For the third time this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) have a date with the New Orleans Saints (12-4), only this time the loser’s season is over. The Bucs held off a depleted Washington Football Team, and the Saints squashed the Bears in the Wild-Card round.
Getting over the Hump
The Buccaneers and Saints met twice in the regular season, and both games resulted in a double-digit victory for New Orleans. In Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians’ eyes, the turnover margin has been a key factor in the Bucs’ sloppy performances against the Saints.
In the two games, the Buccaneers had six turnovers, including five interceptions from Tom Brady. So, Arians is hoping for balance in his offensive attack on Sunday.
He mentioned that his team’s running game fell short when they hosted the Saints in November. They ran the ball only five times for a total of eight yards in a game where the Saints dominated time of possession and total plays.
Ronald Jones’ status for the game is still uncertain after a quad injury kept him from playing against Washington. Leonard Fournette has stepped up when needed this season, and last week he took his assignment in stride, logging 132 total yards and a touchdown.
The Revolving Door
Jones isn’t the only Bucs player that has been absent from the field. Linebacker Devin White and defensive tackle Steve McLendon are set to return from the COVID-19 reserve list after missing the regular-season finale and wild card game. Arians said he’s eager to see them back in action.
White led the Bucs in tackles with 140 and added nine sacks during the regular season, as well. McLendon also adds depth on the defensive line.
On the other side of the ball, though, Arians got some bad news on Saturday at Washington. Starting right guard Alex Cappa went down with what Arians suspects is a fractured ankle. The injury will keep him out against a ferocious Saints defensive line.
Aaron Stinnie will play in Cappa’s place and hope to create room for Brady, who has been on a tear as of late.
Brady vs. Brees
Every time the Bucs and Saints play, all eyes are on their two veteran quarterbacks. Sunday’s game will mark the first time in NFL history two quarterbacks older than 40 will meet in the postseason. For Drew Brees, especially, every game carries significance because several reports indicate that this will be his last season.
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) January 12, 2021
Brady has been on an unprecedented hot streak. In his last five games, he’s completing passes at a 65.9% clip for 1,714 yards and 14 touchdowns. That’s an average of 342 passing yards per game. And arguably even more important? He’s only thrown one interception over that span, and it was on a deflected pass.
While establishing a bigger presence with the running game will be important, if Brady can secure the ball and throw no interceptions against the Saints, the final score will look a lot different.
What’s on the Line
The two teams will square off at 6:40 p.m. on Sunday. The winner will advance to face either the Packers or the Rams in the NFC Championship game, and the loser will go home disappointed.