Saints vs. Bucs in NFC Divisional Round

Sean Payton
Saints head coach Sean Payton has had the Buccanners' number and is looking for his third win against Tampa this season. (Peter Read Miller via AP)

 

 

No. 2 New Orleans Saints (13-4) vs. 5. Tampa Bay (12-5)

Sunday, Jan. 17, 5:40 p.m. 

TV: FOX WVUE 8

Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM; Spanish KGLA 105.7 FM/830 AM 

 

Brees vs. Brady meet for first time in NFL Playoffs

The New Orleans Saints will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the third time this season in Sunday’s Divisional Round matchup. A gift from the football gods gives fans the first playoff meeting between superstar quarterbacks Drew Brees and Tom Brady, the oldest QBs in the league.

The Saints have defeated the Bucs twice this season, 34-23 in Week 1 and 38-3 in Week 9. While New Orleans has outscored Tampa nearly 3-1, Brady is a maestro in the postseason, having played in the Super Bowl nine times, winning six NFL championships. There is no guarantee that past glories will lead to future victories. Still, the Saints have to feel good about their performances against their NFC South division rival. In their two games this season, New Orleans outscored Tampa 72-26. Brady was limited to two touchdown passes, while the Saints D collected six sacks and five interceptions – including a pick six.

The Saints executed masterful game plans to secure a season sweep of the Buccaneers. In their last game, the Bucs focused on trying to shut down the MVP-caliber play of Alvin Kamara, but the Saints used Kamara as a decoy and spread the ball to keep the chains moving. Brees completed 26-of-32 of his passes (81.25%) to 12 different receivers amassing 222 passing yards and four touchdowns.

The Saints’ success was based on the dynamic offensive line, which kept Tampa Bay’s fearsome defensive front in check by opening running lanes and giving Brees time to operate effectively. The offense racked up  420 total yards, 138 rushing and 282 passing, while holding the ball for an amazing 40:04, more than two-thirds of the game. As the offense rushed out to a 28-0 lead on their first four possessions, the Saints defense held Tampa to four three-and-outs. Lead by an outstanding pass rush, which had three sacks and nine QB hits. By the end of the night the D held Tampa to just eight rushing and 186 passing yards and intercepted Bucs QB Tom Brady thrice.

Last week, the Saints won their Wild Card game against the Chicago Bears 21-9. The defense held the Bears to 239 yards (191 passing, 48 rushing) and forced them to punt seven times and forced a turnover on downs. Chicago scored a field goal midway through the second quarter and didn’t light up the score board until they scored a touchdown on the very last play of the game.

With Brady and receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, the Bucs are dangerous. Against Washington last week, the Bucs had 507 total yards – 365 passing and 142 rushing. Running back Leonard Fournette had 93 yards in a vintage performance, but Washington limped into the Playoffs. Tampa will face a much stronger team this week.

The Saints offense has been hitting on all cylinders recently. In his last four games, Brees has hit nine or more different receivers in each contest. He connected with 10 against the Chiefs, 11 against the Vikings, nine against the Panthers, and 10 against the Bears. The Saints diversity in the passing attack will again test the Bucs secondary. That should allow the running game, lead by Kamara, Latavius Murray and Taysom Hill ample opportunity to move the ball.

The Saints top-five defense will again look to break down the Bucs O-line and pressure Brady to make the mistakes he’s made in the teams’ first two meetings.

The Saints are 3.5 point favorites at home. The game could turn into a shootout. But the Saints defense is better than Tampa’s. If they play up to their capabilities, the Black & Gold should be able to advance to the NFC Championship game next Sunday.

 

At the Line of Scrimmage

Here’s a snapshot of how the teams match up based on their regular season average points, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards per game and where they rank in the NFL.

 

When the Saints have the ball

PPG TYPG PYPG RYPG

Saints Offense 30.1 (5) 376.4 (12) 234.9 (19) 141.6 (6)

Buccaneers Defense 22.2 (8) 327.1 (6) 246.6 (21) 80.6 (1)

 

When the Buccaneers have the ball

PPG TYPG PYPG RYPG

Buccaneers Offense 30.8 (3) 384.1 (7) 289.1 (2) 94.9 (T-28)

Saints Defense 21.1 (5) 310.9 (4) 217.0 (5) 93.9 (4)

 

Goal to Geaux

The Saints had Tom Brady seeing red in their first two meetings, and Tampa’s QB will come out looking to make a point. But the Saints – in what is expected to be Drew Brees’ final season – are on a Super Bowl or bust mission. The defense will look to continue their dominance. That may be made easier with the loss of Bucs’ starting right guard Alex Cappa, who is out with a broken ankle. That will hurt in the run and pass game. If the Saints can get to Brady and upset his timing with his receivers it may be another long day for Tampa.

The Saints seem to have figured out the Buccaneers. Expect the offense to be prolific. New Orleans will likely have a more balanced offensive attack compared to their last meeting, but they will be focused on moving the ball, converting thirds downs, and winning time of possession to wear out defense. QB Drew Brees has established rhythm and timing with multiple receivers and the offensive line has allowed the ground game to flourish no matter who is carrying the ball. After only playing 14 quarters this season, Michael Thomas appears ready for a breakout performance.

 

Three & Out – Thoughts on the Wild Card Round

  1. The Saints defense set franchise records for fewest points allowed (nine) and fewest yards allowed (239) in a postseason game.
  2. Running back Alvin Kamara has rushed for 272 yards in the postseason, good for second in club record books. He needs six more rushing yards to pass Mark Ingram (277) to become the Saints’ all-time leader in postseason rushing yards.
  3. Head coach Sean Payton is tied for 19th in NFL record books with Vince Lombardi, Jimmy Johnson, John Madden, and Tony Dungy with nine postseason victories.

 

Quotes of the Week

“I thought we tackled well in space. I thought our third-down numbers were good. Ultimately, I think that we forced them to become one-dimensional. When you are able to do that, you are going to win a lot of games.” – Saints head coach Sean Payton on the defense’s performance against the Bears

 

“It was like getting the band back together. We had the issues the last couple of weeks with COVID and injuries and having most of the guys back from injuries. Now we just want to get 100 percent healthy and make this Super Bowl run.” – Saints wide receiver/return specialist Deonte Harris on his, Michael Thomas’ and Alvin Kamara’s return from being sidelined

“It was great. It was great to get him in the end zone too. Hopefully we broke the seal and there is a lot more where that came from.” – Saints quarterback Drew Brees on wide receiver Michael Thomas’ return after the two only played together in 10 quarters in the regular season

 

The Playoff Picture – Divisional Round

 

NFC

  1. Green Bay (13-3) vs. 6. L.A. Rams (11-6)
  2. New Orleans (13-4) vs. 5. Tampa Bay (12-5)

 

AFC

  1. Kansas City (14-2) vs. 6. Cleveland (12-5)
  2. Buffalo (14-3) vs. 5. Baltimore (12-5)

 

Wild Card Round

 

NFC

  1. Green Bay (13-3) – Bye
  2. New Orleans 21 vs. 7. Chicago 9
  3. Seattle 20 vs. 6. L.A. Rams 30
  4. Washington 23 vs.  5. Tampa Bay 31

 

AFC

  1. Kansas City (14-2) – Bye
  2. Buffalo 27 vs.  7. Indianapolis 24
  3. Pittsburgh 37 vs.  6. Cleveland 48
  4. Tennessee 13 vs.  5. Baltimore 20

 

The Extra Point: National press needs to give Saints more ink

With a 13-4 record, the New Orleans Saints have been one of the NFL’s dominant teams in the 2020 season, but you might not guess that by reading some of the most prominent columnists who cover the league. Sure, I have a hometown bias, but it’s been really frustrating to pull up Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback by Albert Breer or NBC Sports’ Football Morning in America by Peter King on the day after a Saints win and see minimal coverage given to their efforts.

It may be that these writers are looking to reach as large an audience as possible and are focused on the large-market teams rather than covering small-market New Orleans. Maybe the Saints have become a victim of their own success. The Black & Gold keep winning and there may be more interest in teams that have had to fight to win and make the playoffs. It may be a combination of both. However, both columns, which top more than 10,000 words weekly, seem to give the Saints marginal mention in a short paragraph or two. Meanwhile, both writers give significant coverage to college football – I’m talking multiple paragraphs weekly. One can also expect coverage of other sports not on their beat, current events, and, in King’s case his travel schedule and coffee and beer recommendations.

In this week’s FMIA, King produced 13,222 words. He wrote 199 words on the Saints’ coming game. He wrote about the Bears’ woes much more extensively and gave a quick nod to the Saints defense and the Brees vs. Brady matchup. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns had 3,189 words about their week, Washington QB Taylor Heinicke received 1,232 words, 690 words were given to former Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda, former Dallas Cowboys head coach Dave Campo was covered with 314 words, former Jeopardy host Alex Trabeck got 175 words, and former American Basketball Association star George Carter had 166 words, and, as he’s done all season devoted a large share of the column to non-football related COVID-19 coverage.

In Breer’s 10,938-word MMQB column, he led with 1,400 words on Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson’s performance against the Tennessee Titans. He followed it with 1,112 words on the Browns, 1,380 on the Rams and 805 on college football. There were 125 words on the coming Saints/Bucs game, 31 words on Kamara and the Browns missing practice, and 16 words on the Saints’ interest several years ago in drafting Patrick Mahomes.

>I realize these writers are responsible for covering the entire league, and that is a difficult job. But there seems to be a lot of non-NFL related coverage in these columns. There were only six games from last week to recap and four to preview this week. The balance in these columns is way off. But there is a way for the Saints to get more ink – keep winning. Maybe they can get more press if they are among the final four teams, can advance to the Super Bowl, and win it. Those writers would have a hard time avoiding covering New Orleans then.

Categories: Pre-Snap Read