NFC Playoff Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saintsby Johnnie Black January 17, 2021 1 comment
In the final matchup this weekend, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to the Big Easy to face division rivals the New Orleans Saints. The Saints won the two regular-season games. Can they win the third battle and advance to the NFC Championship? Or will the third time be a charm for the Bucs? Let’s see in this NFC Playoff Preview.
Since the merger in 1970, there have been 21 times where a team beat an opposing team twice in the regular season and then met them in the playoffs. The team winning the first two matchups won the third 14 times. While the history bodes well for the Saints, they will be facing arguably the best quarterback of all-time. Things won’t come easy in this game for either side.
The Bucs Offense
Tom Brady had a good season despite it being his first in a uniform other than a New England Patriots’ one. Brady completed nearly 2/3 of his passes and threw for 4,633 yards. He also connected on 40 touchdowns which, surprisingly, is only the second time in his career he has reached that number (50, 2007). Helping Brady reach that mark is a pass-catching group that is downright scary. Mike Evans became the first receiver in history to start his career with seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He also set a career-high with 13 TD catches.
Chris Godwin had another excellent season despite being banged up and missing four games. He had 840 yards and seven TDs while finishing second on the team with 65 catches. Old friend Antonio Brown came on the scene in Week 9 and has gotten acclimated to this high-powered offense. The 32-year-old wideout has caught a TD in each of his last four games. Speaking of old friends, Rob Gronkowski played all 16 games this season for the first time since 2011. Brady’s familiar target also caught seven TDs and was third on the Bucs in both targets (77) and receiving yards (623).
The running game isn’t quite as potent. As a team, the Bucs were 28th in the league in rushing yards (1,519). Their leading runner, Ronald Jones II, will be a game-time decision today as he had a limited practice on Thursday. He missed Tampa Bay’s first-round playoff game against the Washington Football Team. In his stead, Leonard Fournette ran for 93 yards and a score while hauling in four catches for another 39 yards. It will be a homecoming for Fournette as he is from New Orleans and played his college ball at LSU.
The Bucs Defense
While Tampa Bay doesn’t run the ball much, they sure know how to stop it. The number-one ranked run defense in the league allowed the fewest yards (1,289), TDs (10), and yards per carry (3.6) in the NFL. It starts in the middle for this defense. Second-year linebacker Devin White, also from LSU, had 140 tackles and nine sacks. Veteran Lavonte David had 117 tackles along with three forced fumbles and a pick. The safety combo of Jordan Whitehead and rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. has been stellar as well. They combined for three FFs, three picks, and five sacks. Let’s not forget about the veteran defensive line. Team sack leader Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh had 15.5 sacks this season with 33 QB hits and 16 tackles for loss. They will have a tough test against a stout offensive line of the Saints.
The Saints Offense
The “big three” for New Orleans had to shake off a little rust last Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas hadn’t played much together all year before the first-round matchup. Although all three did play in both games against the Bucs this season. In the first game between these two teams, Brees, Kamara, and Thomas did not play particularly well, but they were efficient and didn’t turn the ball over. The second game was all Brees on offense as he was 26-32 with 222 yards and four TDs.
The Saints’ tight ends have been effective against the Bucs in the first two matchups. Jared Cook, Adam Trautman, and Josh Hill have combined for 12-163-2 vs. Tampa Bay this season. On the injury side of things, Latavius Murray and Taysom Hill both returned to the practice field on Friday for limited work. The running back and the do-it-all are questionable but are expected to suit up.
The Saints Defense
The defense has been excellent this season, especially against Brady and the Bucs. In their previous battles, Brady has been held to a 60.8 completion percentage while tossing only two TDs. He has been harassed into five INTs and has been sacked six times. While the Bucs run D is tops in the league, the Saints aren’t chopped liver. They ranked fourth in yards allowed on the ground (1,502) and have held their last three opponents to fewer than 91 rushing yards. The Bucs ground game only managed a total of 94 rushing yards against New Orleans combined this season.
A welcomed addition back to the team this week is team sack leader Trey Hendrickson. He has been dealing with a neck injury but is ready to go today. A big key is the middle of the Saints defensive line. Getting to Brady up the middle and moving him off his spot is a formula for beating him. David Onyemata has been very good this year. The rotation of Shy Tuttle, Sheldon Rankins, and Malcom Brown will play an important role in how this game goes for New Orleans.
Date: January 17, 2021
Start Time: 6:40 pm EST
Location: New Orleans, LA
Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Superdome
TV Info: FOX
Betting Odds Sponsored by Jazz Sportsbook
Point Spread: TB +3 (-110) | NO -3 (-110)
Moneyline: TB +130 | NO -150
Over/Under: O 52 (-110) | U 52 (-110)
When you get to the playoffs and you are talking about two future hall-of-fame QBs, it’s a little tough to place a solid bet. But, here we are. If the two previous matchups are any indication, Sean Payton has Tampa Bay’s number. Take the Saints to cover. With a depleted running game on the Bucs and Wil Lutz‘s recent kicking woes for the Saints, go with the under.
The Saints are going to make the Bucs one-dimensional and also put pressure on Brady. While Tampa Bay can do the same against New Orleans, Payton and the Saints have more tools in their shed. The final score will make the game seem closer, but the Saints will have their way.
Final Score: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19, New Orleans Saints 29
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images