Editor's Note: An error was made on the initial published version of this article in regards to the author liking a side on the over/under total of this game. That error has since been removed as of 3:55 p.m. EST on Sunday, January 17th. The writing and breakdown of this game still remain as originally published.
Starr vs Unitas, Montana vs Marino, Favre vs Aikman.. There are currently 26 QBs enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton, and we will be treated to two more future first-ballot HOF'ers on Sunday night in the divisional round playoff finale. This is presumably also Tom Brady and Drew Brees' last meeting on the gridiron. Between the two we've now seen a ridiculous 40 seasons played, 27 Pro Bowls, 4 MVPs and 7 Superbowl rings to boot. Two of the best passers in NFL history will now meet in New Orleans for what is arguably the most exciting game of the weekend. If anyone tries to tell you they are confident on a side, then they are either from the future, have a personal fan/team bias, moonlight as a Nigerian Prince or might possibly be named "Dave" and reside in Las Vegas (the latter two are advisable to avoid at all costs).
Now let's get on to breaking down Sunday's epic matchup: This game opened at New Orleans -3 with an over/under 52, and the line will probably remain static until kickoff barring any major changes in either team's personnel. With the classic three-point home field advantage removed - and it just might be, considering New Orleans is only allowing 3,000 fans and 4% of stadium capacity - then Las Vegas has this truly as a pick 'em. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been beaten twice this season by the New Orleans Saints (both double digits), including a 38-3 shellacking as home favorites (-3) on November 8th. All of the Bucs' offensive weapons (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski) were playing in that last matchup, too, but it was a stout New Orleans defense that held Brady to 209 yards despite the full allotment of Tampa Bay passing game weapons. Brady finished the game with no TD's, three interceptions and his lowest QBR of the season (40.4). Brady and his Bucs offense were absolutely stifled on late downs too, going just 1-for-9 on third down conversion attempts and 0-3 on fourth down conversion attempts.
Are these teams' two previous games a positive trend for New Orleans? Absolutely not. The Saints defense finished the season with the fourth fewest total yards allowed (and net allowed per game), as well as the fourth fewest rushing yards allowed (and net allowed per game). New Orleans also gave up the fifth fewest passing yards allowed and points allowed per game. Brady, on the other hand, finished with a top seven regular season rank in most of the NFL's significant passing categories this season, with the Bucs ranking third overall in points per game and a current four-game streak of scoring 30+ points per game. Still, this New Orleans defense is just a bad matchup for everyone involved - especially for Brady himself, who was picked off five times and sacked six times in these teams' two regular-season meetings.
New Orleans has been known for its air attack in recent years, but with Brees' long ball fading and Alvin Kamara in the backfield, they've been more balanced in 2020. As talented and potent as this Saints offense is, however, they have often stalled and played some absolute stinkers in the Superdome.
It took three and a half quarters to create separation from a mediocre Bears team last week, despite covering the large spread, and the Saints' problem here is that the Bucs are only allowing 80.6 yards per game to opposing rushers this season (6th best in the league). Kamara only rushed for a combined 56 yards in their two meetings this season, and despite the tough matchups for the running game, this contest still has all the makings of a last possession, grind it out type of divisional showdown. Brees himself is prone to making postseason mistakes, as evidenced by the fact he had thrown at least one interception in in his last five playoff games before last week's victory over the Chicago Bears.
Gronkowski - and Cameron Brate, for that matter- could also be big x-factors here. Gronk was quiet in the November 8th game with just a single catch, although New Orleans has allowed over 700 yards and 9 TDs to opposing tight ends this season. Despite the various individual/positional matchups here, I'll choose to focus on the the bigger picture: Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles have simply not installed good game plans to best this New Orleans team in the past. The Saints are a perfect 4-0 SU & ATS since 2019 vs. the Arians/Bowles duo and have scored over 30 points per game in those contests while limiting the Bucs to an average of only 16.75 points per game. Because of these reasons, I'll lean toward the Saints covering this game against the Bucs at home, but only a half-unit bet.