The final game of the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs features an NFC South rivalry game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints. The Saints are favored by three points at home, with the over/under listed at 52 points.
Tom Brady’s first playoff game with the Bucs was a success. Tampa Bay went on the road and took care of a feisty Washington team 31-23. However, things will be far more challenging for the Bucs this week, as they visit a New Orleans team that beat them twice during the regular season.
Speaking of the Saints, they were arguably the most impressive team during Wild Card Weekend. They played an aggressively mediocre Bears team. Nevertheless, the Saints gained close to 400 yards and didn’t give up a touchdown until literally the game’s final play in what could be described as a dominant win.
All the Right Pieces
It’s possible that everything is coming together for the New Orleans offense late in the season. Drew Brees has had four games to shake off the rust after getting hurt in mid-November. His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but he’s been accurate with the ball and thrown five touchdown passes over his last two games. Perhaps more importantly, Michael Thomas is back from injury while Alvin Kamara played last week after a COVID-related absence. With those two on the field together, the New Orleans offense is dangerously close to full strength.
That could be bad news for the Tampa Bay defense, which has conceded 72 points against the Saints over two games this season. At times, the Bucs can give teams trouble with their pass rush. The return of linebacker Devin White from injury should also provide them with a boost. However, the Buccaneers have allowed six of their last opponents to score at least 23 points.
The Brady Bunch
Given the recent track record of Tampa’s defense, there will be a lot of pressure on Brady to out-play Brees in a potential shootout. Luckily for Brady, he has an incredible group of receivers around him. While both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are playing through injuries, Antonio Brown has emerged as a difference-maker late in the season. The Buccaneers will also be confident that either Ronald Jones or Leonard Fournette can provide a stable rushing attack, bringing balance to their offense.
That being said, the New Orleans defense is no pushover. The Saints gave up the fifth-fewest points during the regular season, holding Brady and the Bucs to just three points and less than 200 total yards in early November. Trey Hendrickson’s status, who led the team in sacks this season, is cause for concern. However, the Saints have held their last two opponents to a total of 16 points, which is a sign that the New Orleans defense is peaking at the right time.
It’s not just that the Saints have beaten the Buccaneers twice this season; it’s that they’ve done so convincingly both times. New Orleans has the defense to put up some resistance against Brady and the Tampa Bay offense, as well as the offensive playmakers that could keep pace in a shootout. Despite Brady’s history of playoff brilliance, bet on the Saints to win and cover.
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