triumph since winning the Super Bowl in the 2002 season. And should Washington advance in its chaotic season, Rivera and his charges will bestow upon the franchise its first postseason win since 2005 -- when Joe Gibbs was the head coach.

But in addition to that, as soon as the game kicks off, history will be made as it will be the first time playoff teams face each other with female coaches on opposing sidelines -- Tampa Bay's Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar along with Washington's Jennifer Sims, a sign of progress at hand right alongside the drama of a game featuring two of the NFL's most prevalent storylines colliding.

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