Saints, Bucs Kickoff 2020 with Marquee Matchup
The Pre-Snap Read is a weekly preview of the coming Saints game day focused on the most exciting headlines and star players, a breakdown of the head-to-head matchups, keys to victory, a look inside the division, and bonus commentary.
On the Air
New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, Sept. 13, 3:25 p.m.
Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM
Brees, Brady chasing division crown, all-time records
It’s not time to break out the walkers and rocking chairs just yet. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, 41, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady, 43, are all in on cementing their legacies for the NFL history books. Both shrugged off retiring in the offseason, with Brady leaving the New England Patriots after 20 seasons and six Super Bowl championships in nine appearances, and Brees deciding to hold off moving to the broadcast booth to play his 20th season.
The Super Bowl is the ultimate goal for both, but each have personal reasons to continue to play – the NFL’s career records for passing touchdowns and yardage. Brees currently holds both records, with 547 touchdowns and 77,416 yards, Brady trails him with 541 TDs and 74,571 yards.
Frustrated with a lack of offensive firepower in New England, Brady now has an arsenal with wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, tight ends Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cam Brate, and running back Leonard Fournette. Despite the Buccaneers’ 7-9 record in 2019, he saw former Bucs starter and current Saints backup QB Jameis Winston pass for 5,109 yards, 33 TDs and 30 interceptions in 2019. Confident he won’t make as many turnovers, Brady saw playing in Tampa as the best way to boost his numbers and add to his argument as the NFL’s “Greatest of All Time.”
At the Line of Scrimmage
When the Saints have the ball
For all of Brady’s weapons, Brees has more, including, arguably, the best offensive line, in the league. With running backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray; wide receivers Michael Thomas and newcomer Emmanuel Sanders; tight ends Jared Cook and Josh Hill; and “Swiss Army Knife” Taysom Hill, the Saints can light up the scoreboard.
Tampa has established names on defense – Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett, who had an NFL-leading 19.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2019 – but they haven’t been able to form a cohesive, game-controlling unit. The Saints O-line will have their hands full. Brees struggles when he gets inside pressure, but if he has time, Tampa’s D will have a long day.
When the Bucs have the ball
The Buccaneers are stacked at the skill positions, but there are concerns about whether or not their offensive line will practice social distancing on the field. Brady’s reputation precedes himself, but the Buccaneers allowed 47 sacks last season. Evans and Goodwin each had more than 1,000 receiving yards last season, but a picket fence O-line may have been the cause for Winston’s numerous mistakes. Tampa has tried to bolster its line to protect Brady. Opening in New Orleans at full game speed without playing in preseason, the line may not have had time to get in sync.
The Saints defense is looking to establish itself as one of the tops in the league and sees this nationally televised game against one of the league’s most popular, yet notorious players as the stage to do it. Expect them to test Brady’s protection, early and often, in an attempt to keep him from establishing a rhythm.
Goal to Geaux
The keys to a Saints victory rely on keeping Brees protected and applying as much pressure as possible to Brady. The Saints offensive scheme is designed to stretch defenses and create mismatches. With Sanders, the Saints are hoping to give Brees another reliable option at pass catcher. No one on this team has to be Superman. As head coach always says, they just have to do their jobs. If the defense can find penetration and rattle Brady, they’ll reduce the effectiveness of the Bucs’ offensive weapons.
Inside the NFC South
Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks
Atlanta is an enigma. The Falcons are loaded with talent, yet finished 7-9 last season after starting 1-7. They have to get off to a better start if they expect to make the playoffs, and are hoping the addition of running back Todd Gurley will provide a spark. Meanwhile, Seattle started 2019 10-2 before losing three of four games. The Seahawks are looking to keep pace with the 49ers in the NFC West and should be favored.
Carolina Panthers vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Carolina is rebuilding. The Panthers have a new head coach, Matt Rhule; offensive coordinator, Joe Brady; QB Teddy Bridgewater; and an almost entirely new defense. Running Back Christian McCaffrey is always a threat, but time will tell just how good these cats are.
Head Coach Jon Gruden has remade the Raiders’ roster since taking over two years ago. The Silver & Black improved from 4-12 to 7-9 and are hoping to improve their winning trajectory against a Carolina team with a lot of question marks.
The Extra Point: COVID & the Crowd
The NFL celebrated its centennial in season in 2019 and will kick off its 101st year with a season like no other. For the first time in league history, crowds will be diminished or not existent in NFL stadiums. COVID-19 pandemic precautions have already caused dramatic changes to our society and massive economic losses.
Normally, the Who Dat? Nation would be clamoring to let the good times roll in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, especially with an opening day marquee matchup with a division rival. Fans will not be allowed in this week, but it looks like the Dome will be filled at 25 percent capacity when Green Bay comes to town in Week 3.
This could be a special season for the Saints. From top to bottom, the 2020 roster may be the most talented in franchise history. Additionally, it’s likely to be Brees’ final year, too. Expected to be one of the best teams in the league, they are preseason favorites to win their fourth straight division crown and expected to contend for Super Bowl LV.
While fans won’t be able to provide a true “Domefield Advantage,” the Saints appear all in on winning their second NFL championship. Known as one of the best fanbases in the nation, Saints fans regularly lead the league in watching their team play on TV. With fans forced to watch from home, expect those numbers to increase. The NFL’s schedule makers masterfully pitted two legends against each other in a nationally televised Sunday afternoon game.
It’s going to be a different season, but expect Saints fans to continue to be one of the most loyal fanbases in the country. They have a lot of reasons to be excited. It’s been a long offseason. And they’re ready for some football.