A couple of years ago, a season like the one the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just had—13-4, second place in the NFC—would be good enough to earn them a first-round bye in the playoffs. But even though in the expanded format they had to go up against the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday wasn't all that different from a day off. The Bucs scored the game's first 31 points before surrendering a couple of meaningless garbage time scores en route to a 31-15 victory.
The Eagles, who were winless against playoff teams in the regular season, got into the postseason because they did their business against lowlifes like the Lions, the New York squads, and the Washington Football Team. But the way to beat them, for a talented team, was never all that mysterious: Load up against their league-best rushing attack, get out to an early lead, and then let QB Jalen Hurts make mistakes when he has to throw the ball.
Even though the final might fool you into thinking that the Eagles put up some sort of fight, this game was everything you'd expect in a matchup between the defending champions and a team that really didn't deserve to still be playing—not to mention Tom Brady against a flawed young starter making his playoff debut. The Bucs put up 17 points before the Eagles could even snap the ball outside of their own territory, and on the occasions when Philly did seem to do something right, they consistently followed it up with a backbreaking mistake.
As time wound down in the second quarter, with his team trailing by three scores, Hurts managed to pilot the ball down to just outside the red zone, threatening to give the Eagles some momentum heading into halftime. But when Hurts rolled out to his left, saw a Bucs defender fall down, and tried to fire it to DeVonta Smith in the end zone, he completely failed to notice Mike Edwards, who swooped in on a limp throw to make the interception.
Likewise, with the score still 17-0 early in the third, the Eagles defense stopped the Bucs on a three-and-out deep in their own territory. But Jalen Reagor muffed the ensuing punt, giving Tampa a short field through which they extended their lead to 24.
This was a bad game that you should have turned off by the end of the third, and it exposed glaring weaknesses in the Eagles that need to be addressed this offseason. More pressingly, though, it also served as a kind of anti-appetizer to the late game of this playoff tripleheader, as the second-seeded Chiefs take on a wobbly seventh-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers in an equally lopsided matchup on the AFC side of the bracket. Expanding the playoffs might have been a mistake.