Round three: fight. Well, not literally. But Sunday's Divisional Round will see two teams very familiar with each other match up for the third time this season when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit New Orleans to take on their division rivals. Winner gets to the NFC Championship.
This one is for all the marbles.
The Bucs swept their other two division opponents this season, while getting swept by the Saints. But the last time Tampa Bay saw New Orleans was in Week Nine, when they were that scrawny high schooler just figuring out his talent. Now, they're arguably all grown up, flexing their offensive weaponry and still stifling teams on the ground. Since Week 10, the Bucs have averaged 347.0 yards per game – the most in the league in that span. They also averaged 38.0 points per game and finished the regular season with the league's third-best scoring offense.
As familiar as these two teams are with each other, this will be the first time they will meet in the postseason, which seemingly adds a different element than all the others. Read on for how to watch the NFC South matchup, along with some key facts about the game.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5) vs. New Orleans Saints (13-4)
- Postseason Record: N/A
- All-Time Record: New Orleans leads series 37-21
- Road record: 12-20
Key Matchups (via Scott Smith)
1. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Saints CB Marshon Lattimore
Earlier in the week, Arians said that the game on Sunday could come down to "one-on-one battles of guys who know each other. Who's going to make those game-changing plays in this game?" There is no better illustration for Arians' point than Evans vs. Lattimore, a heated battle that has been waging since the Saints cornerback hit the ground running as a standout rookie in 2017. The Saints aren't shy about letting Lattimore shadow Evans, and that has led to a back-and-forth battle with wins on both sides. For instance, Evans had 233 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches in his two games against the Saints in 2017, but his only catch in the 2020 season opener at New Orleans was a two-yard touchdown grab. As a more recent example of what Lattimore can do if he's assigned to one specific receiver, the Saints put him on Minnesota's Justin Jefferson on 35 of the rookie's 41 routes in Week 16 and Jefferson finished with just three receptions for 44 yards on seven targets. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Lattimore covered Evans on 48 of his 65 routes run while Lattimore was in the game (he left the second one early due to injury) during the first two Bucs-Saints games this season. If Lattimore takes on that challenge again Sunday he'll be facing a Mike Evans who is playing some of the best football of his career right now and is likely doubly inspired by his first taste of the playoffs after seven seasons. In the last 13 quarters that Evans has been on the field he's caught 25 passes for 456 yards (18.2 avg.) and two touchdowns. That's not 16 quarters because he sustained a knee injury in the first quarter of the Week 17 game against Atlanta that initially looked like it would put his playoff debut in serious jeopardy. Evans barely practiced last week but still managed to play 62 of 74 snaps and lead all players with 119 receiving yards on six catches.
2. Saints RB Alvin Kamara vs. Buccaneers ILB Devin White
Kamara's 2020 stats are mind-boggling. The fourth-year back led the Saints with a career-high 932 rushing yards, averaging 5.0 yards per tote, and also paced the team with 83 catches for 756 yards. He also scored an incredible 21 touchdowns and was the only non-kicker to finish in the top 10 in the NFL's points-scored rankings. What Drew Brees and the Saints offense does so well is get the ball into Kamara's hands with a chance for him to use his incredible elusiveness to pile on yards after the catch. Kamara had 756 receiving yards during the regular season and, remarkably, almost all of them – 731, to be exact – came after the catch. That seemingly impossible combination of numbers takes into account that some screen passes have negative yards at the catch but still shows how dangerous the short passing game through Kamara is for the Saints. The Buccaneers have actually fared pretty well against the Saints' top offensive weapon this season, holding him to 67 yards from scrimmage in Week One and 49 in Week Nine, but Kamara did find the end zone three times in those contests. Tampa Bay's defense is fortunate to be getting back one of the players most likely to have a shot at containing Kamara, as White was activated from the COVID list on Monday after missing the previous two contests. White has the kind of speed and sideline-to-sideline range that make him a good match for a playmaker of Kamara's level and he led the Buccaneers by a good margin with 140 tackles despite sitting out in Week 17. White also had 9.0 sacks on the season and the Buccaneers could try to use his pass-rushing talents to take Drew Brees out of his comfort zone. According to Next Gen Stats, White had the second-best pressure rate (18.6%) among all players in the NFL who came at the quarterback at least 100 times. White sometimes makes his backfield incursions when he sees the running back stay in as a pass protector, and if Kamara does that, it will be another way in which this matchup has a chance to impact the game's outcome.
3. Buccaneers G Aaron Stinnie vs. Saints DT Sheldon Rankins
Stinnie is about to step into the spotlight in a big way. The third-year pro has never started an NFL game, regular season or postseason, and has played a total of 30 offensive snaps. Twenty-five of those came late in the Bucs' 47-7 dismantling of the Detroit Lions in Week 16. According to Arians, Stinnie is ticketed for a much bigger role on Sunday night. While the Bucs got past Washington in the Wild Card round they did suffer a significant loss, with starting right guard Alex Cappa sustaining a fractured ankle. Arians said on Monday that Stinnie would step in for Cappa against the Saints. The former undrafted free agent out of James Madison came to the Buccaneers last November as a waiver claim after he was let go by the Tennessee Titans and has largely been inactive or a special teams participant since. Now he'll be tasked with helping the Bucs' offensive line continue a late-season hot streak that has very frequently given Tom Brady a clean pocket from which to put up enormous numbers. One of Stinnie's duties will be containing Rankins, who had a sack and two of the Saints' three quarterback hits on Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky in the Wild Card round. Rankins most common spot at the snap is lined up the left of the center on the Saints' defensive front, which would put him in Stinnie's space quite a bit. In addition to his pass-rushing capabilities, Rankins is a strong run defender who helped the Saints hold David Montgomery and a hot Bears rushing attack to just 48 yards on 19 carries. Overall, New Orleans was fourth against the run in 2020, both in terms of yards allowed per game (93.9) and yards allowed per carry (3.85). Rankins carries a lot of motivation into this season's playoff run. Two years ago, he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon early in the Saints' first postseason game and was done for the season, and last year he was on injured reserve when the postseason began. This time he has a chance to be a difference-maker in the playoffs and he's off to a good start.
4. Saints WR Deonte Harris vs. Buccaneers CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
The return of Michael Thomas is definitely a boon for the Saints' passing attack, and that was evident in the Wild Card win over Chicago. What was also evident in that game, though, is that speedy kick returner Deonte Harris could also be a very real threat in the passing attack. That was definitely on Arians' mind as the week began. Said the Bucs' head coach when asked about Thomas: "He's a heck of a player, [but] the guy that scares me is Deonte Harris. He's really, really fast and when he was in there, it's a different ballgame. Mike is a bruiser and a chain-mover, but Deonte Harris can go to the house quick." Harris didn't go to the house last weekend but he did lead the Saints with seven catches for 83 yards and showed he could turn a quick pass into a big gain. That was easily the most prolific receiving game of Harris's first two seasons, as he had never before tallied more than four catches or 46 yards in a single contest, but it could be a sign that the Saints are figuring out new ways to put the diminutive receiver's speed and quickness to good use. Harris took 40% of his snaps during the regular season in the slot and also lined up in there six times in last week's win over Chicago. When that happens and the Buccaneers are in man-to-man defense, he will largely be the responsibility of Murphy-Bunting, who celebrated his first crack at the playoffs with an interception in the Wild Card win at Washington. The second-year corner has had some ups and downs in 2020, as he has acknowledged, but he's played well of late and has made a couple critical turnovers down the stretch and in the playoffs. Murphy-Bunting has the nimble feet and quick-twitch moves to excel in the slot and hang with shifty players like Harris. In addition, the two could even do battle on special teams Sunday. Harris is the Saints' primary kickoff and punt returner, averaging 27.3 yards per runback on the former and 12.2 on the latter. He made it to the Pro Bowl as a return man in his rookie season in 2019. Murphy-Bunting is tied for third on the Bucs' coverage unit with three special teams tackles.
Watch on TV:
- Sunday, January 17, 2021
- Kickoff: 6:40 p.m. ET
- Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome
- Television Network: FOX
- Broadcast Crew: Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (color), Erin Andrews & Tom Rinaldi (reporters)
Watch on Mobile:
The stream is available through Yahoo Sports, the Buccaneers Official App and online at Buccaneers.com.
Yahoo! Sports (mobile browser or app)
Bucs Official App
*Please check local listings to confirm availability. Geographic and device restrictions apply. Local & primetime games only. Data charges may apply.
- TAMPA BAY/SARASOTA…………...WXTB 97.9 FM Bucs Flagship Station
- Broadcast Crew: Gene Deckerhoff (play by play), Dave Moore (color), T.J. Rives (sideline)
- SPANISH RADIO..............................WTMP 96,1 Caliente … 101.9 and 1470AM
- Broadcast Crew: Carlos Bohorquez (play by play), Martin Gramatica (color)
- *In-market fans can listen through the Bucs Official App
- BROOKSVILLE ………………………….WWJB 1450 AM/103.9
- DAYTONA BEACH……………………..WRKO 93.1 FM
- FT MEYERS/NAPLES …………….. WWNC 99.3 FM
- GAINESVILLE/OCALA ……………… WRUF 850 AM/ 98.1 FM
- HOMOSASSA SPRING……………….WXCV 95.3 FM
- LAKELAND ……………………………….WLKF 1430 AM
- MELBOURNE ……………………………WICX 1060 AM
- ORLANDO…………………………………WYGM 740 AM/ 96.9 FM
- PORT ST. LUCIE…………………………WPSL 1590 AM
- PANAMA CITY…………………………..WGSX 104.3 FM
- PENSACOLA……………………………..WBSR 1450AM/101.1 FM
- SEBRING……………………………………WWTK AM 730 AM
- TALLAHASSEE…………………………...WTSM 97.9 FM
Sirius/XM Channel 88
On the Bucs Official App*
*Access restricted to Tampa area
Social Media Accounts:
Follow the club for live gameday updates, videos and behind-the-scenes photos.