Buccaneers game day is approaching, and it’s time for the PewterReport.com staff to offer up its weekly game predictions. Let us know what you think in the article comments section and add your prediction, too.
WHEN: January 2021 KICKOFF: 6:40 p.m. ET WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome TV: FOX (Channel 13 locally) PLAY-BY-PLAY: Joe Buck
ANALYST: Troy Aikman SIDELINE: Erin Andrews and Tom Rinaldi RADIO: 98 ROCK 97.9 FM PLAY-BY-PLAY: Gene Deckerhoff ANALYST: Dave Moore SIDLINE: T.J. Rives SPANISH RADIO: 96.1 FM PLAY-BY-PLAY: Carlos Bohorquez ANALYST: Martin Gramatica
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Scott Reynolds: Bucs Have To Be Near Perfect To Win
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This prediction will be disappointing for Buccaneers fans, but I see the Saints beating Tampa Bay for a third time this year and a sixth time over the last three seasons. It’s not like the Bucs can’t beat the Saints. This is a very talented Tampa Bay roster, and New Orleans’ home-field advantage in this game has been wiped out by COVID-19, which means that the Superdome will be nearly empty. The Saints have three distinct advantages over the Bucs – that if all things are equal – should still give them the nod over the Bucs.
Bucs Bruce Arians and DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The first is the coaching staff, as Sean Payton and Dennis Allen have out-coached Bruce Arians, Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles in the past. The Bucs coaches need to out-scheme their counterparts on the other sidelines for a change. Second, New Orleans has done a much better job protecting the football than Tampa Bay has over the last four meetings, winning the turnover battle, 11-2. Tom Brady has thrown five interceptions and just two touchdowns in his two games against the Saints this year, while Drew Brees has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions in both wins over Tampa Bay. The third advantage the Saints have is continuity, especially between Payton and Brees offensively. There is just so much trust and innate chemistry in New Orleans compared to a Tampa Bay team that hasn’t been together nearly as long.
The advantage the Bucs have entering this game is that the team has won five straight since the bye week and has a lot of momentum, especially on offense. Tampa Bay averaged 30.8 points per game this year, and has averaged nearly 36 points per game since the bye week. Yet New Orleans’ defense has prevented the Bucs from scoring more than 24 points in any of the last four games. If the Bucs have any chance of winning, scoring at least 31 points probably has to happen, and Tampa Bay can’t afford to lose the turnover battle, either. Check out my SR’s Fab 5 column for more Bucs vs. Saints playoff preview, in addition to my 4 Match-ups To Watch.
If you watched the ESPN series The Last Dance featuring Michael Jordan last spring, just replace Jordan with Bucs’ quarterback Tom Brady to put it in an NFL comparison. Elite athletes make their teams better and can often will them to winning, esoecially on the biggest stages like the playoffs. Jordan of course needed a good supporting cast, but his aura, passion, and desire to win helped him win six NBA titles. Brady also has that same good supporting cast, and Brady – like Jordan – is the X-factor. Brady doesn’t want to ever lose to any other quarterback, but three times to a quarterback that he trades NFL records back-and-forth with in Drew Brees? That is something that wouldn’t sit well with a competitor like Brady.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
This is a different Bucs team that met the Saints on a Sunday night in a game that was dominated by New Orleans back in November. The pass protection that doomed the Bucs in their two losses to the Saints seems to have been figured out. Hopefully the trend of giving Brady a clean pocket continues, and if it does, the Buccaneers win on Sunday, even if it turns into a shootout. Besides the better protection, the Bucs have done a great job of not beating themselves with bad penalties and mental errors on offense. And with Antonio Brown now coming into form, watch out. Defensively it’s a crap shoot. We don’t know if we will see the same Bucs defense we saw against the Packers earlier this year, or the one that let a fourth-string, emergency COVID quarterback throw for over 300 yards like we saw last week. Getting pressure on Brees is crucial even if it doesn’t necessarily result in sacks.
Even if the Bucs defense doesn’t shut the Saints offense down, the Bucs offense has enough firepower to match New Orleans score for score and keep it close in the fourth quarter. At that point the “Brady factor” will take over and Tampa Bay makes a couple more plays down the stretch than the Saints and they leave the Superdome with a big upset and the chance to play for the NFC Championship game next week.
Jon Ledyard: With Limited Mistakes, Bucs Win Close One
I’ve spent more time than I care to admit analyzing this game from every angle, going back and forth on who I believe will be victorious on Sunday night. Ultimately, the game will probably swing on a few plays. The Saints have largely maintained a consistently high level of play since the last time they played Tampa Bay in Week 9, while the Bucs are a far more formidable offense with some of the same ups-and-downs on defense. But less self-inflicted mistakes for the Bucs should offer at least a much more competitive game, if not a Tampa Bay victory.
In two meetings this season, the Bucs have been outscored 72-26, but 38 of those New Orleans’ points either came on a defensive touchdown or an offensive possession that started in Tampa Bay territory. The Bucs only had 17 turnovers all season, and six of them came against the Saints, three in each game. The pursuit of victory starts there for the Bucs, as their offense cannot continue to shoot themselves in the foot against this caliber of an opponent. New Orleans is too good to give extra opportunities to, so the fact that the Bucs have protected the ball so well of late is a good indicator that this game, unlike much of the last two meetings, will be competitive.
If Tampa Bay can stay away from those mistakes – turnovers, drops, penalties and blown coverages – I think they will win this game. They are better at the quarterback position, have better weapons and are one of the few teams that the Saints deep secondary doesn’t have several one-on-one advantages over. Tampa Bay’s offensive play-calling and designs have been at the level needed to match Sean Payton’s output against a Bucs defense that can bend but can’t break against Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook and company. I hope we finally get both of these loaded rosters playing at their absolute best when they face each other on Sunday night – with the Bucs prevailing on a last minute touchdown to take a one-point lead.
More than anything else on Sunday evening, the number one thing that could determine the outcome for this game comes down to personal pride. The Bucs were embarrassed 38-3 the last time these two teams met in a highly publicized game. It’s embarrassing to the Bucs that they were swept by Saints in the regular season and have ever beaten them with Bruce Arians. Calling the right plays and having the right schemes absolutely matters, but the desire to right previous wrongs should not be overlooked.
Do you really want to play against a motivated Tom Brady? He’s made a career of proving others wrong. It’s been two months since these teams last month and the Bucs have been a different team in that time, especially on offense. Brady truly looks as dialed in as he’s ever been in this offense. You’re also going to have Antonio Brown up to full speed in this offense, which is something New Orleans didn’t have to deal with last game when Brown made his Bucs’ debut. He’s scored five touchdowns in his last four games.
This definitely won’t be easy, but I can’t help but think of when the New York Giants defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round back in 2007 after losing to them twice in the regular season. Different situations, but the Bucs can have a similar result. I truly think if the Bucs play the right type of defense, which means implementing more press-man at the line of scrimmage, that they can get enough stops to keep the game close and let playoff Brady show that he’s the GOAT once again.
As much as I want to pick Tampa Bay to upset New Orleans and head to its NFC championship game since 2002 – the result that Bucs fans probably deserve after all of the years they’ve been through since then – I just can’t do it with confidence. In the Bucs’ two meetings against the Saints this season they’ve been outscored, 72-26, and through pressure and variable coverages New Orleans has forced quarterback Tom Brady to throw five of his 12 total interceptions on the season in those two games.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and Saints DE Trey Hendrickson – Photo by: USA Today
After a rough start, New Orleans’ defense has become a force, finishing third in the league with 20.4 points allowed per game, second with 306.6 yards allowed per game, seventh with 45 total sacks and fourth with 26 total turnovers forced. Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport and Trey Hendrickson highlight the front seven, while talented and versatile defensive backs in Janoris Jenkins, Malcolm Jenkins, Marshon Lattimore and nickel C.J. Gardner-Johnson have locked down the defensive secondary for New Orleans. So it will not only take a perfect game plan, but perfect execution offensively from the Bucs to best them on Sunday.
Offensively, we know the Saints are great unit in their own right, despite an aging Drew Brees under center, but even more importantly the Bucs’ defense remains a mystery with so many questions that need answers. With receivers like Michael Thomas and veteran Emmanuel Sanders, running back Alvin Kamara being an ever-dangerous present out of the backfield and Latavius Murray to back him up and one of the best offensive lines in the league, can Tampa Bay hold up? We can assume that the Bucs will slow the Saints’ run game down, but can they limit Kamara’s damage as a pass-catcher, will they jam New Orleans’ receivers at the line and force Brees to beat them over the top? Tampa Bay clearly has one of the most talented rosters in the league, but I’m just not sure they can beat such a complete, well-coached roster that typically limits mistakes and forces the Bucs to make too many of their own.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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