Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints NFL Divisional Round Pick
The fourth and final game of the NFL Divisional Round is shaping up to be a fun one. For the third time this season, we will see Drew Brees and Tom Brady go toe-to-toe. Brees has thus far gotten the better of Brady this season, with the Saints posting a 2-0 regular-season record over their NFC South rivals.
New Orleans was able to cruise past a hapless Bears team, 21-9, last weekend in the Superdome. The Saints’ offense wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders, but Michael Thomas looked good in his first game back from a nagging ankle injury. The Saints’ defense had no issues slowing down Mitch Trubisky and the Bears, but the Bucs’ offense is another challenge entirely.
Tampa Bay won an ugly game over Washington last Saturday night. The Football Team put up more of a fight than many expected behind fourth-string QB Taylor Heinicke, but Tampa Bay was ultimately able to come away with a 31-23 victory on the road.
While New Orleans got the better of Tampa Bay by a combined margin of 46 points across their two regular-season meetings, oddsmakers are expecting a close affair on Sunday afternoon. The Saints are favored by just three points at home in a game with an over/under of 52 points.
Can the Saints Pull Off the Sweep?
We don’t often see teams play each other three times over the course of one season in the NFL. However, we have seen a few teams pull off three-game sweeps in the NFL over the years. Teams trying to avoid an 0-3 season-series sweep are just 2-5 in the third game of the matchup since the NFL expanded its postseason in 2002. The New Orleans Saints are one of the teams to have accomplished the feat, as they swept the Panthers in three meetings just three seasons ago.
We have grown accustomed to the Saints trying to light up the scoreboard during the Brees/Sean Payton era, but the team has tweaked its offensive style on occasion. New Orleans’ gameplan last week was clearly to grind the Bears’ defense into a fine powder and hold onto the ball for as long as they possibly could. The 21-9 final score really doesn’t do justice to just how thoroughly the Saints dominated the game against Chicago.
The Saints have run 64 plays to the Bears' 35 and own a ridiculous 33:39-17:31 advantage in time of possession.
— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) January 11, 2021
New Orleans held the ball for over 39 of the game’s 60 minutes, which really didn’t give Mitch Trubisky enough time to mount any sort of offensive momentum on the other side. The Saints used a balanced attack, with 39 passes compared to 35 run plays in the victory. Thomas caught five passes for 73 yards and a score in his first game back, while Deonte Harris led the team with seven receptions for 83 yards. Alvin Kamara also plodded for 99 yards on 23 attempts on the ground, along with a TD of his own.
We know the Bucs prefer to do most of their damage through the air, which means Tampa Bay doesn’t need to dominate time of possession in order to win. Still, the Saints have used this exact same plan of attack with success against the Bucs in the past. Brees and the Saints had the ball for over 40 minutes in their Week 9 38-3 thrashing of the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay.
The Saints allowed just one sack last week, and that was on a play with Taysom Hill at quarterback. Getting the ball out of Brees’ hands as quickly as possible should be a big part of the Saints’ plan of attack again this week against a fearsome Tampa Bay front-seven.
Can the Bucs Flip the Script?
One issue that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have to correct if they plan to finally get into the win column against the Saints is pass protection. Brady hasn’t been forced to take many hits over the course of his Hall-of-Fame career, which is probably why he’s still standing and playing well at the age of 43. However, the Saints have made life incredibly difficult in their first two meetings. Brady was forced into making quick decisions in both games, which helps explain how he threw five INTs against New Orleans this year alone. Nearly half of the interceptions Brady threw all season (12) came in the two games against the Saints.
We can expect the Saints to try and control the clock again in this one, which means Brady will have to be more opportunistic with the chances he gets. There were far too many empty drives and third-down failures in the first two games, and the Bucs’ offense predictably sputtered as a result. The Saints’ ability to get to Brady with the pass-rush limits the big-play ability of the likes of Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and Chris Godwin.
Brady with a perfect pass to Mike Evans.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 10, 2021
Tampa Bay is sharper now than they were in either of their previous two games against the Saints. It was always going to take Brady a little bit of time to acclimate himself to his new surroundings, and he comes into this one playing his best football of the campaign. Brady threw 38 touchdown passes this season, but just two of them came against New Orleans. It’s hard to imagine the Saints keeping Brady in check for a third game, especially with the way the offense has seemingly gained confidence in recent weeks.
Tampa Bay’s best hope here is to get out to an early lead and hope the Saints don’t have enough ammunition to get back into it. New Orleans’ game plan to control the clock makes sense if the Saints can grab an early advantage, but the Saints’ offense hasn’t produced many explosive plays of late. If Brady can connect with one of his primary weapons on a big strike early in the same, Payton may have to adjust his plan of attack on the fly.
What’s the Best Bet?
As you may expect, this game has one of the tighter spreads of the entire weekend. The Saints are favored, but the public is making the most of their chance to grab Brady as a playoff underdog. We haven’t seen Brady as an underdog in the postseason all that often over the years, which makes the Bucs look appealing at the current plus-money moneyline odds.
54 percent of the bets that have been placed on this game have come in on Tampa Bay to cover the three-point spread, while 59 percent of the money wagered is also backing the Bucs. Tampa Bay’s offense has shown plenty of big-play capability in recent weeks, while the Saints’ offense has looked a bit more lethargic. Thomas and Kamara are threats every time either of them touches the ball, but the fact that we haven’t seen New Orleans racking up tons of points is leaving some wondering whether this offense is quite as good as we’re led to believe.
There is quite a bit more profit potential to be gained by grabbing Tampa’s moneyline odds than there is on betting the Bucs to cover.
This should be a fun, hard-fought battle between a couple of future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, but I’m having a hard time betting against Brady in this one. It’s hard to imagine he gets beaten by the same team for a third time in a single season, and the aforementioned +144 moneyline odds on Tampa Bay stand out. Bet on the Bucs to pull the upset in this one.
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