Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees.
One quarterback’s legacy is solidified with his six Super Bowl rings and sure-fire dominance in January football. For the latter, he’s got all the record-breaking stats in the books, but his rank among the signal-calling GOATS could be defined Sunday evening as he goes up against Brady for the first time in postseason history.
For Brees, his postseason performances in recent years have declined with his age. You have to go back to Jan. 7, 2018 for his last quality outing in the postseason as he out-dueled Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers 31-26 in the wild card round. He completed 23/33, throwing for 376 yards and two touchdowns with a QBR of 115.2.
After that, began the New Orleans’ annual nightmares as they were eliminated in heartbreaking fashion in three different rounds for three years in a row. The Minneapolis Miracle after the Carolina game in the Divisional round, the Superdome Screwjob against the LA Rams in the NFC title game and the Saints underperforming against Minnesota in the wild card round last year as tight end Kyle Rudolph committed offensive pass interference to win the game in overtime.
The looming question over this game will be if the Saints can finally crush the voodoo that has cursed them in the last three years.
After the two meetings with Tampa Bay during the regular season, one would assume New Orleans should cakewalk their way to a third win of the Bucs. However, defeating a division foe three times in one season is RARE.
Dating back to 2000, the only teams to defeat their division rival three times in one season are the 2000 New York Giants against the Eagles, the 2004 St. Louis Rams against the Seahawks, 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers against the Ravens, 2009 Dallas Cowboys against the Eagles and the 2017, you guessed it, Saints against the Panthers.
In both meetings in 2020, New Orleans manhandled Tampa. The Saints went up 17 points twice as their defense held firm in Brady’s first start not with the Patriots in Week 1. New Orleans then took the Bucs to the slaughterhouse in Week 9 as they won 38-3 at Raymond James Stadium. Brady threw three interceptions in that losing effort.
For New Orleans, they will have to rely on their defense once again as they dominated the Chicago Bears even when Brees and the New Orleans offense weren’t at their very best. Offensive utility Taysom Hill will also be OUT for the Saints with a knee injury and that eliminates the surprise element from New Orleans’ arsenal.
Wide receiver Deonte Harris will need to find success similar to last week’s wild card game to put some pressure on a Bucs’ secondary that will lock in on Michael Thomas. However, Tampa Bay will need to be much better and show a sense of urgency as they allowed Washington Football Team QB Taylor Heinicke to throw for 306 yards. The Bucs’ defense will have to assert themselves and get constant pressure on Brees from a defensive front that consists of Devin White, Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett and Ndamukong Suh. Let’s not forget a secondary that consists of Carlton Davis and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Antoine Winfield Jr.
Running back Ronald Jones Jr. is still QUESTIONABLE for Sunday, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem for Brady and head coach Bruce Arians as they still have Leonard Fournette as the backup and a deep receiving corp that consists of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski. Expect the vintage Brady and Gronk connection to do big things against New Orleans.
This is going to be a fight to the death. Brady does have a two-year deal with Tampa, but he could still choose to retire with a loss, and for Brees, any weekend could be his last in the league. He’s hoping his last Sunday consists of hoisting a second Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 7.
Both teams have stellar offenses and defenses. This is going to be a tight one, but I expect the Saints’ defense to really key in on Brady and make him uncomfortable all game long. Brady will have more turnovers than Brees and that will be the key decider of this highly-anticipated duel.
Prediction: Buccaneers 20 – Saints 27