Bucs-Saints highlight great Divisional sked

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You hear the one about the two goats who walked into a football stadium?

Expect that goat emoji to be flashed across social media the rest of the week, as Tom Brady and the fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit Drew Brees and the second-seeded New Orleans Saints in the grand finale of divisional matchups this weekend.

Brady has the rings. Brees has the records. New Orleans won the first two meetings — 34-23 in Week 1 and 38-3 in Week 9 — but Tampa Bay has been lights out since its bye week. The Buccaneers arrive on a 5-0 streak, having beaten their opponents by an average margin of 16.2 points. They’ve gained more than 400 yards in four of those five wins, while their vastly improved defense has limited teams to no more than 385 yards in any of those games.

The face a Saints team that became the first squad to ever sweep the NFC South division in the regular season, after turning back a 1-2 start to the season. They’ve won 12 of 14, including last week’s 21-9 silencing of Chicago.

The line is a proverbial -3 for the home team Saints, and the total is a modest 52. Well, modest for this season, and these teams.

And if there is one game sure to have its headlines focused on its star quarterbacks, it’ll be this battle between the NFL’s top two leaders in career touchdown passes, where the losing team may be seeing their future Hall of Famer play his last game.

Brady is 43, Brees turns 42 on Friday, and the combined age of 85 at kickoff will mark the oldest game for two quarterbacks facing each other in NFL history. Brady has already tweeted a filtered picture of the two looking elderly and implying the game should be played on the History Channel. Hey, what’s good for youths on Nickelodeon is good for AARP card holders, right?

Brees is not only 2-0 against Brady this season, but he also holds a 5-3 advantage in lifetime meetings. Brady is 5-4 in NFL road playoff games, including last week’s 31-23 win in Washington, but he’s lost three of his last five. Since Week 14, Brady ranks No. 1 in the NFL with 1,333 yards and is tied atop the league with Aaron Rodgers for TDs thrown (12). Needless to say, the six-time Super Bowl champ is heating up.

This will be just the second time Brady will face an NFC opponent inside the Superdome for the playoffs, as he led New England to a 20-17 win over St. Louis in 2002.

Surprisingly, Brees has only played in nine home playoff games with the Saints but does bring a 7-2 mark along with him. And make note, the Saints are 3-6 against the spread in those games, with four straight staying under.

Brees’ numbers aren’t as glaring down the stretch, and he’s not ranked near the top of the passing categories, but he’s also benefitted from a balanced attack that has seen the Saints rush for a league third-best 1,012 yards since Week 12, one of three just three teams to top the 1,000-yard plateau on the ground.

Brace yourself for Sunday’s clash, as this quarterback rivalry that actually dates back to 1999, when Brady’s Michigan Wolverines devoured Brees’ Purdue Boilermakers, 38-12, in Ann Arbor. Brees out-threw Brady that day (293-250) but took the loss.

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Who knew 21 years, 3 months later the same goats would step onto a football field for what may be one of the greatest football games of all time? I’ve got my AARP card ready and will be poppin’ popcorn. See ya next week!

Saturday

Rams at Packers, Total 46: Los Angeles’ pedestrian offense in sub-freezing weather means there is only one chance it can win: Defense. It has to come to play against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. A staunch effort by the Rams’ defense helps keep this number low. UNDER

Ravens +2 at Bills: Buffalo finished the regular season with the second-most offensive yards (6,343) and tied for the third-most passing TDs (40). But the Bills are facing a defense that ranked second in the NFL in points allowed (303) and just stymied the Titans on their home field. This line tells me the road team has a shot. RAVENS

Sunday

Browns +10 at Chiefs: Got COVID-19? No problem. I had Cleveland last week in this column. I didn’t think it was going to blow through Pittsburgh in dominating fashion, and the Chiefs are a different animal, but 10 points is a lot to give this determined team. I’ll take the points. BROWNS

Buccaneers at Saints, Total 52: I’m taking the easy way out and focusing on the total. I think both Brady and Brees will have epic games, I think it could come down to who has the ball last. I think we’re going to see both quarterbacks bring the best out of one another. This one goes high. OVER

Last Week: 5-1

Season: 53-50-1

About the Author

W.G. Ramirez

W.G. Ramirez is a 32-year veteran covering sports in Southern Nevada, and resident of 46 years. He is a freelance reporter in Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press.

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