Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face off against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday in the NFL Divisional Playoffs. The NFC South rivals were both heavily favored to win their Wild Card matchups, but they had vastly different experiences.
The Saints steamrolled past the Chicago Bears with a 21-9 drubbing, producing 385 total yards compared to Chicago's 239 (99 yards came on a meaningless final drive) and allowing only one out of 10 third-down conversions. On the other hand, the Buccaneers had a thriller of an affair with the Washington Football Team, despite the latter being led by Taylor Heinicke. That game ended 31-23, with the Buccaneers outproducing their opponent in total yards, 507-375.
In the regular season, New Orleans won both games over Tampa Bay. In the first meeting on Sept. 14, the Saints earned a 34-23 victory. The next game held on Nov. 9 was an absolute laugher, which had a final score of 38-3 in favor of New Orleans.
The Saints are the slight favorite in this Divisional Round game, but that doesn't mean this will be a cakewalk for Brees and company. Tom Brady is out for revenge after losing the two regular-season matchups, and the future Hall of Famer is excited to go up against Brees in a battle of veterans.
Here are our four bold predictions for the Buccaneers' showdown against the Saints.
1. The Buccaneers will finally show up on defense
Without a doubt, Tampa Bay's defense grew by leaps and bounds compared to last year's unit. This iteration of the defense ranked sixth in total defense, while it was only a middling 15th last season. However, Tampa Bay surrendered an average of 36.0 points per game in the previous meetings with New Orleans. For reference, they only conceded an average of 22.2 per game for the regular season.
The secondary is the most suspect unit of Todd Bowles' defense. That is not to say the cornerbacks and safeties are terrible, but more that they are inexperienced. All season long the defense has done a great job stopping the run, and Bowles has deployed linebackers like Lavonte David and Devin White in creative ways to rush the passer while still having Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett at the edges. For many players, this will be the biggest stage of their careers, so they will be motivated to show up.
2. Tom Brady will throw for over 300 yards
Yes, throwing for more than 300 yards is something the six-time Super Bowl winner can do in his sleep. Nonetheless, we can all agree that for this season, the Saints just seem to have TB12's number. Tom Brady threw for just 448 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions versus New Orleans in the two regular-season games.
One reason for this bold prediction is breakout pass rusher Trey Hendrickson was out for the Saints' game against Chicago due to a neck injury. Hendrickson has made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks all season long, with Brady being no exception. New Orleans is hoping Hendrickson is able to return, but his status is up in the air. If he sits out again, Brady would certainly appreciate the opportunity for a cleaner pocket.
3. A Buccaneers receiver will go off for 100 yards
Antonio Brown. Chris Godwin. Mike Evans. Rob Gronkowski. These are names that strike fear in the hearts of NFL secondaries. The Saints have a strong defense and will do their best to slow this high-powered Buccaneers offense down, but it will be tough.
Brady has arguably never had this many weapons in his career. Brown is one of the best route runners around and has been finding his groove in recent weeks. Godwin was actually the most productive receiver in the two games against New Orleans. Mike Evans is one of the biggest matchup nightmares in the NFL, both literally and figuratively. Evans is like a tight end playing wide receiver at 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds, and his huge catch radius makes for a great safety blanket. The stud wideout had 119 receiving yards last weekend despite recently suffering an injury.
Gronk has been used mostly as a blocker, but he's still capable of pulling off a vintage performance as a receiver. After a slow start to the season, he finished with seven touchdowns.
Any one of these receivers is capable of having a field day at the Superdome, and we're predicting at least one of them will hit the century mark in yards.
4. Tampa Bay will win in a shootout
Even if Todd Bowles' unit has a great all-around game, they will still most likely concede multiple scores. Tampa Bay's most realistic hope is that the defense does just enough to contain Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and friends. The prediction here is Tom Brady will pull off another clutch playoff performance and light up the Saints en route to the NFC Championship Game.