The Saints and Bucs meet in a pivotal showdown for the NFC South this week that could easily end up deciding the division. Both teams come in with just two losses but Tampa has a game in hand over New Orleans and could move to 7-2 and two games in front with a win. New Orleans defeated the Bucs in Week 1, 34-23 and a win this week would give them the series win and tiebreaker over Tampa if the two ended the year with the same record.
While the Saints won big in the first meeting, the Bucs have started to look like the better team of late. They come in having won big in two of their last three games and own a blowout victory over the NFC North leading Packers. Tampa Bay has also done all of this while working with a receiving core that hasn’t been anything near 100% this season. Mike Evans, Scotty Miller and Chris Godwin (finger-questionable) have all been banged up at points in 2020, which is why Tampa went out and signed Antonio Brown. Brown is making his debut for Tampa this week, and while they’ve been non-committal about how big a role he’ll have in this game, it’s worth noting he and Tom Brady clicked instantly in his lone game for the Patriots last year:
New Orleans on the other hand comes in having just managed to stay in the hunt for the division lead over their last few games. While they’ve won four in a row, two of their last three wins came in OT and they were insanely lucky to come out as victors in all three. They did get some good news this week though as it looks like their top WR, Michael Thomas (hamstring), will be returning to action. Both Thomas and QB Drew Brees (shoulder) practiced in limited capacity this week and the fact both could be at less than 100% against the best defense in the league–in terms of DVOA–could mean bad things for New Orleans if they get behind early in this game.
From an Against the Spread perspective, Tampa Bay has been the better team, going 4-4 ATS, vs. the 2-5 ATS record that the Saints currently sport. Tampa have not been good as home favorites under Bruce Arians the last two years though, going 1-6-1 as home favorites under his tenure. Still, considering the changes in personnel (mainly at QB) the Bucs had this year, that record perhaps should be viewed with a grain of salt. Tampa’s been the better ATS team this year and with the addition of Brown can likely better match higher-powered offenses going forward.
- WR Michael Thomas Ankle/Hamstring-Questionable
- Drew Brees Shoulder-Questionable
- WR Chris Godwin Finger-Questionable
Buccaneers offense vs Saints defense
I’ve talked a bunch about how Antonio Brown could change the complexion of this game for Tampa but the Saints defense isn’t to be taken lightly either. They rank fourth in adjusted-sack rate and are allowing just 3.6 ypc to opposing RBs this year, the third best mark in the league among defenses. This issue for the Saints this week though is that getting pressure may not be as easy against Brady here as it was in Week 1 when they pressured Tom Brady into three sacks and two INTs.
The addition of Antnio Brown–and the return of Chris Godwin–means that Brady is likely to have several quick outlets to throw to in this game, which will all end up as mismatches for Tampa. Even if they choose to shadow Antnoio Brown with Janoris Jenkins and let Marshawn Lattimore try and take out Evans, there’s no guarantee that Jenkins can actually win that battle and it will also leave Godwin and the emerging Rob Gronkowski to wreak havoc from the slot and over the middle.
Gronkowski has now caught 14-passes and scored three times in his last three games and looks more and more like the players from the mid-to-late 2010’s who dominated games. TE’s have actually had quite a bit of success against the Saints this year with Darren Waller going for over 100-yards and a TD against them in Week 2 and Green Bay TEs scoring twice against them in Week 3.
Expect the Saints to force the game into Brady’s hands here, but the former Patriot should be more than ready for that this weekend. New Orleans has been getting exposed through the air lately, it just hasn’t resulted in a loss yet. Expect Tampa’s offense to keep this trend going and put up some big points off of Brady’s arm.
Saints offense vs Buccaneers defense
The Saints offense should also be getting a boost this week with the return of Michael Thomas. It’s been a lost year thus far for the man who looked like one of the safest plays in all of fantasy football at the beginning of the season. Thomas has battled hamstring and ankle injuries–and also been suspended for fighting in practice with players and coaches–so it’s hard to gauge just how effective he’ll be this week. Against a softer defense even an 80% Michael Thomas would be easy to trust but Tampa has improved in the secondary immensely since last year.
Tampa Bay comes into this game ranked first in pass DVOA and overall DVOA on defense, via Football Outsiders, and also ranks third in adjusted sack-rate. To make things worse for New Orleans here, Drew Brees also appears to be banged up (shoulder) and only practiced in limited fashion this week. Brees is averaging just 10.3 yards per attempt this season, the lowest mark of his career, and may not be in a position to really take advantage of Michael Thomas’ return, especially against a great pass rush like Tampa’s.
Alvin Kamara has been carrying the load for New Orleans but faces the best rush defense in the league this week. Tampa Bay has allowed just 3.2 ypc to opposing RBs this year, although it is worth noting that they’ve given up the third most receptions to RBs on the season. It’s likely Brees and the Saints will be forced to funnel lots of short passes to Kamara to get him in space here, but it seems doubtful that this will be enough to win this matchup–or keep up with a potentially explosive Tampa offense. Tampa may allow some yards here to Kamara through the air but unless Drew Brees can dial back the clock and connect on some deep balls to Thomas or Tre-Quan Smith, New Orleans is likely to have trouble keeping up in a potential shootout.
Game and prop bets
Bet: Tampa Bay -5.5
It’s easy to remain skeptical on Tampa Bay. Afterall, they did lose by 11-points to New Orleans in Week 1 and had to rely on a lucky non-call to finish off the Giants on MNF last week. The truth is though, these two teams have been headed in different directions for weeks now. New Orleans injury issues haven’t caught up with them in the win column yet but the fact they had to scratch and claw for close wins against the likes of the Bears, Panthers and Chargers (at home) should tell you that they’re far from an elite team right now.
Tampa has improved since the first meeting of these teams, come in healthy on both sides of the ball and have the extra motivation of having been embarrassed by the Saints in Week 1. The insertion of Antonio Brown here is likely going to have a bigger impact than people realize as Tampa’s ability to surprise with packages and different usages is going to make covering him and the likes of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin almost impossible. I don’t think Tampa will be content to just keep this one close, or win a tight game. I’d look for a bigger statement here for a team who has won by 7-points or more in five of their six wins on the year.
Player prop bets
Antonio Brown over 38.5 receiving yards (-105)
The Buccaneers need this game badly to really secure their place at the top of the division and deploying Antonio Brown in as many packages as possible to throw off a solid Saints secondary seems like it would be the best way to accomplish this. We know Brown and Tom Brady have a good connection already and he’d likely be easy to get into mismatches here with Mike Evans taking away the Saints best corner in Marshawn Lattimore on the outside. I like the over here on Brown’s yardage total quite a bit.
Tom Brady over +2.5 passing TDs +180
The Saints have allowed 3 or more passing TDs in four of their seven games thus far in 2020 so right off the bat we’re getting a matchup for Brady that suggests hitting the over is more than doable. Brady has also hit the over on 2.5 TD passes in three of his last six starts and will have an extra target to deploy in possible red zone packages in Antonio Brown this week. The big odds we’re getting here make this feel like great value to take a shot at 3+ TD day for Brady.