Are you ready for the third round of the heavyweight bout between Tom Brady versus Drew Brees? The #5 Tampa Bay Bucs play the #2 New Orleans Saints at the Superdome in NFL divisional-round action in a matchup of strong defensive teams in the NFC South. The Saints defeated the Bucs twice this season in Weeks 1 and 9.
Both victories over the Bucs propelled the Saints to the NFC South title. However, you can toss out their meeting in Week 1, because the first month of the season became a de facto preseason. The second meeting marked the Bucs’ first game with Antonio Brown, who has finally settled in and knows his role in the offense. It also marked Brady’s worst performance of the season.
|#5 Tampa Bay Bucs at #1 New Orleans Saints|
- Kickoff: 3:40 pm PT
- Location: Superdome in New Orleans
- Point Spread: NO -3
- Total: 52 o/u
In terms of DVOA, this is a matchup between #3-ranked Tampa Bay and #4-ranked New Orleans. Typically, when two very good teams square off, I lean toward the dog and the points. Without a full crowd at the Superdome, the vibe in New Orleans isn’t quite the same as when the dome is packed with festive revelers from Who Dat Nation.
Both teams hustled to win their wild-card matchups. The Saints defeated the #7 Chicago Bears 21-9. The Bucs edged out #4 Washington 31-23, and Brady locked up his first playoff victory not with Bill Belichick.
Tampa Bay Bucs: Tom Brady Magic, Sick Run D
Brady is peaking at the right time. He’s passed for nearly almost 350 yards in four-straight games. In five straight games, Old Man Brady posted a passer rating of 100-plus.
Tampa’s O-line protected Brady and was ranked #4 in the fewest sacks allowed (22). Teams that can rush Brady often and knock him down will minimize his effectiveness in the passing game.
Tampa’s air attack put up impressive numbers against a stubborn Washington defense last week. Mike Evans, despite a bum knee, put on a clinic against Washington with six catches for 119 yards. Chris Godwin caught five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Antonio Brown added a touchdown; he’s had at least one in four straight games. TE Cameron Brate hauled in a couple of clutch receptions in crunch time. Rob Gronkowski had a quiet wild card, but Gronk will always be on Brady’s radar.
Tampa lacks a consistent running game, but Brady throws enough screens and short passes to Leonard Fournette that he still gets him involved in the offense. When they do run, and when Ronald Jones is healthy, they’ll face a Saints’ stonewall that allows only 93.9 yards per game.
The Bucs have the best run defense in the NFL allowing only 80.6 yards per game, which is nearly 10 yards fewer than the next team. That said, Tampa’s secondary has a few holes; the Bucs allowed a guy off the street, Tyler Heinicke, to pass for 306 yards and a touchdown for Washington.
Kamara Time to Shine, Last Call for Brees?
At this point, every game has the possibility of being Drew Bree’s final appearance. Word on Bourbon Street and all over the French Quarter suggests Brees will retire at the end of this season. Brees is still recovering from multiple cracked ribs.
Taysom Hill’s versatility is one of the reasons why the Saints have a deadly red zone offense. The Saints are ranked #5 in the league with a 72.2% success rate to score a touchdown inside the red zone.
Running back Alvin Kamara is a two-headed monster who can beat you on the ground or in the air. In two games against Tampa, Kamara rushed for only 56 yards, but scored two touchdowns. AK also added 10 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, so the Saints find a way to get Kamara the ball.
Michael Thomas missed more than half the season with injuries. However, “Can’t Guard Mike” looked like his old self in a win over the Bears with five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.
The Saints are ranked #5 in scoring defense, allowing 21.1 ppg. They have the #2 rated defense in DVOA, along with the #4 rated pass defense. The Saints’ airtight passing defense made them the only team to hold opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage under 60%.
If there’s one glaring weakness, it’s their red zone defense ranked third-worst in the league.
Betting Numbers: Saints/Bucs
According to a recent update by the Westgate SuperBook, the Saints are +600 odds to win Super Bowl. The Tampa Bay Bucs are +900 odds to win the big one.
- New Orleans is 7-2 at home this season, but only 5-4 ATS
- The Saints are one of the better teams in the NFL against the spread with a 10-7 ATS record
- The Saints finished the season on a 7-2 ATS clip, including three covers in a row
- Tampa is 7-2 on the road this season, but only 4-5 ATS
- The over hit in three out of the last four games for the Bucs
- The over is 10-7 in Tampa games this season
Check out the latest Super Bowl futures and odds.