|Tampa Bay||Rank||@||New Orleans||Rank|
|34.9%||1||Opp. Rush %||39.3%||7|
|65.1%||32||Opp. Pass %||60.7%||26|
Against the Spread
Saints ATS at Home: 5-4
Buccaneers ATS Away: 4-5
Saints ATS as Favorite: 9-6
Buccaneers ATS as Underdog: 2-1
The third meeting between the Bucs and Saints will close the Divisional Round. New Orleans has had the best of Tampa Bay this season, beating them 34-23 to open the season in Week 1 and then 38-3 in Tampa Bay in Week 9.
Since the 1970 merger there have been 21 matchups between divisional rivals where one team swept the regular season. The team that swept the regular season has gone 14-7 in those games. Home teams in this spot are 12-5 with the 2017 Saints in this same spot when they beat the Carolina Panthers.
Tampa Bay scored a touchdown on 3-of-23 drives this season versus the Saints and were downright embarrassed the last time they played, putting up a season-low 194 yards of offense and setting an NFL record with just five rushing attempts for eight yards.
As the Browns showed last week, we cannot just assume what happened in the first two matchups between teams will remain static in the playoffs.
The Bucs are coming into this matchup as hot as they have been all season. They have won five in a row and have scored 30 or more points in four straight games for the first time in franchise history.
They have made some changes offensively as well. The Bucs have used play action on 27.0% of their dropbacks since their Week 13 bye after 18.0% prior. On those play action passes; Tom Brady’s six passing touchdowns are second in the league.
The team has also gotten more aggressive through the air on early downs. The Bucs have thrown on first down 54% of the time on first down outside of the fourth quarter since their bye and have averaged 8.5 yards per attempt on those throws after 49% prior for 7.1 Y/A prior.
Of course, their hands will be full, facing a Saints defense that has allowed opponents to score on a league-low 26.1% of their offensive possessions since Week 9 while also allowing a touchdown on a league-low 14.4% over that span. New Orleans did allow 24-plus points to the Eagles, Chiefs, and Vikings Weeks 14-16, but have allowed 13 or fewer points in seven of those 10 games over that sample.
Tom Brady: When these teams last played in Week 9, the Saints pressured Brady on a season-high 54% of his dropbacks where he was 9-of-19 for 76 yards. Since then, Brady is playing his best stretch of football all season, throwing for 327.0 yards per game since that rock-bottom Week 9 with six 300-yard games over those eight games and 348 or more yards passing in four in a row. He has thrown multiple touchdown passes in all eight of those games while he has averaged at least 8.4 Y/A in every game over that span, except for a matchup with the Rams.
The Bucs have faced six defenses that are 16th or lower in pass defense EPA over that span, but Brady is coming off passing for 381 yards and two scores against the No. 3 defense in that metric a week ago in Washington with the Football Team pressuring Brady on 32.6% of his dropbacks, his highest rate since Week 10.
The Saints have not allowed an opposing passer to hit 8.0 Y/A against them since Week 7 and have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in just two of their past 10 games played. Both Patrick Mahomes (25.9 fantasy points) and Kirk Cousins (23.6 points) did manage to throw three touchdowns in those games to show that production can still be had. The other quarterbacks the Saints have faced over that span have been Nick Mullens, Matt Ryan (x2), Jalen Hurts, Teddy Bridgewater, a QB-less Denver team, Mitchell Trubisky, and Brady himself.
Drew Brees: Since returning to the lineup in Week 15, Brees has posted 19.4, 8.1, 20.0, and 18.8 fantasy points with that low point total coming attached to 311 yards and 12.0 yards per pass attempt in a game where the Saints just happened to rush for seven touchdowns.
In two games versus the Bucs, Brees threw for 5.3 and 6.9 Y/A, but threw six touchdown passes with a season-high four when these teams last played. The Tampa Bay pass defense has been beatable since the start of the season. Since dismantling Aaron Rodgers back in Week 6, the Bucs have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in 8-of-11 games while allowing 21.9 fantasy points and 18.2 passing points per game to opposing passers over that stretch. The only times they held an opposing passer under 17 fantasy points over that span was to Daniel Jones (16.2 points) and the Detroit game where all of Matthew Stafford, Chase Daniel, and David Blough played.
Alvin Kamara: Kamara came off the COVID list last week with no practice and the Saints gave him no restrictions, feeding him 25 touches for 116 yards and his 22nd touchdown of the season.
Prior to Week 16, Kamara had never had 20 rushing attempts in an NFL game, but has handled 22 and 23 rushes over his past two games. Of course, turning in production on the ground here will be a tall order as Tampa Bay forces teams to be one-dimensional due to their elite run defense. They face the fewest amount of rushing attempts per game (16.5) from backfields while allowing a league-low 3.19 YPC to backs. But with both Latavius Murray and Taysom Hill looking doubtful for Sunday, the Saints should feed Kamara again with no threat of anyone taking goal line touches from him.
In two games versus the Bucs, Kamara has rushed 21 times for 56 yards, but he does have a rushing touchdown in each game. Kamara also had five receptions in each game, an area where the Bucs do give up some production to backs. During the regular season, Tampa Bay allowed 10.9 receiving points per game to opposing backs (28th) and a league-high 6.0 receptions per game to backs. Including those two games mentioned this season, Kamara has at least five receptions in all eight of his career games against the Bucs with a 53-465-3 receiving line.
Bucs RBs: A week ago, Ronald Jones suffered a quad injury pregame and then did not log a snap in the playoff matchup in Washington. We will still have to wait on the status for Jones this week, but we have dealt with this backfield being unpredictable for just about the entire season.
With Jones failing to log a snap. Leonard Fournette had his best game of the season, turning 23 touches into 132 yards and a touchdown. Fournette’s 4.9 YPC were his most in a game this season Since Week 2.
Regardless of if Jones is available or not, the Saints are just about as tough as a rushing matchup as their counterpart this game. The Saints are fifth in rushing points allowed per game to backfields (10.4 per game) and eighth in yards per carry allowed to backs (3.87 YPC). New Orleans allowed just 10 touchdowns to backfields, which was tied for second in the league. To kick off the playoffs they limited David Montgomery to 31 yards on 12 touches.
In Week 9, Tampa Bay backs posted 59 yards on 13 touches against New Orleans and 103 total yards on 26 touches back in Week 1.
Michael Thomas: Returning to the lineup for the first time since Week 14, Thomas caught 5-of-7 targets for 73 yards and his first touchdown of the season. Thomas has reached double-digit PPR points in seven of his 10 games played this season, but his 17.9% targets share last week continued a trend of the Saints passing offense being more diverse with Brees under center as opposed to Taysom Hill. In his three full games played with Brees, Thomas has seen 17.1% of the team’s targets as opposed to 32.5% in his four full games with Hill as the quarterback.
Tampa Bay is 21st in points allowed per game to opposing WR1 (15.9), with Thomas managing games of 3-17-0, and 5-51-0.
Mike Evans: Evans has found his stride to close the season, posting 110, 181, and 119 yards over his past three full games played. Over his past seven full games, Evans is averaging 9.0 targets per game on 22.7% of the team looks as opposed to 5.8 targets per game on 14.9% of the team targets prior.
In two games versus the Saints this season, Evans had games of 1-2-1 and 4-64-0. Evans has ghosted us a few times in this rivalry he has developed with Marshon Lattimore. Last season, he was goose-egged on three targets versus New Orleans in Week 5 and then came back with 4-69-0 on eight targets in Week 11 with Lattimore inactive.
In seven career games with Lattimore on the field, Evans has reeled in 22-of-45 targets for 367 yards and two touchdowns. He does have one 7-147-1 haymaker game mixed in around those low points to remind us that Evans is capable of still providing a spiked week at any moment regardless of the matchup.
Chris Godwin: The talking point surrounding Godwin last week centered around him being credited with four dropped passes, but Godwin still turned in a productive 5-79-1 line on a season-high 12 targets and 30% of the team targets. Godwin has now scored in each of his past four games with five total touchdowns over that span.
Godwin runs 67% of his routes from the slot, which will put him away from both Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins, but slotman Chauncey Gardner-Johnson ranked ninth in the league in yards allowed per coverage snap (1.12) among all slot corners to play 50% of the snaps this season. Godwin posted games of 6-79-0 and 3-41-0.
Antonio Brown: Brown has also scored in each of the past four games with five total touchdowns over that span, catching 2-of-3 targets for 49 yards and a touchdown last week in Washington. Brown now has at least one 30-yard reception in three of the past four games.
But with Evans back and healthy, Brown went back down to just three targets last week after receiving 14 targets the week prior when Evans exited the game early on. In Brown’s eight games with Evans fully operational, he has averaged 11.9 points per game and 9.3 points per game in his games without a touchdown. After allowing 11 touchdowns to opposing wideouts through eight games, the Saints have allowed six to opposing wideouts over their past nine games.
Emmanuel Sanders: In the games that Sanders played with Michael Thomas active this season, Sanders has just 12.8% of the team targets and averaged 7.9 PPR points per game as opposed to 22.4% of the targets and 14.9 points per game in games Sanders played with Thomas inactive. Sanders did still score three of his five touchdowns with Thomas on the field and in both games against the Buccaneers, so there is still touchdown potential for those chasing a score.
Deonte Harris: Playing in his first game since Week 11, Harris came off injured reserve to have his best game of the season. Harris only played 24 snaps and ran 14 pass routes, but was targeted a season-high seven times, catching all seven for 83 yards. Harris had yet to clear 46 yards on the season prior, so the question will be was Harris saved as a special part of this specific game plan or was his usage just happenstance? Even with the spike, Harris still has just one touchdown on the season to latch onto for scoring upside.
Rob Gronkowski: Since acquiring Antonio Brown, Gronk has just 19 receptions, catching two or fewer passes in seven of those nine games, including catching zero passes last week in Washington with just one target while Cameron Brate caught 4-of-6 targets for 80 yards. Over the past nine games, Brate now has 22 receptions compared to Gronk’s 18.
While the catches are down, Gronk is getting high-leverage opportunities still, averaging a team-high 15.9 yards per catch over that span while matching Mike Evans with a team-high seven end zone targets (four for scores).
Opposing teams targeted their tight ends a league-high 25.8% of the time against the Saints. New Orleans stood up to the volume, allowing a 59.5% catch rate (third) and 1.62 points per target (seventh) to the position, but did allow nine touchdowns (25th) on those targets, including another score at the end of the game last week to Jimmy Graham.
Jared Cook: Cook matched a season-high with seven targets last week, catching four for 40 yards. Despite the target spike, Cook still has managed four or more catches in four games with a season-high of five. While Cook is not a major asset in the catch and target department, he does lead the team with 11 end zone targets, average depth of target (12.1 yards), and yards per reception (13.3 yards) to at least give his opportunities some upside. Tampa Bay has allowed a 71.7% catch rate on targets to tight ends (27th) and a 7.1% touchdown rate to the position (19th) with a touchdown catch surrendered to a tight end in three of their past five games.
More Divisional Round Fantasy breakdowns from The Worksheet: