The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.
This week’s topic: Which Team Is Bucs’ Toughest Playoff Opponent?
Table of Contents
Scott Reynolds: The Packers
While it would be easy to suggest the Saints would be the Bucs’ toughest playoff opponent because they are 0-4 against New Orleans in the Bruce Arians era, I’m picking the Packers instead. Granted, the Saints have a bully mentality and certainly don’t fear the Bucs – and why should they? Yet I could see Tampa Bay desperately wanting to get another rematch with New Orleans, and I think the Bucs have improved enough since a 38-3 shellacking in November to really give the Saints quite a game. And let’s not forget that New Orleans has found a way to lose its last three playoffs – including going one-and-done at home over the last two seasons due to questionable calls by the refs. That has to shake the Saints’ postseason confidence somewhat, knowing that they didn’t play well enough at home to avoid their games against the Rams and Vikings to be being decided by no-calls by the officials.
So why do I think the Packers would be the Bucs’ toughest postseason foe? The average high temperature in Green Bay, Wisconsin on the weekend of January 17-18 – possibly the weekend Tampa Bay would have to travel up north to play the Packers – is 26 degrees and the average low temperature is 14 degrees. Only Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have any recent experience playing in cold weather, and it is a much different environment to play in.
“It’s tough to play in the cold,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after beating the Titans, 40-14, on a cold, snowy Sunday night. “It’s tough to play at Lambeau.”
“People definitely don’t wanna play in the cold,” Packers wide receiver Davante Adams said after Sunday night’s win over Tennessee. “It’s tough. It makes you a little less physical, takes your speed away.”
While the Bucs beat the Packers 38-10 back in Week 6, that was in warm, sunny Tampa. The 12-3 Packers have gone 8-2 since that loss, while the Bucs have gone 6-3 en route to a 10-5 record. Led by Rodgers, the leading NFL MVP candidate, Green Bay has proven to be the superior team – and the best team in the NFC – since Week 6. Rodgers has mastered the art of playing in the cold, and I’m sure there a dozen or so players on the Bucs’ roster that might not have even been in freezing temperatures in their life before. I’m not saying Tampa Bay couldn’t go to Lambeau Field and beat Green Bay in the cold and the snow, but it would be much harder than going to a domed stadium in New Orleans and trying to upset the Saints.
Mark Cook: The Saints
Anything can happen in the playoffs. But after whipping the Buccaneers twice already in 2020, and the three match-ups prior – dating back to 2018 – the Saints are in the Bucs’ head. It reminds me a lot of the domination the Eagles had over the Buccaneers prior to Tampa Bay finally beating Philadelphia in the 2002 NFC Championship game to reach its first Super Bowl.
Saints QB Drew Brees and HC Sean Payton – Photo by: Getty Images
The Saints are just not a good match-up for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay fans and the team can argue the talent level is pretty equal, but the physical nature of the Saints’ front seven, and a solid back end in the secondary presents a ton of challenges for the Bucs’ offense. Tampa Bay has struggled with physical teams at the line of scrimmage as evidenced by losses to New Orleans (twice), Chicago, the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City. When the Bucs can control the line of scrimmage they can play with anyone offensively. On the other side of the ball, head coach Sean Payton has given Todd Bowles fits, and none of the games were really that close despite not all of them being blowouts. Bowles and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich have simply been out-coached by Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and Payton.
In order for the Bucs to be beat the Saints – if they eventually see each other in the playoffs – it will have to be the best game plans of Leftwich and Bowles’ career. It isn’t impossible, as we saw with Jon Gruden figuring out weaknesses in Jim Johnson’s Eagles’ defense in 2002, but if Leftwich and Bowles think they can just roll out doing what they’ve done over the last four regular season games and win, Tampa Bay will be in for a long afternoon.
Jon Ledyard: The Saints
I’m a big believer that most of the time games are won and lost in the NFL playoffs in 2020 based on how successful your offense can consistently be, and there is no doubt in my mind that the Saints defense is the toughest match-up in the NFC for the Bucs. They have three to four strong man coverage options in their secondary, they have a shutdown No. 1 cornerback in Marshon Lattimore, they have a ball-hawking free safety in Marcus Williams and another versatile veteran in Malcolm Jenkins. For an offense like Tampa Bay’s that traditionally asks their receivers simply to defeat man coverage a lot, there are a lot of tough match-ups to win snap-to-snap.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Compounding the issue is that the Saints are versatile, deep and relentless up front, offering five to six guys that can get after the quarterback, move around the defensive line and execute games at a high level. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is a mastermind at varying his coverages and his blitz schemes to keep opponents off balance and opposing quarterbacks’ heads spinning. And linebacker Demario Davis is one of the best in the league at shutting down big plays in the middle of the field with his coverage prowess.
Even with the Saints likely boasting the best defense in the NFL heading into the playoffs (respect to the Rams, too), the Bucs offense has grown and won’t put up another 3-point performance if they meet again in January. But can the same be said for the Bucs defense? The Saints passing attack is far from a dynamic one, yet they tore up Tampa Bay’s spot-dropping zone defense in Week 9, and the defense has yet to really recover. The Saints have simply out-coached the Bucs on both sides of the ball over the course of the Bruce Arians’ era, and until that changes they will remain Tampa Bay’s top nemesis in the NFC.
Matt Matera: The Saints
I really think it comes down to the Saints and Packers as to which team would be the Bucs’ toughest opponent, but if I have to choose one, it’s the Saints. New Orleans has had Tampa Bay’s number over the years, and that includes twice this season. The Bucs are a match-up oriented team week-in-and week-out, and when you line them up position by position, the Saints give them the toughest time.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
As always when it comes to playing against Tom Brady and the Bucs’ offense – if a defense can generate pressure, it will control the game. The same goes for the Bucs defense, which is at its best when forcing quarterbacks to rush their throws. The Saints have out-sacked the Bucs 6-2 in their two meetings this season, and that number could have been higher considering the 38-3 debacle. The Packers game? Tampa Bay out-sacked Green Bay 5-0.
Outside of the pass rush on both sides, the Bucs have had trouble defending the flats. There’s a lot of great things Devin White can do, but pass coverage isn’t his strong suit. New Orleans loves to get the ball to their running backs, especially Alvin Kamara, out in space and move down the field from there.The Saints also have the right personnel to make nothing easy for the Bucs’ very talented receivers, as we saw in both games this year. This is the least favorable match-up for Tampa Bay in the postseason.
Taylor Jenkins: The Saints
If I’m the Bucs, there is one situation above all that I would hate to find myself in this playoff run and that’s heading up to New Orleans to face Tampa Bay’s divisional foe in the Saints. Even with the icy tundra in Green Bay or the cross-country trek to Seattle or Los Angeles on the potential schedule for the Bucs in their hopeful run through NFC playoffs, a limited capacity Superdome across from Sean Payton and the Saints would be Tampa Bay’s least comfortable landing spot.
Bucs LB Devin White and Saints RB Alvin Kamara – Photo by: USA Today
From a roster standpoint, the Saints have one of the most complete teams in the NFC despite early defensive struggles, an aging Drew Brees under center and an injury-hampered Michael Thomas out wide. On offense, the Saints boast one of the best offensive lines in the conference with a wealth of talent at their disposal between wide receivers Thomas and veteran Emmanuel Sanders, do-it-all running back Alvin Kamara, tight end Jared Cook and a jack-of-all-trades weapon in Taysom Hill. Defensively the Saints have a strong front seven headlined by defensive end Cameron Jordan and linebacker Demario Davis and a solid secondary sitting behind them with Janoris Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore at cornerback, Malcolm Jenkins at safety and the young Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the slot. The Saints defense is physical and versatile, boasting the league’s fourth-best run defense, the eighth-most sacks and the ninth-most turnovers forced with 21 on the year.
Talent aside, because we know the Bucs are an extremely talented group in their own right, the Saints are an expertly-coached team that doesn’t just think they can beat the Bucs, they know it. New Orleans has dominated Tampa Bay of late, winning the last five match-ups between the two teams dating back to August of 2018 and completely dismantling the Bucs both times they’ve played in 2020. Should Tampa Bay find itself up against New Orleans for a third time this season the Bucs will not only need a flawless game plan from the coaching staff, but perfect execution in all facets on the field to escape the Superdome victorious.
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 email@example.com
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