New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: New Orleans -3
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome
When: Sunday, 1/17, at 6:40 p.m. ET
A pair of legendary NFL quarterbacks will square off on Sunday night when No. 2 New Orleans hosts No. 5 Tampa Bay in an NFC Divisional Round battle.
The Saints dominated the regular-season series between the NFC South rivals, winning 34-23 in New Orleans and 38-3 in Tampa. They opened as 3.5-point favorites for Sunday’s meeting, but the early action has bumped the line down to -3. The total has risen from 51 to 52 as of Friday afternoon. The Buccaneers were +145 on the money line.
New Orleans notched a dominant win over Chicago last week, holding the Bears to just 239 total yards. Even those numbers are inflated, though, as 99 of them came on a drive that ended the game.
The Saints are led by veteran quarterback Drew Brees, who completed 28 of 39 pass attempts for 265 yards and two touchdowns against Chicago. One of his touchdowns was thrown to Michael Thomas, who dealt with injuries all season and had not caught a touchdown during the regular season.
Star running back Alvin Kamara is the engine of the offense. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry during the regular season and was the team’s leading receiver with 83 catches for 756 yards. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders added 61 receptions for 726 yards and five touchdowns.
Backup quarterback Taysom Hill is also an important piece offensively. He threw for 928 yards, rushed for 457 yards and had nearly 100 receiving yards during the regular season. Head coach Sean Payton could certainly use him in a variety of ways on Sunday.
They will be going up against a Tampa Bay defense that only allowed 20.4 points per game to its opponents not named New Orleans this season. The Buccaneers gave up an average of 36 points per game in the two meetings with Brees and Co.
Veteran quarterback Tom Brady appears to have found the fountain of youth. Brady threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns in the 31-23 win over a vaunted Washington defense last week.
Wide receiver Mike Evans suffered a hyperextended knee in the final regular season game, but he caught six passes for a team-high 119 yards last week. Evans hopes to be “closer to 100 percent” on Sunday.
Brady also has Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown at his disposal in the passing game. Running back Leonard Fournette had 19 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown in the win over Washington.
Fournette will start Sunday, while RB Ronald Jones is expected to be a game-time decision.
Tampa Bay will be hoping to solve the puzzle that is the New Orleans defense. The Saints finished the year ranked fourth in total yards allowed per game (310.9) and were fifth in points allowed per game (21.1).
The Buccaneers are now 0-5 against-the-spread in their last five games against New Orleans. They have covered in four of their last six games this season, though. The Saints have been on fire, covering at an 8-1-1 clip in their last 10 games.
New Orleans has gone ‘under’ the total in seven of its last 10 games. However, the total has gone ‘over’ in five of the last seven head-to-head meetings between these teams.
The ‘over’ is 6-3 for the Saints in their nine home games. Tampa Bay has seen the ‘over’ hit at a 5-1 clip in its last six road assignments. The lone ‘under’ in that span came in a 47-7 win at Detroit when the 54 combined points dipped ‘under’ the 55-point total.
This will be the eighth head-to-head meeting between Brady and Brees in the NFL. Brees’s teams have prevailed in five of those seven encounters, with Brees throwing 20 TD passes compared to merely one interception. Brady has an abysmal 9/11 TD-INT ratio in those seven meetings.
The pick: Tampa Bay +3 This might be the best game of the week in what could be the last meeting between Brady and Brees. It’s tough to beat the same team three times in one season, especially when Brady is on the opposing team. He is in sync with Brown, Miller, Godwin and Evans at this point in the year. New Orleans has a solid offensive attack, but it has sputtered at times this season. I trust Brady more than Brees in this matchup, especially when there are a lot of equals on both sides of the ball. The Buccaneers are averaging more than five touchdowns per game during their five-game winning streak and are going to be too much for New Orleans on Sunday night.