In the only Divisional Round matchup between division rivals, the No. 2 New Orleans Saints will host the No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints came out on top both times these teams faced off, the second game being a 38-3 drubbing in Tampa back in November.
Here is a preview for the final game of the NFL Divisional Round Weekend, along with betting trends and a free pick. Currently, New Orleans holds the edge as a slight three-point favorite.
Playing on the road last Saturday night, the Bucs escaped against Washington with a 31-23 victory, their first playoff win since 2003. Making his Bucs playoff debut, Tom Brady threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns, as Tampa Bay accrued over 500 yards of total offense. Wide receiver Mike Evans reeled in over 100 yards while Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown each scored, and running back Leonard Fournette ran for nearly 100 yards and a touchdown as well.
Aiming for redemption after last year's loss in the Wild Card round, the Saints easily defeated the Bears 21-9 last Sunday. Drew Brees threw for 265 yards with a pair of touchdowns, while Alvin Kamara ran for 99 yards with a score. New Orleans' defense was stingy throughout, holding Chicago to only 239 yards of total offense and one lone touchdown, coming on the final play of regulation.
This game will feature two of the five highest-scoring offenses in football this season. Tampa Bay averaged 30.8 points per game, third in the NFL, while also averaging the second-most passing yards per game with just under 290. New Orleans ranked fifth in points per game with 30.1, and while their passing yards per game is less than Tampa Bay, their 141.6 rushing yards are sixth in football, a massive advantage over the Bucs' 95 rushing yards.
Defensively, both teams are tight to one another. New Orleans holds the edge with top-five ratings in points allowed (21.1) and yards allowed (329) while also ranking in the top-five against the run and pass. Tampa Bay is no slouch on defense, giving up 22.2 points per game and leading the league in run defense. However, they were 21st against the pass.
Beginning with the visitors, Bucs running back Ronald Jones II continued to be held out of practice as he deals with both quad and finger injuries. Joining him on the outside is linebacker Jason-Pierre Paul and guard Alex Cappa. In addition, both Evans and Godwin were limited in practice on Wednesday, as well as cornerback Carlton Davis.
The Saints earned the easy win last weekend but got beat up in the process. Running back Latavius Murray, cornerback Patrick Robinson, and quarterback/gadget Tayson Hill all sustained injuries against Chicago and were held out of practice on Wednesday. Tight end Jared Cook, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, and tackle Terron Armstead also have injuries, but all practiced in a limited capacity.
The 12-5 Buccaneers have gone 9-8 ATS, including a 4-5 ATS road record. However, they've won seven of their last nine road games, including six in a row and their last five games overall. But Tampa Bay is 0-5 both straight-up and ATS in their last five meetings with New Orleans.
Meanwhile, the 13-4 Saints went 10-6-1 ATS, including a 5-3-1 ATS record at home. They have covered all but twice in their last 10 games and won 12 of their last 14 overall. New Orleans has also covered in seven of their last eight games against division rivals.
If you look at the regular season, the Saints owned this matchup. And while New Orleans is still likely the better team, I give the Bucs a real shot in this game. They are playing some great football right now, particularly on offense, and would prefer this game to get into a shootout.
Tampa Bay also has the best run defense in football, which will need to show up to contain Kamara. I expect a great game, but I'm going with Brady and the Bucs to pull off the upset Sunday night in New Orleans.
Betting Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3).