Wild Card Weekend did not disappoint, as it had some very entertaining games across the NFL. The Saints handled the Bears, highlighted by a strong defensive effort. Now comes the Divisional Round, as New Orleans is set to face-off against Tampa Bay for a third time this season and first time in the postseason. They previously had that happen during the 2017 season when they faced the Panthers, and coincidentally swept them.
What to Watch For
The Chess Match. It's hard to see the Saints defense holding Tom Brady to just 3 points like they did in Week 9 again, but what we are interested in seeing is how they match up against all the weaponry the Bucs have. Tampa had just 8 rushing yards the last time these two met after having 86 in the first game. Antonio Brown is someone who has really heated up down the stretch, and has five scores in the last four games for the Bucs. Presumably, Marshon Lattimore draws Mike Evans, while Janoris Jenkins looks to be on Chris Godwin. That leaves Brown to likely matchup against noted instigator C.J. Gardner-Johnson or P.J. Williams. Brady missed 18 of his passes in the Wild Card game, going 22-of-40, but still connected for several big plays (20 yards or over) often en route to a 381-passing yard performance with 2 scores.
The Pass Rush. Getting pressure on Brady goes a long way, and the Saints have had three sacks in each of their games against him this season. Regardless of whether Trey Hendrickson (neck/stinger) plays or not, Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport are players that need to get things going. It's not just what happens off the edge for the Saints, but what they can do inside with players like David Onyemata and Sheldon Rankins and then bringing the blitz with Demario Davis and Alex Anzalone. The Football Team got pretty good pressure on Brady, hitting him seven times and also sacking him three times last week. New Orleans' defense has been playing excellent, and this is the game they have to keep it up.
Tempo and Rhythm. The Saints offense started out on a strong note last week, but then hit some slumps. Some of it was personnel, some of it was rust, but they were able to make some adjustments in the second half that helped them put things together. Getting Michael Thomas and Deonte Harris back proved to be killer for New Orleans, and getting Tre'Quan Smith back could also be very helpful this week. Of course, things center around Alvin Kamara and the team's ability to block. Cesar Ruiz and Andrus Peat are the areas opposing defenses will attack, and we saw Drew Brees under duress a bit against the Bears, which forced him in to some incompletions and a couple of sacks. Another week of practice at full strength will do wonders for the Saints, who look to put together a complete game against Tampa.
Special Teams. Wil Lutz missed another field goal last week, which just can't happen. When you peel back the layers, there's more to the story there, but the bottom line is he hasn't been consistent for the Saints in the back half of the year. New Orleans can't miss points, as they're more of a commodity in the postseason. It's not just Lutz, as Thomas Morstead has to be on his 'A-game' as well. It's a good thing the team has excellent gunners like J.T. Gray and Justin Hardee, and while special teams is not always the sexiest position to talk about it, it matters in games like this.