The NFL has saved the best for last on the divisional round weekend. Well, at least that’s what we’re all hoping for with a primetime matchup between two future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks. It’s the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints and we can’t wait! These NFC South rivals have already met twice in the 2020 season, which helps. Add to that the fact that Brees may be playing his final NFL game (Brady has already reportedly said he wants to return for the 2021 season) and you’ve got all the intrigue you need for an epic NFL classic.
Can Brees out-duel Bruce Arians’ explosive offense in the Superdome to keep his own title hopes alive? Can Brady finally beat the Saints after falling badly to New Orleans earlier this year? We’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, if you’re wondering how to tune in, or which matchups could decide Sunday’s showdown, we’ve got you covered with info below:
How to watch
Date: Sunday, Jan. 17 | Time: 6:40 p.m. ETLocation: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans, Louisiana)TV: Fox | Stream: fuboTV (Try for free)Follow: CBS Sports App
When the Saints have the ball
New Orleans has run it up on the Bucs before, but they can’t assume Todd Bowles’ unit will roll over in this situation. Tampa Bay boasted the No. 1-ranked rush defense coming into the playoffs, and it allowed just 86 yards to Washington in the wild-card round. That means one of the first priorities for the Saints needs to be offsetting a potentially dormant ground game with a dominant screen game, otherwise known as keeping the ball in Alvin Kamara’s hands.
Drew Brees should be able to pick his spots against a Bucs secondary that’s actually been quite vulnerable (No. 21 against the pass), but in the event Tampa Bay’s pass rush actually shows up, he’s not going to offer the kind of off-script play-making that Taylor Heinicke surprisingly showcased for Washington. Instead, he should be content to play point guard, as he often does, opting for efficient, short-area targets to his weapons. That not only balances out a game plan that could struggle to establish the run but keeps Tom Brady and Co. on the sidelines. If this one turns into a shootout, the Saints have to be comfortable playing their patient style of offense.
When the Buccaneers have the ball
The Bucs have their work cut out for them. Not only do they have to overcome recent history, but they’re still up against one of the NFL’s feistiest defenses, with Dennis Allen’s unit thriving against both the pass and run. The one thing they can’t do, however, is let Tom Brady sit back in the pocket to get beaten up early and often. If that means feeding Ronald Jones, who returned to practice Thursday in a welcome sign for his readiness, then so be it. If it means involving the other backs in the screen game, so be it. If it means playing the short-area passing game to get the ball to guys like Antonio Brown right off the snap, so be it.
So long as Brady is held upright for most of the evening, he’ll be able to take a potential kill shot at some point in the contest. Because as stingy as the Saints’ secondary has been, it’s also battling some injuries. More so, Brady is just far more capable of unleashing a deep strike than, say, his opposing QB in this game. His arm has looked especially lively in recent weeks, and that’s not even mentioning the chemistry he’s developed with his wideouts. We know already that a turnover won’t — or shouldn’t — rattle Brady in this kind of matchup, so he shouldn’t be totally afraid of taking chances as the game wears on. That’s dependent, though, on taking what’s given to him early on — playing the Saints’ methodical game, if you will, before wearing them down with explosiveness late.
New Orleans Saints
Everything says the Bucs should lose this game. They’ve lost five straight to the Saints and looked downright bad in their last meeting with New Orleans. Sean Payton and Drew Brees are out to win it all together after years of early exits. The Saints are at home. But here’s the deal: Brady is arguably playing the best football of his entire 2020 season right now. The way he’s connected with his top targets as of late should scare New Orleans, at least a little. It’s hard to envision this being a lopsided affair for either side, and considering Brady’s heroic postseason track record, we’re going to ride with the underdogs here.
Pick: Buccaneers 29, Saints 27
Published: 2021-01-17 22:00:30
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