by Mike Hayes - 01/03/2006
The surging Redskins and NFC South champion Buccaneers will kickoff Wild Card weekend in the NFL with a 4:30 EST match-up Saturday in Tampa Bay that marks a return by Joe Gibbs to the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
The Gibbs-led Redskins used a five-game win streak to reach 10-6 and earn the sixth and final playoff berth in the NFC while the 11-5 Bucs secured a division title and the conference No. 3 seed. The game is a rematch of a 1999 divisional playoff contest won by the Bucs, 14-13, which was the last postseason appearance for Washington. Tampa Bay's last trip to the playoffs resulted in a Super Bowl victory against the Raiders in 2003.
For Gibbs, the game marks his first playoff appearance since a 20-13 loss at San Francisco in 1993.
Although the Skins are the sixth-seeded team in the NFC, oddsmakers figure this could be a close one, and with good reason as the Skins lost by just a point, 36-35 when the teams met in Tampa on Nov. 13.
As a result the Bucs are just a 2.5 to 3 point favorite depending on where you shop with the point total set at 37. The Skins are +120 to +125 on the money line while you will have to lay -140 or -145 on the favored Bucs.
Had you bet Tampa Bay to win the Super Bowl prior to the season you would have received odds of at least 20-1 while a wager on Washington would have been good for more than 25-1.
Back to that Nov. 13 match-up: That's the game the Bucs won when Jon Gruden said "to hell with OT" and decided to go for a 2-point conversion with just 58 seconds remaining. A gutsy move that snapped a two-game losing streak despite some questions as to whether Mike Alstott actually crossed the goal line before his elbow hit the ground.
Both teams enjoyed great success against conference opponents, with Washington going 10-2 and the Bucs 9-3. The team's only other common opponent was the lowly 49ers who were rocked by the Skins 52-17 but somehow managed to defeat the Bucs 15-10 in San Francisco back in October.
While Tampa Bay enjoys an obvious advantage in hosting the game, the Redskins were a solid road team this past season, going 4-4, a mark which in addition to the loss at Tampa includes a 2-point loss at Denver and a 7-point loss at Kansas City, two of the tougher places to visit in the entire NFL.
Tampa was 6-2 at home, with a 34-14 loss at the hands of the Carolina Panthers and a 13-10 loss against the Bears -- both playoff teams.
The teams are also remarkably similar statistically, with perhaps the biggest difference being QB experience where the Redskins have 13-year vet Mark Brunell at the helm and the Bucs are relying on Chris Simms, who in his third year in the league earned the full-time starting job after Brian Griese was injured in week six.
On the season, Brunell posted the NFC's fifth best QB rating at 85.9. In doing so he completed 57.7 percent of his pass attempts for 3,050 yards with 23 touchdowns and just 10 picks. After a rough start Simms has improved and finished the season with the 9th best rating in the conference at 84.1. Simms, who started 10 games and played in 11, was good on 61 percent of his pass attempts for a total of 2,035 yards with 10 TD strikes and 7 INTs.
Tampa Bay, who on average yielded 18 points a game, appears to have an edge on the defensive side of the ball ranking third in the NFC against the rush and fourth against the pass, giving up about 95 yards a game on the ground and 183 in the air, less than the Redskins 105 yards on the ground and 193 in the air.
This could be a key to the game as both teams rely on the ground game in their offensive game plan.
The Bucs will need to stop Clinton Portis, who finished fourth in the NFC in rushing with 1,516 yards, good for 4.3 per carry, to keep the Washington offense in check and help to take Santana Moss, Washington's big-play threat, out of the game.
The Skins will have to do likewise with Tampa Bay rookie Cadillac Williams, who finished a smidge behind Portis in sixth with 1,178 yards with an average carry of just better than four yards.
In Moss, who averaged 15.2 yards-per-catch and totaled 1,483 yards, the Redskins have the second leading receiver in the NFC, slightly better than Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway, who totaled 1,287 yards in posting a similar 15.5 per-catch average.
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