Florida Football Friday: Bucs Hope Third Time is Charm vs. Saints

Photo courtesy of New Orleans Saints

There will be plenty of firsts come Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The NFC Divisional playoff between the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will feature the NFL’s top two all-time leading passers. It will also feature a pair of quarterbacks over 40. That’s the first time that has ever happened in the postseason.

In their first playoff appearance since 2007, the fifth-seeded Buccaneers picked up their postseason win since Super Bowl XXXVII last Saturday by beating the Washington Football Team in the Wild Card round, 31-23. The No. 2 seed Saints advanced by topping the Chicago Bears, 21-9.

The quarterback match-up between Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady, 43, and New Orleans’ Drew Brees, 42, was decidedly in favor of the “young” guy during the two regular season meetings. New Orleans won the season opener 34-23 before blasting Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium on Nov. 8 by a 38-3 score.

Over those two contests, Brees threw six touchdowns with no interceptions. Brady, on the other hand, was intercepted five times and threw just two touchdowns. That included an interception return for a touchdown by Janoris Jenkins in the opener.

There will be no shortage of talent around the two veterans.

Tampa Bay’s supporting cast includes running back Ronald Jones, wide receivers Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Antonio Brown and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Evans ranked fourth in the NFL with 13 touchdown catches this season. Brady threw for 40 touchdowns — good for second in the league. He threw for 381 yards and two scores in last week’s win over Washington.

Offensively, New Orleans is finally healthy. Running back Alvin Kamara led the NFL this season with 21 total touchdowns, finishing with nearly 1,700 yards from scrimmage. After missing nine games this season, wide receiver Michael Thomas finished with seven catches for 73 yards and a score last week against Chicago. Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Jared Cook are two other players to watch in the passing game.

Both teams ranked in the top 10 in the NFL this season in total and scoring defense. Demario Davis led the Saints in tackles while Trey Hendrickson was among the NFL leaders in sacks with 13.5. For Tampa Bay, linebacker Devin White ranked fifth in the NFL with 140 sacks. Jason Pierre-Paul led the Buccaneers with 9.5 sacks.

New Orleans will be looking to advance to the NFC Championship for the second time in three years. The Buccaneers have not been there since 2002 when they won the Super Bowl. Sunday’s contest will begin at 6:40 p.m. ET and air nationally on FOX.

Prediction: New Orleans 27, Tampa Bay 24

Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.