TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS @ NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The two leading sides in the NFC South meet for a third time this season with a place in the NFC Championship on the line. The Saints won both of the regular season games but will Brady and the Bucs make it third time lucky or will Brees and the Saints complete the sweep and march on to the Conference Title game?

Tampa Bay saw off a game but less talented Washington side last Saturday night in a game that although they never looked like losing, they struggled to put Washington away, allowing backup QB Taylor Heinicke to throw for over 300 yards and a passing TD as well as giving up a TD on the ground to him as well, and this Bucs pass defense is probably the only thing on their team with a question mark surrounding it, it’ll be interesting to see how they handle a Saints offense which is amongst the most efficient in the NFL. The strength of the Bucs, apart from their run defense which I expect to be somewhat of a non factor in this game, is their passing offense, Tom Brady had 40 regular season TD passes and has an embarrassment of riches to throw the ball too, in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown the Bucs have what is in my opinion the best WR trio in all of Football, add to that Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, Scotty Miller, Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette and an offensive line which has protected Tom as well as any line has protected any QB all season and it makes you wonder how they don’t score 35+ points every week, and although they don’t quite hit those numbers week in week out they are more than capable of scoring points and ranked inside the top three for points per game score this season. Where the Bucs have struggled on offense this season is against the Saints, where they’ve scored a combined 26 points in their two matchups this season, including being unable to find the endzone in a 38-3 blow out win for New Orleans. Brady has struggled in both of those games, with only three total TD’s and five INT’s including a Pick Six, which when compared to how Drew Brees has fared in the same games looks even worse as Brees has thrown six TD passes without throwing an INT.

New Orleans have their three horseman on the offense fit and firing at just the right time, we haven’t seen Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas all fit and playing together very often this season but we did last week against the Bears with both Kamara and Thomas picking up TD’s and Brees completing over 70% of his passes for 265 yards, 2 TD’s and zero INT’s in an easy win. With Brees under Center and his two favourite targets on the field the Saints are able to execute their game plan of getting the ball out of Brees’ hand fast to Kamara out of the backfield or to Thomas on a slant or underneath route, only taking shots down the field when they get the matchup they line. It’ll be interesting to see if the Bucs vaunted run defense can translate their ability against the run to an ability to stop the short, quick passing game of the Saints as it’s basically the Saints version of running the football, and with both Latavius Murray and Taysom Hill injury doubts I don’t expect to see the Saints run the ball in the traditional manor very often. For me the more interesting battle will be how the Bucs offense attacks a Saints defense which has gotten the better of them twice already this season. New Orleans boast one of the most underrated defensive units in all of Football, they’ve kept opponents to 24 points or less in 10 of their last 12 games, and have kept Tampa under that total in both games this season.

Real tough game to call, both of these QB’s are dead cert HOF’ers but both are entering the home straight in their career’s, with rumours that Drew Brees could retire after this season we could potentially watch his last game ever at the Superdome. The Saints won both regular season games with relative ease during the regular season, and the narrative is that it’s difficult to beat a team three times in a season but statistically that’s not so true, there’s been 32 times two teams from the same division have met in the post season when one has swept the other during the regular season and in 20 of those games the team completed the sweep to go 3-0 on the season, that’s 62.5% of the time. The Saints were one of only two teams to sweep their division this season (Buffalo Bills) going a perfect 6-0 against their divisional rivals, and I think they’ll make it 7-0. Give me the Saints in a close one.

For my best bet we’re going with Bucs Linebacker, Devin White to go above his U/O Tackles & Assists line of 9.5. Although it’s a big number for this market it is a number White has gone over in 8 of his 16 games this season, but he has double digit T&A’s in all three of his career games against the Saints and that’s because with the Saints passing offense which focuses on throwing the ball to the Running Back and short underneath routes to the WR’s everything is in the Linebackers area, It’s not a fluke or coincidence that he’s had double digit T&A’s in every game he’s played against New Orleans, It’s a causation of the Saints Offensive philosophy, and so unless we see that change suddenly or we get extremely unlucky, I think everything points to White once again having double digit numbers in this particular metric. I also like two players to find pay dirt in this matchup, firstly we’ll go to the Saints #1 weapon in Alvin Kamara, the Running Back has 10 TD’s in his last 5 games so is on red hot form, add that to his 9 TD’s in 8 career games against the Bucs, including three this season and amazingly 7 of those 9 TD’s have come in the 4 home games he’s played, I really like him to find the endzone here but at a best price 1/2 to score anytime we want to give you some value, so we also like the look of Antonio Brown to get himself on the scoresheet here, he’s been pivotal to the Bucs offense in recent weeks scoring in his last four games straight, and has 4 TD’s in 3 career games against the Saints and with both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin being limited in practice all week I wouldn’t be surprised to see AB take on the roll of WR1 in this game, both players to score pays 3.65/1 on Betfair.

PREDICTION: SAINTS 27 โ€“ 24 BUCS    

BEST BET: Devin White OVER 9.5 Tackles & Assists –  5/6 with SkyBet. 1 point bet.

NEXT BEST: Alvin Kamara & Antonio Brown both to score a TD –  3.65/1 with Betfair. 0.5 point bet.

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