There are eight teams still left with a chance to win the nation’s biggest sporting event, the Super Bowl. The Divisional Round has some great matchups this week. The game that has everyone talking and is set to cap off the four-game weekend is the Saints playing host to their division rivals the Buccaneers in the Superdome, Sunday at 6:40 p.m. ET on Fox.
— NFL (@NFL) January 14, 2021
Round-three between has much-more at stake: a spot in the NFC Championship Game. It will also mark the first time that Tom Brady and Drew Brees will meet in the playoffs. Brady, who is already considered the greatest-of-all-time (by most), has been rewriting the QB-record books for the last decade with his long-time friend and future first-ballot Hall of Famer, Brees. They played in 1999 while in college and now 20-plus years later they will meet with their season on the line.
Brady is trying to reach a conference championship game for a staggering 14th time, while Brees is seeking his fourth appearance. They’re both flanked by top-six defenses, too. At age 43 Brady had another great season and he is after his seventh Super Bowl ring. Brees, who is 42, missed some time this year but the Saints’ depth helped them capture the NFC’s No. 2 seed. The Saints organization has done a wonderful job of building a team that can send Brees into retirement with his second Super Bowl ring.
This is good! https://t.co/CaHTmgOixn
— Drew Brees (@drewbrees) January 12, 2021
“I guess it was inevitable,” said Brees, who said he knew the Buccaneers would be a significant rival once Brady decided to migrate to the NFC South this past offseason. “Listen, the minute that he signed with the Bucs and came in the division, you felt like that was gonna be a team to contend with. That was gonna be a team that had playoff aspirations and beyond, just like us.”
Saints Have Dominated the Buccaneers
Since Bruce Arians took over as head coach in 2019, the Bucs are 0-4 against the Saints, with New Orleans outscoring the Bucs by a combined score of 137-67. With Brady now as their quarterback, they’ve lost to the Saints this year by a combined 46 points — 34-23 in Week 1 and a 38-3 embarrassment in Week 9. When asked about his record against the Saints, Arians placed the blame on turnovers.
“The turnover margin has been lopsided in their favor,” Arians said. “We’ve got to protect the football much better and stay balanced.”
The Bucs have been practicing what their coach is preaching during the second half of the season. RBs Ronald Jones and Leonard Fornette have been providing a solid run game. Brady is much more comfortable with the offensive system, which has adjusted to suit more of his strengths, including pre-snap motion and play-action.
This has resulted in Brady getting rid of the ball a lot quicker. In Weeks 1-9 this season, Brady averaged 2.43 seconds in the pocket before each throw. In Week 10 through the Wild-Card game Saturday, he averaged 2.23 seconds in the pocket. He’s also faced significantly more blitzes per dropback (19.1% in Weeks 1-9 and 36.3% in Weeks 10 through the Wild card), yet his passer rating has gone up from 96.0 to 127.8. The offensive line has also gotten more comfortable. Brady has been pressured on only 10% of his dropbacks in Week 10 through the wild-card, versus the 18.6% in Weeks 1-9.
The last time the Bucs played the Saints, Antonio Brown who had been out of football for over a year, had practiced with the team for less than a week. He is now not only assimilated into Arians offense, but he’s also become a focal point of it over the past five weeks. He has nearly the same number of targets as Mike Evans. He’s lining up inside, outside, and in the backfield, and he’s also being utilized in more pre-snap motion. This has helped the Bucs offense immensely.
Brees vs Brady
Brees will be taking on Tampa Bay for the 31st time in his career and he has a career 99.5 passer rating against them. The Buccaneers have seen the veteran quarterback’s game evolve over a decade and a half since he came to the NFC South in 2006. At this point, Brees is much more of a quick passer who gets the ball into his playmakers’ hands and lets them pick up extra yardage. His incredible vision and quick decision-making, coupled with an elite offensive line in front of him, make it extremely hard to pressure him into mistakes.
In the Wild Card round, Brees faced one of the NFL’s best-defenses as the Saints gritted out a 21-9 win over the Chicago Bears. Brees threw 39 passes and 28 of them traveled fewer than 10 yards downfield in the air. He completed 25 of those 28 short throws for 193 yards and two touchdowns.
— NFL (@NFL) January 15, 2021
Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. continues to make middle-aged men look bad as he continues to play one of the most physical sports in the world at the highest level well into his 40s.
“He’s a lot younger than me,” Brady said of Brees. “He’s 18 months younger than me. 18 months ago, I felt pretty good.”
Brady finished third in passing yards (4,633), tied-for-second in passing touchdowns (40), and he finished ninth in both QBR (72.8) and passer rating (102.2). All great for an ‘old man,’ but he also threw the six most interceptions (12) this year. Brady´s numbers are impressive because he did it in his first year with a new team. What makes Brady the G.O.A.T. is not his regular-season numbers or record, it is his postseason dominance over the past 20 years and he is entering the playoffs playing his best football this season.
Brady holds the NFL record for most playoff wins by a quarterback with 31, and the record for most playoff games started (42). Including Super Bowls, Tom Brady holds the record for most postseason road wins by a quarterback (11). Over the course of 41 playoff games, Brady has racked up 11,388 yards — which is about 4,000 more than the next-closest contender (Peyton Manning, 7,339). Oh and he already has the most Super Bowls (6) two more than the next QB on the list.
Mutual respect. pic.twitter.com/2rInP4yhlz
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) January 14, 2021
Saints’ Offensive Keys to the Game
The Saints finally have all their pieces on the field at the same time as they have been dealing with their share of injuries this year. The question that lingers for them heading into this game is whether their offense can jell and find a good rhythm with all their key players on the field together.
Alvin Kamara led the team in both rushing yards (932) and receiving yards (756), with some of the best per touch averages of 5.0 yards on the ground and 9.1 yards through the air. He was an absolute beast in the red zone in 2020, scoring a league-leading 21 times, including 16 on the ground. Though the Buccaneers held him to 116 yards from scrimmage in the two previous meetings combined, Kamara scored three times in those contests. The philosophy of the Saints’ offense is to get the ball to Kamara in ways that allow him to do more damage after the ball is in his hands. His 731 yards after the catch in 2020 was by far the most of any player in the NFL. Stopping Kamara is the first way to slow down the Saints’ offense.
Michael Thomas. In 2019 Thomas led the NFL in receiving by nearly 400 more yards than the next player on the list. 2020 was a different story for Thomas as he was dealing with a suspension and injuries that kept him off the field for most of the season. He caught his first touchdown of the season last week in the Wild-Card round which is a really positive thing for the Saints. New Orleans was able to win 12 games without their best WR scoring a touchdown and now they have him back at full-go for the playoffs. If Brees and Thomas can re-establish their chemistry from 2019 then this team will be very tough to beat.
Saints Defensive Keys to the Game
S C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Overall the Saints’ defense only played with four or fewer DBs on the field on 11.6% of its plays and played a nickel defense as their base most games. The Saints are fortunate enough to have a solid-secondary that can frustrate any receiving core. The Saints have a strong pair of starting corners in Marcus Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins, but they also found a solution for the slot in the 2019 draft when they took Gardner-Johnson in the fourth round. Gardner-Johnson will be matched-up in the slot with five-time All Pro WR Antionio Brown who has become a focal point in the Bucs offense as they made their playoff push.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) January 15, 2021
DE Cameron Jordan. Even with one of the best secondaries in the NFL, the Saints MUST pressure Brady and make him uncomfortable for their defense to have success. Jordan finished the 2020 regular season with his lowest sack total (7.5) since 2016 and his lowest QB hit total (16) since 2014, but Jordan’s ability to impact a game is key to the Saints’ defense. Jordan is the NFL’s defensive iron-man and he has plenty of experience and sheer skill to find different ways to impact this game.
Bucs’ offensive Keys to the game
It makes my head spin thinking about how many weapons the Bucs have at Brady’s disposal. The key to Tampa’s success is the offensive line keeping the pocket clean for Brady to put the ball on his receivers and establishing a running game.
Ronald Jones II practiced in a limited capacity today.
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) January 14, 2021
OTs Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs. Rookie tackle Wirfs will be the man most responsible for slowing down Cameron Jordan. Wirfs held Jordan without a sack in the previous two meetings, though Jordan did have a QB hit in each game. Smith will have his handful with the Saints sack-leader Trey Hendrickson. These two guys need to play mistake free football to allow the Bucs to find a rhythm on offense
WR Antonio Brown. Brown has become a focal point in the Bucs’ offensive game plan during the second half of the season. He has scored five-TDs in the last four games and has about as many targets as Mike Evens over that span as well. I expect Brady to look for Brown early-and-often because the Saints best corners are going to be covering Evans and Godwin.
Bucs Defensive Keys to the Game
On defense, they’re blitzing less and focusing more on keeping things in front of them. They’ve played a lot less man coverage and more zone defense with Cover 2 and 2-man coverage (two deep safeties with man coverage underneath). Against the Saints, they’ll need to press to disrupt the timing of receivers’ routes. Brees’ completion percentage against 2-man drops to 56.5%, versus 71.8% against all other coverages.
CBs Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting. This season, Brees’ completion percentage has dropped from 74.6% when both outside cornerbacks are playing off coverage to 59.2% when both outside corners are playing press. These two corners will need to disrupt the Saints’ quick passing game and make Brees throw the ball down field. If they can jam the release of Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders then their D-line will have a better chance to get some hits and sacks on Brees.
No. 2 Saints vs No. 5 Buccaneers – Betting Breakdown: Final Score Prediction
|Team||Point Spread||Moneyline||Over/Under||Team Totals|
|Buccaneers||+3 -105||+145||52 -110o||24½|
|Saints||-3 -115||-165||52 -110u||27½|
New Orleans deserves the slight edge, especially considering it has a top-five defense at home. But this game could very well be a shootout. The over/under of 52 seems low and I like the over.
If you think the Saints are going to cover the three-point spread then you may want to reconsider the over-bet. Unders are 7-1 in the past eight-games that New Orleans has covered.
I think the Saints could cover easily, but if you are like me, then you do not feel comfortable betting against Brady receiving points in the playoffs.