Conference Championship Sunday is still more than four months away, but the team that emerges victorious from Raymond James Stadium on Monday night could be on the inside track to a berth in the Super Bowl.
The primetime kickoff on ABC between the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the only matchup in NFL Week 3 featuring 2-0 teams.
In the past four seasons, there have been five such instances of two 2-0 teams meeting. And of those five meetings, three of the teams that improved to 3-0 went on to the Super Bowl. And of those three occurrences, the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs and 2021 Los Angeles Rams went on to win it all.
So, there you go.
The winner of this game in Florida will likely reach the Super Bowl and is the odds-on favorite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the season’s end.
OK, so maybe that’s a stretch, but this matchup does feature one team that played – and lost – in last season’s Super Bowl, the Eagles, and a Buccaneers team that won it all just three seasons ago.
According to SmartRatings, this ranks as the second most exciting game of Week 3 and our prediction model likes the chances of the Eagles returning to the big game, giving them a 33.7% probability of reaching the Super Bowl – the highest for any team.
The 2020 Super Bowl-champion Bucs, meanwhile, are given by our prediction model just a 1.1% chance of playing in the Super Bowl – just behind the 0-2 Houston Texans at 2.5%
Truth is, though, the Bucs have looked a bit better through two games than last year’s NFC champion. Granted, their first two opponents enter Week 3 winless, but the same is true for the Eagles.
Yes, Philadelphia’s offense is filled with playmakers from Jalen Hurts to DeVonta Smith to A.J. Brown and D’Andre Swift and will be a challenge for Todd Bowles and Tampa Bay’s defense. The Bucs, though, also have an offense that can present problems for the Eagles, especially in the passing game.
One of the biggest reasons for Tampa Bay’s early success is it has yet to turn the ball over behind the surprising and steady play of one Baker Mayfield.
Stepping into a new offensive system is never easy, and having to be the guy who follows Tom Brady has disaster written all over it, but Mayfield is showing glimpses as to why he was the first overall pick of the 2018 draft.
Now on his fourth team in just over 14 months, Mayfield is throwing accurate passes and not putting the ball in harm’s way.
Baker Mayfield, 2023 (With NFL Ranks/Min. 25 Attempts)
- Open Target Percentage (89.2/2nd)
- Catchability Rating (87.7/1st)
- Pickable Pass Percentage (1.54/6th)
- Passer Rating (104.4/5th)
His passer rating is his highest after two games through any of his first five NFL seasons. And this is coming from a quarterback whose career QB rating of 87.0 is the fourth lowest among the 25 QBs with a minimum of 1,500 pass attempts since 2018.
In last Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Chicago Bears, Mayfield threw for 317 yards – his most since Week 1 of the 2021 season – and did a good job of throwing on the move and using his feet to avoid pressure. He also finished with a 90.6 well-thrown percentage that ranked fifth in the NFL and was far better than the 81.6 league average in Week 2.
He’s been incredibly efficient on third downs, completing an amazing 87.0% of his passes (20 of 23) for 201 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Among the 32 QBs with at least 10 passing attempts on third down, only Kirk Cousins’ 136.6 QB rating bests Mayfield’s mark of 132.1.
One could argue that Mayfield picked apart a Bears defense last week that isn’t drawing any comparisons to the ’85 team, but the passing defense he’s about to go up against Monday night is statistically worse.
The Eagles have surrendered an NFL-high seven touchdown passes – the most allowed after two games in franchise history – and their opponent average of 326.0 passing yards beats out only the Los Angeles Chargers at 333.0 for the league’s worst mark.
Opponents are running successful passing plays 44.2% of the time – the 11th-worst mark in the NFL – after opposing teams were successful on passing plays just 35.0% of the time a year ago – the ninth-highest rate in the league.
Philadelphia allowed Cousins to complete 31-of-44 passes for 364 yards with four touchdowns in last Thursday night’s 34-28 win, sorely missing second-team All-Pro cornerback James Bradberry, who was out with a concussion.
The team is hopeful Bradberry will be cleared, but if he’s not, this could spell serious trouble for a banged-up Eagles secondary going up against a confident Mayfield after slot corner Avonte Maddox suffered a torn pectoral muscle against the Minnesota Vikings and is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery.
Mario Goodrich was thrust into action after Maddox was hurt, playing in his first NFL game after spending much of last season on Philadelphia’s practice squad, and the results were like you might expect for someone playing for the first time in the NFL.
He was on the wrong end of an 18-yard pass from Cousins to A.J. Osborn and was also beaten for a 14-yard reception by Justin Jefferson. (Being beaten by Jefferson is not completely surprising as the 2022 NFL Offensive Player of the Year makes life miserable for many defensive backs. More on that later.)
It’s an extremely small sample size, but Goodrich clearly had some trouble in his NFL debut. For reference, the 30 inside cornerbacks with at least four targets average a 52.1 burn-allowed percentage, 9.97 burn yards-allowed per target, an 82.2 open-allowed percentage and a 24.5 big play-allowed percentage.
Mario Goodrich, 2023 (With NFL Ranks Among Inside CBs)
- Burn-Allowed Percentage (75.0/3rd worst)
- Average Burn Yards/Target (15.50/4th worst)
- Open-Allowed Percentage (100.0/Worst)
- Big Play-Allowed Percentage (55.0/Worst)
Goodrich will now likely see much of time matching up against Chris Godwin, and should expect to see plenty of passes in his direction.
Godwin, who has 10 receptions for 109 yards on the season, has been lining up a bit more on the outside as opposed to in the slot in new offensive coordinator Dave Canales’ system. However, he could see more routes from the slot given a likely matchup with the inexperienced Goodrich.
Goodrich would seem to be no match for the physical Godwin, who has registered an open percentage of 92.9 – the fifth best among the 53 receivers targeted at least 10 times.
If he matches up against Goodrich, Godwin is in good shape to extend his franchise-record streak of games with at least five receptions to 17.
Active Streak of Most Consecutive Games with 5+ Receptions
- 1. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (16)
- T-2. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers (10)
- T-2. Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals (10)
- 4. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints (7)
- T-5. Davante Adams, Las Vegas Raiders (4)
- T-5. Hunter Henry, New England Patriots (4)
Godwin makes up one half of Tampa Bay’s dangerous wide receiver duo with the ageless Mike Evans not showing any signs of slowing down.
Now 30 years old, Evans has opened his career with an NFL record nine consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons – three more than Randy Moss for second on the list – and is nearly a quarter of the way to another 1,000-yarder with 237 receiving yards this year.
He torched the Bears last week, catching six passes for 171 yards – including a 32-yard TD reception – with three of his grabs going for at least 30 yards. He racked up a career-best 84 yards after the catch and notched a whopping 198 burn yards.
On the season, his 16.03 burn yards per target ranks fourth in the league among the 53 receivers targeted 10 or more times.
Eagles corner Darius Slay figures to have his hands full again after Jefferson finished with 11 receptions for 159 yards last week. Again, Jefferson routinely creates fits for opposing corners, and the 6-foot-5 Evans has the ability to do the same.
Slay was named to his fifth Pro Bowl in 2022 but is off to a shaky start to this season, registering a burn-allowed percentage of 66.7 – 12th worst among the 55 outside corners targeted at least six times. The league average among those corners is 52.1% and Slay recorded a 46.6 burn-allowed percentage last year.
While Evans and Godwin are Mayfield’s top targets, expect tight end Cade Otton and running back Rachaad White to be involved in the passing game after the two combined for 11 receptions for 71 yards last week.
A contributing factor to Philadelphia’s struggles against the pass has been its inability to put ample pressure on the quarterback.
The Eagles have the eighth-lowest pressure rate at 31.7%, and they now go up against a Tampa Bay line that has allowed just one sack on Mayfield.
Philadelphia’s best opportunity to rattle Mayfield would be on the inside behind first-round pick Jalen Carter. He’s already looking to be every bit of the interior matchup nightmare many pundits predicted he would be, and a player Mayfield needs to identify every time he walks up the line of scrimmage.
He has registered a pressure rate of 28.6 – seventh among the 57 defensive tackles with at least 10 pass rushes – and will likely spend a majority of the game lining up across from left guard Matt Feiler.
Feiler has yet to allow a sack, but owns a pressure-allowed rate of 11.3, which is the seventh worst among the 31 left guards with at least 30 plays in pass protection. The NFL average for left guards is 7.7%.
While Carter appears to have an advantage on the inside, Josh Sweat draws a tough matchup against two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tristan Wirfs.
After amassing a career-best 11 sacks last year, Sweat has 1.5 sacks this season but he isn’t getting to the quarterback at a consistent rate. He only has three QB pressures and his pressure rate of 9.4% is the fifth worst among 21 edge rushers with at least 17 pass rushes. The NFL average for these pass rushers is 17.8%.
Wirfs, meanwhile, has a 1.9 pressure-allowed rate. That’s second among the 31 left tackles with at least 30 plays in pass protection. The league average for these tackles is 8.2%.
Our model gives the Eagles a better than two-thirds chance of walking out of Tampa with their first win over the Bucs since 2013. The sportsbooks concur, making the Eagles the best bets to win as the Buccaneers are 4.5-point underdogs. But if Tampa Bay can take advantage of Philadelphia’s struggling and depleted defense, it should be able to keep up with the Eagles.
And if Mayfield can deliver a signature win in primetime, he’ll do something Brady never did during his three-year stint with the Buccaneers and that’s start a season 3-0.
Tampa Bay, which hasn’t opened a season with three straight wins since a 4-0 start to the 2005 season, has won its last four matchups with Philly – its longest active win streak against any opponent.
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