SAINTS / BUCCANEERS
The divisional round weekend of football is typically the best weekend of football of the year, though last weekend’s back to back triple header on Saturday and Sunday was something I could get used to. Very excited about Ravens / Bills Saturday night, but the most exciting matchup from an entertainment standpoint has to be Brees vs Brady in the night slot on Sunday. Brees is on his last leg with the home field advantage, albeit no crowd, against the ageless Tom Brady who played this year like he was 34 instead of 43.
I previewed this in the matchup breakdown earlier, but I think this is a matchup that significantly favors the Saints. From a coaching perspective, Sean Payton is among the most creative offensive minds in football going head to head with a Bruce Arians led offense that completely abandoned the run in their last matchup with New Orleans were they were boat raced out of the gate to one of the most lopsided losses of the season.
You could make the argument that the first loss was Brady’s first game as a Bucaneer and the second matchup was Brady’s first game with Antonio Brown in the mix, but the Saints are the more well-rounded, well-oiled machine in this spot. While Tampa’s offense has been on a roll the last month of the season, they played the Vikings (young, inexperienced corners, 0 pass rush), Lions (no corners, awful pass rush, defensive playcaller was not present at the game) and Falcons (bottom 5 defense in every passing metric on the board) the last 4 games of the season. So to say the Bucs offense is coming into this game on a roll would be misleading, because the Saints are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum in every defensive metric that the 4 aforementioned defenses rank.
Saints rank in the top 5 in each of the following defensive metrics: yards per play allowed, 3rd down defense, pass yards allowed, rush yards allowed, while they rank 8 in sacks on the year and 9 in QB pressure %. Brady was a combined 6-22 on 3rd down and 1-9 on the money down in the second matchup, and threw a combined 2 TD’s and 5 picks in two matchups with the Saints. He was sacked 6 times and hit 16 times in these two matchups, and played some of his worst games against New Orleans. Against the Bears, a defensive peer with the Saints in terms of skill and personnel, Brady was sacked 3 times, hit 7 times and threw for just 253 yards and 1 TD in a loss. Against the LA Rams, Brady again threw for only 216 yards, 2 TD’s, threw 3 picks and was hit 5 times, finishing just 26-48 for 4.5 yards per attempt, which is Daniel Jones territory.
Payton is a coach with plenty of playoff experience, a stable of weapons with Kamara healthy and Michael Thomas back in the field, and a jack-knife of a weapon with Taysom Hill, facing a Bucs defense that’s been inconsistent and shown the ability to get torched by offensive savants. Saints will be able to limit the run against Fournette and a hobbled Ronald Jones, and Brady against a Saints defense with an offense that ranks 3 in the league in time of possession is not a side I will side with.
Give me the Saints -3 and keep New Orleans rolling to the NFC Championship.
-Pat Higgins (@phigg_sports)