Will the third time be the charm? That is the question as the Buccaneers, and the Saints meet up for the third time this season in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
Many of us thought that these two teams would meet in the post-season, although we thought it would be in the NFC Championship game for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
The Bucs beat Washington 31-23 to advance to the division round, while the Saints took care of business against the Bears 21-9.
These teams hate each other. There is a lot of extracurricular activities on the field when these teams meet. Wide receiver Mike Evans said this week that the Saints are the Buc’s biggest rivalry.
“When we play each other, there is a lot of emotion, a lot of physicalities. As players, we love it. We love this rivalry. I know the fans love it. I would say it is our biggest rivalry.”
There is no question the Saints have owned the Bucs the last few seasons and this season in particular.
The Saints are 2-0 against Tampa this season, and the Saints have won both games convincingly, out scoring the Bucs 72-26.
Tom Brady has had his worst games this season against the Saints defense, while Drew Brees has played his best games against the Bucs defense.
In the Sunday night massacre at Raymond James Stadium in week nine, which the Saints won 38-3, Tom Brady had one of his career’s worst games.
Brady passed for 209 yards with three interceptions and was sacked three times. Brady finished with a QBR rating of 5.9.
Against the Saints this season, Brady has two touchdowns and five interceptions. Brady has also been sacked a total of six times.
Brees had his best game of the season in the 38-3 Saints win passing for 222 yards and four touchdowns.
There have been 22 occasions where a team played another team three times during the season and of those 22 matchups, the team that swept the season series was able to win the third matchup 14 times.
The Bucs offense will score points. This is a different offense than the one that the Saints saw in their previous games. Tom Brady is playing the best football of his career.
The Bucs are averaging a league best 347 yards a game since that week nine beat down and average 38 points a game.
In his last five games, Brady has passed for 1716 yards with 14 touchdowns and one interception.
The number one key offensively for the Bucs winning this game is to run the ball with authority against the Saints defense.
The Bucs were not able to do that in the 38-3 loss in week nine. The team had five carries for eight yards, as the Bucs abandoned the run game early on after falling behind 31-0.
The Bucs did have some success in the season opener running for 86 yards. Ronald Jones ran for 66 yards with a long run of 21 yards.
Jones will not start this game, as he continues to nurse a quad injury, Leonard Fournette will get his second consecutive start for the Bucs.
The Bucs will also be without a vital member of the offensive line. Alex Cappa is out and will miss the rest of the season due to a fractured ankle. Aaron Stinnie will start in place of Cappa.
Last week in the Saints’ win against the Bears, the Saints offense had everyone back playing together for the first time since late November. Michael Thomas who missed the last three games of the season due to an ankle injury caught five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.
Running back Alvin Kamara ran for 99 yards in his first action since being activated off the reserve/COVID 19 list.
The Saints defense has been one of the top five defenses all season in the NFL and allowed Chicago 239 yards of offense in last week’s win.
This defensive line of the Saints anchored by Trey Hendrickson and Cameron Jordan is just as good as the young Washington defensive line the Bucs played last week.
The Bucs offensive line will need another excellent performance like they had last week against Washington. They will need to keep Tom Brady standing upright to give themselves a great chance to win.
Brady was sacked 20 times all season, with six of those sacks coming against the Saints.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians said this week, that his team is looking to the challenge of going against the Saints for the third time this season.
“I think they’re really, really looking forward to it. Our guys are ready to play anybody, anywhere, that’s for sure. We all kind of felt we knew where we were going, so it was just getting yourselves rested up. This extra day is going to help, so get rested up because you know it’s going to be a physical, physical battle.”
In addition to Alex Cappa, defensive linemen Jeremiah Ledbetter is out for Bucs on Sunday. Ronald Jones is questionable, as is defensive back Jordan Whitehead.
For the Saints, cornerback Patrick Robinson is out. All purpose offensive player Taysom Hill and running back Latavius Murray are questionable.
Defensively, the Bucs have to find a way to pressure Drew Brees and slow down the short passing game.
The Bucs had a flawed defensive game plan in the two previous games against the Saints and will have to use some different schemes to slow down the fifth best offense in the NFL.
Brady was embarrassed by his performance in the last game against the Saints. There is a massive chip on his shoulder, and he wants redemption.
This will not be easy. It never is the deeper you go in the playoffs.
This will be a high scoring entertaining affair that has the potential to set a TV rating record as this could be the last time these two great quarterbacks are playing against each other.
The Bucs will need to be focused and ready to play hard for 60 minutes to win.
Wide Receiver Chris Godwin talked about what the Bucs must do and their mindset as they head to New Orleans.
“We focus on ourselves, honestly. Any team can win on any given Sunday, so if we focus on ourselves, go out there and handle our business, I like us. I like where we stand, and I like our guys. I’m sure they’re going to come out there, be fired up, and be ready to go, but it’s our job to come out, be competitive, and put our best foot forward.”
The Bucs will get redemption. The Saints can take the season series crown, but the Bucs will win the season’s most crucial matchup between these two teams.
Bucs win 38-35 and move on to the NFC Championship game.