Written by: Louis Taggart
There’s a different feeling in Tampa when the Saints come to town, the rivalry has been the best it’s ever been in the past few years. The Saints come into this game following a brutal stretch of games where they went 1-5 and lost most of their playoff hopes.
Meanwhile in Tampa, the Buccaneers are getting hot by winning four straight games and taking firm control of the division. A Bucs win Sunday night will not only clinch the playoffs, but will clinch them their first division title since 2005.
Always one of the most telling matchups from any game is who has the upper hand in the quarterback department. For the Buccaneers it’s an astounding advantage. Taysom Hill is a familiarity with Bucs fans, whether that’s in the receiving or rushing game, but he’s only thrown 4 passes against them all time. When watching Hill at quarterback these past couple of weeks it’s been a hard watch. Against the Cowboys he seemed to be comfortable throwing it deep, and it ended up in an abysmal four interception performance.
Their last game against the Jets, Sean Payton flipped the strategy inside out. Hill had a depth of target of only 4.5 yards and not once dialed up a big time throw. He has shown some nice things like being able to pick up first downs with his legs, but he’s a super turnover prone quarterback who struggles to spread out a defense. For the Buccaneers, well they have the GOAT, and he’s been on fire as of late.
O-Line vs D-Line Matchup
Sean Payton does a tremendous job at getting lineman who he can plug and play. Look no further than Shy Tuttle and James Hurst, two guys who have been very good all year long and will provide a challenge. This time around it should be different. In last season’s 38-3 loss to the Saints, Tom Brady was without all-pro guard Ali Marpet and it showed. With Marpet healthy and the line developing, it will be tougher for the Saints front seven. The New Orleans O-Line has a 24% pressure percentage, which is one of the best in the NFL. The Buccaneers O-Line has an 18% pressure percentage, which is not only the best in the NFL, it’s dominant. Keeping Brady safe has been the best way for the Buccaneers to create offense. If this line stays healthy, this offense will keep eating.
On the defensive side of the trenches, these two teams are very similar and both impressive. Both D-Lines pressure the quarterback at a 30 percent rate, and both are elite vs the run. It’s tough to say who has the advantage in the trenches, but one thing I can guarantee is it’s going to be entertaining to watch.
WR vs DB Matchup
Games are won in the trenches, but plays are made at the skill positions. This is where the Bucs breakaway and find themselves 11 point favorites. The Saints do have all-pro corner Marshon Lattimore, who always appears to eliminate Mike Evans from these games. Even with Evans getting Lattimore’s focus, the Buccaneers have more weapons than the Saints can keep up with. Chris Godwin will be vital to this Bucs offense, last time around versus the Saints he recorded eight catches for 140 yards and a score that was important in coming back in that game. The Bucs also have gotten healthier on the defensive side of the ball. With guys like Carlton Davis coming back it will be tough for New Orleans to generate a passing offense.
The pass catchers for New Orleans aren’t game wreckers, their best wide receiver is probably Marquez Callaway, who most likely won’t be much of a problem for the Buccaneers. The biggest threat in the receiving game will be running back Alvin Kamara. He recently broke the record for most receptions by a running back in the first five years of a career. If the Bucs can contain Kamara and take advantage of mismatches on offense, they very well could cover the spread.
Three Players to Watch
Davis is having the best season of his career and is terrorizing opposing offenses. His game versus the Patriots might’ve been the best game in his career and the film speaks for itself. Davis has 64 tackles while only registering 8 missed tackles this season. Which is one of the best missed tackles percents in the league. Davis has only allowed 253 yards and zero touchdowns all year long.
In nine games versus the Buccaneers, Kamara has over 900 yards total and 11 touchdowns. His production is almost an even 50/50 split, with 446 rushing yards and 480 receiving yards. He’s a lot more than just a running back, Kamara lines up out wide and in the slot quite often on empty looks and they will target him like a wide receiver.
Last time out, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson had a game changing interception and seemed to have a great game. When you dig deeper, you’ll see the Buccaneers picked on him all day. Gardner Johnson was thrown at 11 times that game, allowing 8 catches and 2 touchdowns for a total of 133 yards. One has to wonder if Byron Leftwich and the offense will follow the same approach.
The Bucs are in the middle of a highly competitive battle for the number one seed, while the Saints are struggling to get the 7th and final playoff spot. A loss will not only make a playoff bye week a distant fantasy, it will also open the door for the Saints to sneak in and maybe even match up against the Bucs in the wildcard round. I think the Buccaneers are the better team, but at the end of the day the Saints game is always different. I think the Bucs win 23-20 thanks to a game winning field goal from Ryan Succop and continue the win streak.