The Buccaneers get set for a divisional clash in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs on Sunday night. They'll face the NFC South-rival New Orleans Saints at their place for the opportunity to advance to the NFC Championship. This is the first time the Bucs and Saints have met in the postseason and will give us all another round of Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees, also a first in the playoffs. And while that will make the headlines (and one of the spots in the below list), there are still plenty of other storylines between these two familiar foes.
See below for which players to keep an eye on Sunday night.
1. RT Tristan Wirfs & RG Aaron Stinnie
There has been a shakeup on the right side of the offensive line that has had the luxury of continuity for most of the season. That's good news because that unit is probably the one that needs it the most. But against Washington in the Wildcard round, right guard Alex Cappa fractured his ankle and was placed on Injured Reserve on Friday. That means a new face will get the start in his place: Aaron Stinnie.
"To do this, when you're in that backup role, you're pretty much preparing the whole year for a moment like this," said Stinnie on Thursday. "You always want to prepare yourself as though you are going to be the starter that week so that there is no surprise or shock to yourself when that moment [comes] that you have to go in. So, I've definitely been preparing for a while. As far as this week, I'm definitely trying to dive [deeper] into things, but it's kind of just sticking with the same routine and program that I've been doing. I feel like what I've been doing all year long has been preparing me mentally and physically for the game, so I'm just trying to keep with those roots on it."
Head Coach Bruce Arians and some of Stinnie's fellow linemates also expressed their confidence in him this week as well. But this means that rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs won't have the benefit of a guy like Cappa, who has really become a leader on the line this year, starting next to him. Wirfs will likely have his hands full again with the likes of New Orleans defensive end Cam Jordan. But Wirfs has held up twice to the Saints' defense and here's to hoping him and Stinnie can do it again on the right side.
2. QB Tom Brady
Though Drew Brees has gotten the better end of the deal so far this season, seeing these two legendary quarterbacks go head to head in the postseason is something we are all lucky to witness. In the all-time battle between these two quarterbacks, Brady has thrown the most all-time touchdowns in the regular season while Brees holds the passing yards title. However, if you include the postseason, Brady has both by a long shot. Including playoffs, Brady has thrown for 90,973 yards and 656 touchdowns in his career. Brees ranks second in both categories with 85,590 yards and 607 touchdowns.
Plus this time they meet, Brady is bringing some momentum with him.
He's now the Bucs' playoff record holder in passing yards, yards per attempt and passer rating. His 381 passing yards last Saturday night were the second-most by any player over the weekend and his 9.5 yards per attempt were the most.
Since Week 12, Brady has averaged 327.0 passing yards per game, which is the most of any quarterback in that span. He has a passer rating of 119.7, which is second to only Aaron Rodgers. Brady has also thrown the third-most touchdowns since Week 12 with 15. His 40 on the season set a Buccaneer record for most passing touchdowns in a single season.
And as a bonus, for those of you who don't think Brady still 'has it,' he's thrown the third-most 'big' plays of over 20 yards with 26 behind only Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes.
3. WR Mike Evans
What will Mike do this week? Because last week against Washington, Evans set a Bucs' record for most receiving yards in a single postseason game when he caught six passes for 119 yards for an average of 19.8 yards per reception. This was six days after hyperextending his knee in the regular season finale, which came a play after he hit 1,000 yards on the season, thereby capturing the NFL record for most such seasons to start a career with seven.
Yeah, it's been a busy couple weeks for Evans.
Now, he'll go up against a familiar face as you can bet the Saints are going to put cornerback Marshon Lattimore on Evans throughout the game. The two have gone back and forth for years and that will be an interesting matchup to watch along with the aforementioned big-man matchup we talked about above.
4. CB Carlton Davis
Speaking of matchups, watching Davis handle Michael Thomas should be some high-quality entertainment. Davis got the better of Thomas during the regular season. In Week One, Thomas had a career-low 17 yards on three receptions. In Week Nine, which was Thomas' first game back from injury since that Week One contest, Thomas had 53 yards, which is far less than his 85.0 yards per game career average.
Davis has been the Bucs' top corner all season, shutting down some of the league's top talent. They'll need him and the rest of the Bucs' secondary to step up against not only Thomas but Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Jared Cook, too. Plus, running back Alvin Kamara is always a receiving threat if left unaccounted for.
An increased pass rush and pressure on quarterback Drew Brees should mitigate the stress on the Bucs' secondary but they'll have to hold up their end of the bargain come Sunday and that starts with Davis.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Divisional Round Week practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
5. ILBs Lavonte David & Devin White
By now, you know I always have to put David on here but I truly cannot wait to see what White will do against the Saints in his home state of Louisiana in his first playoff game. White missed the last two weeks while on the reserve/COVID-19 list but by his own admission, had no symptoms, spent the time off working out and further studying the game.
Plus, he live-tweeted the entire Washington game, which was pretty entertaining.
Now, he's about to be let loose on a team he's already had some pretty good stats against in his young career. He's never had less than 11 tackles against New Orleans, though he has yet to get a sack on Brees. That could change Sunday night.
"The number-one thing is, if I beat Drew Brees I go on to the next round, me and my team, we go on to the next round," said White. "But if it is his last game, I do need to get a pick and a sack off him. That's something that I've got to come through, I've got to make a big play off Drew Brees. I need to make a statement game against the Saints this coming Sunday."