The New Orleans Saints (13-4) advanced to the NFC's Divisional Round of the 2021 playoffs after defeating the Chicago Bears (8-9) by the final score of 21-9 inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The team awaiting the Saints in the next round is a familiar foe, NFC South rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5). The two sides have faced off twice in the 2020 regular season, with New Orleans being victorious on both occasions in Week 1 (34-23) and Week 9 (38-3).
On Sunday, watch these three things with a trip to the NFC Championship on the line.
Brees vs. Brady For a Final Time?
For years, NFL fans near and far hoped for a Brady vs. Brees showdown in a Super Bowl. While it is not in the Big Game pairing as many expected, it does set up a potential final duel between two of the league's GOATs. The eighth edition of the Brady vs. Brees saga will showcase a playoff game with two starting quarterbacks over 40. The game also will be a postseason contest featuring the NFL's #1 and #2 leaders in career passing yards, passing touchdowns, and completions.
“It was inevitable.” Drew Brees said about meeting Tom Brady in the playoffs. “The minute that he signed with the Buccaneers and came in the division, you felt like that was going to be a team to contend with, that was going to be a team that had playoff aspirations and beyond, just like us.”
The future first-ballot hall of fame quarterbacks are in the twilight of their historic careers. It's now a win or go home contest this weekend. Brees leads the all-time series 5-2, including 2 convincing victories this season, but none will be more important than Sunday Night.
The narrative on Saints DB Marshon Lattimore is that he "plays up or down" to the level of his competition. But one thing is for sure; Lattimore continuously brings his A-game against Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans.
The 2017 NFL Draft's 11th overall pick has dominated Evans since entering the league. He has held the Bucs receiver without a reception in multiple games. PFF cited Lattimore's dominance in Evans's shadow coverage in 2020, where he has yet to allow a catch while covering 65% of his routes.
The playoffs will be the first in their rivalry. Each player will be hungry to make big plays for their teams. Lattimore and the Black and Gold's defense have gotten the best of Evans, Brady, and the Buccaneers' offense through the two previous battles. Will the third time be a charm for the Bucs, or will the Saints hold Brady and Co. in check yet again?
The War is Won in the Trenches
For the past 15 seasons, the New Orleans Saints have been an offensive juggernaut under Sean Payton as the play-caller and Drew Brees at quarterback. They led one of the greatest offenses in NFL history during that period. However, much like the rest of the world, 2020 has brought the unexpected. And though many expected the Saints' defense to be among the top half of the league, a top-5 finish was not one many saw coming.
New Orleans dominates their opponents in the second half of the season, not allowing 20+ points in 6 consecutive games, including the playoffs. The Saints' success this season has come as a direct result of pressuring the quarterback, ranking second across the board in disrupting the opposing field general.
Dennis Allen's group ended the regular season ranked 2nd in quarterback pressure rate, hurries, and disruption rate, while also landing third in total disruptions. The continuous heat was felt by Tom Brady in both regular matchups, posting a QBR 23.5 through the two contests.
Though Brady's struggles against the Saints are known far and wide, playoff Tom is a different animal, and the Saints must be ready. The war is won and lost in the trenches. Sunday looks to be the case once again heading into the NFC Divisional Round.
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