This Divisional Round showdown will represent the 2020 season’s third meeting between these two teams. The Bucs were outscored 72-26 in the first two meetings, so I’m sure they’re looking for redemption this week.
Will they find said redemption in the form of a playoff win?
- All-time series: The Saints lead, 37-21
- Longest win streak: New Orleans won seven games in a row from 2011-2014.
- Largest margin of victory: New Orleans beat Tampa Bay like a drum, 41-0, back in 2012.
- 2020 offensive and defensive rankings: The Bucs finished 2020 with the seventh-best offense (2nd passing, 28th rushing) and the sixth-best defense (21st passing, 1st rushing). The Saints ended up with the 12th-best offense (19th passing, 6th rushing) and the fourth-best defense (5th passing, 4th rushing).
What To Watch For
- The record of teams meeting for a third time in the playoffs: Scott Kacsmar of captaincomeback.blog recently released some numbers on the record of teams meeting for the third time in one season and the results may not please Tampa Bay fans. Per Kacsmar, teams going for the 3-game sweep are 14-7 in the playoffs. The good news? Teams looking for the sweep are 0-1 in the Divisional Round since 2007! Who feels a trend coming on?!?! In all seriousness, the odds are certainly against the Bucs and it will be interesting to see if they become part of the status quo on Sunday night.
- No Alex Cappa, but Ali Marpet is back: This could be a big one. Cappa didn’t play his best half of football against Washington, yet the Bucs were still able to put up 18 first half points and were able to move the ball pretty well against a good Washington defense. But if you look a little deeper, you can see there may be trouble brewing. Tom Brady was hit just once in the first half despite Cappa’s struggles. In the second half, however, he was hit six times. Is this a sign of things to come for the Bucs or is it just because they had to have Ted Larsen play guard in a pinch? The good news is that Ali Marpet is back after missing the Week 9 matchup, which should really help the offensive line as a whole.
- Antonio Brown’s impact: The Week 9 meeting was Brown’s first game as a Buc and it went about how you’d expect it to if you had realistic expectations. Granted, he was second on the team in targets, which was a surprise, but he didn’t do much with them. That will change this time around. Brown and the Bucs have found their groove. Not only did he catch a huge 36-yard touchdown against Washington, but he finished tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns (4) and the ninth-most receiving yards (266) over the last three weeks of the regular season. Don’t be shocked if Brown is the go-to guy on Sunday and if he has a big hand in how the final score plays out.
- The return of Devin White: Make no mistake about it: White’s return is a major key to this game. He has certainly had his issues in pass coverage and can be overzealous when reading keys/diagnosing plays, but there’s no doubt that his speed and athleticism are difference-makers. Plus, Bowles was finding creative ways to get White after the quarterback toward the end of the year, which really helped Tampa Bay’s overall pass rush. White had 4.0 combined sacks in Weeks 15 & 16 before missing the 2020 regular season finale and the Wild Card game. The Bucs have just 3.0 sacks as a team in the two games that White missed. It’s pretty clear that the Bucs will need him in a big way on Sunday night.
- A pass rush, please: And speaking of pass rush, can the Bucs finally get after Drew Brees and Taysom Hill on a regular basis in this game? The Bucs have just 3.0 combined sacks in the last four games against the Saints. There are plenty of reasons why the Bucs can’t get after Brees —it starts with a great offensive line but there are other reasons— and the lack of a pass rush is one of the big reasons why the Saints have scored 31 points or more in all four meetings since Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles came to town. Hopefully White’s return will make the difference, but only time will tell.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- QB Tom Brady: Can he break more postseason records for the Bucs this week? Brady looked like his usual postseason self against Washington and should continue his hot play against the Saints.
- RB Leonard Fournette: Ronald Jones II is still nursing that quad, which means Fournette is back in the starting role for the Bucs. He looked great against Washington, but he will need to play even better on Sunday.
- WR Antonio Brown: I really wanted to put Chris Godwin here because I think he’ll be on a mission for redemption after last week’s uncharacteristically bad game, but Brown is too much of a mismatch for the Saints defense and will likely have more of an impact this week.
- DL Ndamukong Suh: The Bucs have to get some kind of push from the defensive line this week if they want any shot at winning and that all starts with Suh.
- LB Devin White: As I mentioned earlier, White brings a new dynamic to the Bucs’ pass rush and his speed will be needed against a Saints team that loves to spread the field horizontally.
- CB Carlton Davis III: Michael Thomas will be back for the Saints, which means CDIII will likely be on him for the majority of the game. Davis locked Thomas down during the previous two meetings. Can he do it a third time?
New Orleans Saints
- QB Drew Brees: I’d bet money that this is Brees’ last season, so you know he and his fellow mates are going to go all out in order to make sure he gets a shot at one more Super Bowl. He’s going to be locked in during this game, so it will be up to the Bucs to make sure he doesn’t find a groove.
- RB Alvin Kamara: The Saints offense runs through Kamara, there’s just no other way to put it. Tampa Bay has found ways to curtail his production over the last two meetings and it will be crucial for that trend to continue this week.
- WR Michael Thomas: He tied for the team lead in targets against the Bears and had his best statistical game since Week 13 of the regular season. A healthy Thomas is never good for opposing defenses, so CDIII and co. need to be ready for him.
- DE Trey Hendrickson: Surprised you don’t see Cameron Jordan or Marcus Davenport here? Well, that’s because both players have combined for zero sacks against the Bucs in 2020 while Hendrickson has 3.0 combined sacks and four combined quarterback hits in the two regular season meetings.
- LB Demario Davis: Davis didn’t earn All-Pro honors this year, but he’s still one of the league’s best all-around linebackers and must be accounted for on every play.
- DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson: Just about everyone knows who Gardner-Johnson is by now. He’s a great player, but he where he makes his biggest impact is in the trash-talking game. The Bucs can’t let him get in their heads this week.
- This 2021 Divisional Round showdown between the Buccaneers and Saints marks the first time Tampa Bay has faced a member of the NFC South in the postseason.
- The Bucs set new a postseason record in terms of total net yards and won their first postseason game since the 2002 season. Plenty of individual records were broken, as well. Brady set the record for the most net passing yards in a postseason game, Mike Evans set a record for the most receiving yards in a postseason game, and Ryan Succop set a new record for most made field goals in a postseason game.
- Tampa Bay’s offensive line finished with league’s second-best allowed sack percentage and tied for the second-most games without allowing a sack.
I don’t know if I’ve just drank way too much of the Bucs’ Kool-Aid or what, but I think Tampa Bay wins this game.
This is different team when you compare where the Bucs are now to the team we saw in the previous two meetings. The offense has found its identity, its groove, and is currently playing as one of the best units in the league. Brady is playing his best football of the season and will have the Bucs in this game until the very end.
The defense is where things get a bit shaky, but we’ve seen what the unit can do when it’s firing on all cylinders. The Week 6 matchup against Green Bay is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the defense’s true potential and what it can do when it’s focused and executing at a high level.
It all starts with Bowles and you’ve got to like the defense’s chances based off what he said on Thursday.
“We’re in the right frame of mind – we don’t have any doubts,” Bowles said when asked about the defense’s mindset coming into this game. “That’s one thing we don’t have – doubts. We’re going to go in with guns blazing, we’re going to play hard and they’re going to play hard, so it should be a heck of a football game. We should be able to handle the ebbs and tides of the football game. Not everything is going to go our way – we’ve seen that throughout the season and the guys have responded, so that’s all we can go off of and that’s how we’re going to play it.”