Bruce Arians doesn’t think playing Washington will be a first-round bye for the Buccaneers.
The Tampa Bay head coach was adamant that the NFC East winners are better than their paltry record would suggest simply because washout Dwayne Haskins won’t be under center.
“We’re not playing a 7-9 team. We’re playing a 4-1 team. When Alex Smith plays they’re a 4-1 team,” Arians told ESPN. “We’re not playing Dwayne Haskins. We’re playing Alex Smith.”
Tampa Bay (11-5) secured the NFC’s No. 5 seed and finished second in the NFC South behind the Saints (12-4); Washington locked up the soft NFC East with a controversial win over the Eagles in Week 17.
Washington was actually 5-1, not 4-1, this season with Smith as their starter. Through those games, the 36-year-old veteran — who hadn’t stepped foot on an NFL field since 2018 after suffering a life-threatening leg injury — completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,582 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions. He originally came in to relieve Kyle Allen after Haskins was relegated to third-string.
Washington was a combined 2-8 with Haskins and Allen under center.
Haskins, 23, was released in December after poor on-field performances and for violations of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols by partying maskless with strippers. The 2019 first-rounder finished the season completing 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,439 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Taylor Heinicke, 27, will serve as Washington’s backup once again. Heinicke is a former undrafted free agent from Old Dominion.
Washington coach Ron Rivera suggested Tuesday that Washington might have to alternate quarterbacks on Saturday with Smith battling a calf strain.
The Buccaneers and Washington are set to clash in the first round of the NFL playoffs on Saturday at 8:15 p.m.