Tom Brady should never be counted out in the playoffs. The Buccaneers quarterback’s entire career has been proof of that. And Tampa Bay is right to be favored in its first matchup of the 2021 NFL postseason, hosting an Eagles team that squeezed into a wild card berth at 9-8 thanks in part to a cakewalk of a late-season schedule. But is it crazy to envision a scenario where Philadelphia, which four seasons ago rode its underdog mentality all the way to a Lombardi Trophy, goes into Raymond James Stadium on Sunday and upsets the defending champions?
No. No it’s not. And here are three reasons why:
The Eagles have evolved
As in, since the last time they met the Buccaneers — a 28-22 home loss in Week 6. That game wasn’t as close as the score indicates, with Brady slowly but surely picking the Eagles apart while Jalen Hurts, in one of his worst early-game performances up to that point, flopped through the air. But first-year coach Nick Sirianni’s offensive approach was entirely different then, as if he were calling games for a different QB — or expecting Hurts to become one. Running back Miles Sanders got literally one carry in the first half of that loss. It was part of a trend of Sirianni putting too much on Hurts, and Hurts giving too little in return.
Since then, with rare exception — like a loss to the Giants where the coach-QB combo once again hurt each other by leaning heavily on the pass — the Eagles have smartly leaned into the run. Hurts plays with the vision and body type of an actual RB. Sanders is a full go after resting up from hand surgery, as is Jordan Howard as the bruising No. 2. As a bonus, Hurts has actually made visible progress as a timely thrower during the team’s broader pivot to the ground.
Tampa Bay may boast a top-three run “D,” but the Bucs have also allowed over 100 yards to the Falcons (121), Jets (150) and Bills (173) in the last month. The Eagles, meanwhile, lead…