It would unquestionably be a bitter pill for Tom Brady to swallow if his team were to lose three times in the same season to the same opponent, getting eliminated from the playoff race as a result. But that is exactly what is staring him in the face as he takes his Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Big Easy to face the New Orleans Saints.
At stage is a spot in the NFC Championship Game, and a date with the Green Bay Packers. This contest will kick off at 6:40 p.m. Eastern time at the Superdome.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS, 6:40 p.m. Eastern
BetOnline NFL Playoff Odds: Saints -3, Total 52
The first time these teams played each other, Tom Brady, who created the most hoopla during the off-season when he signed his one-year contract with Tampa Bay, was essentially coming in cold with his new teammates, with the preseason games having been canceled. He had success on his first drive, but it was kind of nightmarish after that. Brady got intercepted twice, with one of those being returned for a touchdown. He also suffered three sacks, and the Buccaneers had to score a touchdown with a few minutes left just to cut the final margin to 34 - 23.
Over the course of time, the Bucs got their legs under them, as did Brady, and they also added pieces. Leonard Fournette, a top- level running back, was signed to join Ronald Jones in the backfield. And then Antonio Brown was recruited by Brady to bolster an already stacked wide receiver corps..
Brown's first game, as he was just feeling his way around, came in the second encounter between the Saints and the Bucs. And in this one, Tampa Bay was thoroughly humiliated. They we're down 31 - 0 at the half, and managed just 194 total yards - with only eight on the ground - any 38-3 beatdown. Brady averaged only 5.5 yards per attempt and was intercepted three times.
So clearly he had a problem with the Saints defense.
It's been a nice trip for Brady down the stretch as over his last four games he’s thrown 12 touchdown passes with only a single interception,with 1518 yards. By now, Brown has 45 receptions. and Brady went up against an elite defense last week in Washington and threw for 381 yards.
So maybe things are looking up, right?
Well, maybe. But we still don't know what Tampa Bay will do to solve the problem of the New Orleans defense, which is one of the better units in the NFL in a number of categories. For example, there was no quarterback on the schedule who had 300 yards passing in a single game against them. The Saints are also notable in the respect that they are one of the very best in the NFL by sacking the quarterback, ranking 6th in the league in that category, but they only Blitz about 32% of the time. That's kind of unusual. and they do thrive on turnovers - their 18 interceptions led the National Football League.
Their game plan on defense is going to be to take Brady off his "spot," which means he may have to move out of the pocket to a considerable extent.
So for Brady to thrive against this stop unit, even with people like Brown, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scott Miller, Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate at his disposal, it is going to be a tall order.
Don't make any mistake about the fact that the Saints have an awful lot going for them. Drew Brees had to sit out some time with a rib injury, but he's over that now, and completed 70.5% of his passes with only 13 sacks. Against Tampa Bay, he completed 82% of his passes over the two meetings, with six touchdowns, and did not suffer a turnover.
Both of these teams are very good in defending the run, so even though the Bucs claim they're going to try and mix rushing plays prominently into the plan, we're not sure how long that's going to last. And when it comes to utilizing his receivers at short range, no one is better at it than Brees, who can actually throw passes to running backs like Alvin Kamara to substitute for a ground attack. Michael Thomas has gotten some rest and came back in the wild card game with 73 yards in receptions and a touchdown. Emmanuel Sanders gives the Saints something they haven't had a lot of in recent years, which is another wide receiver who can produce a lot, taking some pressure off Thomas.
When you look at what this New Orleans team has going for it, you have to give it a slight edge, even though people will talk to you all day long about how hard it is to beat a team three times. Well, not if you take them one at a time, and have some fundamental advantages. We believe this team does, and that Brees will throw short better than Brady will throw the longer distances that are required in a Bruce Arians offense . The number here is very agreeable as well, so we have no problem laying the points.
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