Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints: Matchups, prediction in this NFC South showdown

How do the matchups shape up in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints showdown, and what is our prediction for this crucial game?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints showdown in Week 8 could set the fate of the NFC South in 2021. However, a Saints win could also make the division wide open. Let’s break down the matchups for this crucial divisional clash between the Saints and Buccaneers and make a prediction for how it could turn out.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense vs. New Orleans Saints defense

Tampa Bay’s offense made light work of what had the potential to be a tough Chicago Bears defense last Sunday. However, they now face a New Orleans defense that has been largely impressive in 2021.

Tom Brady vs. Saints defense

Brady is on a ferocious pace this season, averaging 325 yards per game, and he’s the only QB to have topped 20 touchdown passes. He is aided by having a tremendous group of receiving talent around him. Even with Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown missing time, another talented pass catcher steps up in their place.

Pro Football Network’s Offensive Value Metric demonstrates how important Brady’s offensive weapons have been this year. Brady has certainly been providing value within his environment, but his weapons have helped turn that into the incredible numbers we see Brady post each week.

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However, in the Saints’ defense, Brady will come against a unit that has been strong this season. The Saints have allowed just 6 passing touchdowns this season and have 9 interceptions. As a unit, they are the best in the league in preventing TDs when opponents are inside the red zone (35.7%). Additionally, opponents are converting just 33.7% of their third-down opportunities against the Saints.

It’s rare for any defense to match up evenly with Brady. Yet, the way the Saints are playing, they might just be that unit. It is hard not to give Brady the edge simply because of the gaudy numbers, but it would be wrong to underestimate this defensive unit.

Advantage: Push

Buccaneers skill players vs. Saints secondary

Mike Evans and Chris Godwin continue to be the stars of this offense. Godwin has turned his 57 targets into 520 yards and 3 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Evans has 496 yards and 7 touchdowns. Their unique tools play well off each other and provide Brady with the ability to attack defenses in a multitude of ways.

Alongside Evans and Godwin has been a mix of pass catchers. Antonio Brown will be missing again this week, but Rob Gronkowski could return. Gronkowski had 184 yards and 4 touchdowns in the three games he played this year. Even if Gronkowski is limited, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard are more than capable of making plays for the Buccaneers.

Defensively, the Saints have one of the best cornerbacks in the league on their roster in Marshon Lattimore. The Saints CB has allowed just 15 completions on 35 targets. He has allowed some big plays as those 15 completions have gone for 127 yards, but that is often the nature of CBs like Lattimore.

Additionally, he has had success against Evans historically. In their last meeting, Lattimore held Evans to 1 reception on 2 targets for 3 yards in the 2020 NFL Playoffs. In eight career games, Lattimore has allowed 10 receptions on 22 targets for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns against Evans.

New Orleans’ defensive backs have all largely been strong in coverage this season. Only Paulson Adebo has allowed a completion rate above 60%, but he has 2 interceptions and a passer rating against of 79.5. It is crazy to say this, but these two units might actually be virtual equals.

Advantage: Push

Buccaneers offensive line vs. Saints defensive line

Like last year, the Buccaneers have had one of the best offensive lines in the league. Even with the struggles of Ronald Jones and (at times) Leonard Fournette, the Buccaneers still rank 16th in yards per attempt. Nevertheless, this week will be a huge test against the best run defense in the league. The Saints have allowed just 3.3 yards per rush attempt and have allowed just one 100-yard rushing game this season.

The Buccaneers have also excelled at pass blocking, culminating in one of the best OLs in the first seven weeks. Brady has barely been touched this year with a sack rate of just 2.9%.

The Saints’ defense is performing marginally above average rushing the passer. They have a 26% pressure rate, a 9.4% hurry rate, and a 5.4% sack rate. Those numbers are a concern against this line and could leave their defensive backs exposed more often than usual.

The Saints have the edge for the run game, but the passing game discrepancy slightly leans towards the Buccaneers.

Advantage: Buccaneers (marginally)

New Orleans Saints offense vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense

It has been a strange season for the Saints’ offense. In two games this year, they have topped 30 points. In another two, they have averaged 24.5 points. And then, in the final two, they have managed a total of just 20 points. Against a good Buccaneers defense, can they have one of their better days?

Jameis Winston vs. Buccaneers defense

Jameis Winston has had an up-and-down season. In Week 1, he did everything asked of him extremely well. However, in three games this year, he has completed fewer than 55% of his passes. The overall numbers look reasonable outside of a 58.9% completion rate.

Winston leads the league in touchdown rate (8.6%), while his 2% interception rate is the lowest of his career. His passer rating is at a career-high 102.4, having previously topped out at 92.2 in his third season with the Bucs.

Tampa Bay’s defense has not been at its best so far in 2021. They have allowed a 70% completion rate and 14 touchdowns. However, they have limited big plays at 6.9 yards per attempt, while their 10 INTs are tied for the second-most in the league.

The touchdowns are especially interesting. With Winston throwing TDs at a highly efficient rate, the Buccaneers ranking 16th in red-zone conversion rate could give them a glimmer of hope. Yet, it is simply so hard to trust Winston unless the opposition is a bottom-10 defense. The Buccaneers’ high interception rate is a major cause for concern, making this matchup largely even.

Advantage: Push

Saints skill players vs. Buccaneers secondary

When your running back leads the league in targets, that generally suggests a problem with your receiving group. When he does that while averaging just over 5 targets per game, that suggests more than just a small problem.

Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris have led new Orleans’ receiving corps. Callaway leads the team in targets, yards, and touchdowns but has a catch rate of just 57.1%. Meanwhile, Harris has caught 75% of his targets for 236 yards and 2 scores.

Behind them, the combination of Adam Trautman, Kenny Stills, and Juwan Johnson had been nothing more than serviceable. The return of Tre’Quan Smith in Week 7 could not have come at a better time. However, he was limited last time out, seeing just 3 targets on 55% of the snaps.

The lack of a clear outside weapon actually negates the best player in the Buccaneers’ secondary. Jamel Dean has been incredible this year. He’s given up just 11 completions on 28 targets (39.3%) for 112 yards and a passer rating allowed of 21.7. Dean would usually latch onto the opposition’s best receiver, but he will not be assigned to shadow RB Alvin Kamara.

How the Buccaneers cover Kamara will be key. Will they use one of their safeties or risk using Lavonte David or Devin White? David has allowed an 82.9% completion rate on 35 targets for 220 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has also been limited in practice this week after missing the past two games. Meanwhile, White has allowed completions on 85.4% of his 41 targets for 309 yards.

The Bucs’ secondary is not great, but neither is the Saints’ WR group. Kamara is the key, and with Tampa’s LBs relatively struggling in coverage, the lean has to be with Kamara.

Advantage: Saints (marginally)

Saints offensive line vs. Buccaneers defensive line

The Saints’ offensive line has been solid in the run game, ranking among the top 10 units. Unfortunately, they have simply not had the production from the running backs to support them. The addition of Mark Ingram will help their cause and demonstrate just how well they have been playing this year.

Unfortunately, this week they go up against one of the best run-stopping defensive fronts in the league. The Buccaneers have allowed just 3.7 yards per rush attempt and 3 rushing TDs this season.

The Saints have been a marginally below-average pass-blocking offensive line this season. Winston has been sacked 11 times at a rate of 6.6%. However, the Buccaneers have also been around the league average rushing the passer. Tampa has a pressure rate of 23.5%, a hurry rate of 8.9%, and a sack rate of just 5.4%.

Advantage: Buccaneers (marginally)

Betting line and game prediction

The Saints have flown under the radar somewhat this year, and that is why they are 4.5-point underdogs against the Buccaneers this week. Making a prediction for this Buccaneers vs. Saints matchup is actually surprisingly tough when breaking down the matchups. The Saints have been impressive, but lacking a real test in the past few weeks may have hidden their weaknesses.

The key to this matchup will be the Saints’ defensive backs. If they can contain the Buccaneers’ passing game, their defensive line can keep them in it. Still, the lack of an established pass rush could be the undoing of New Orleans’ pass defense. Tampa Bay has the slight advantage in the trenches on both sides, which is key in these close matchups.

On top of that, it is hard to see how the Saints score 25 or more points on the Buccaneers. Unless they can force turnovers from Brady regularly, the Bucs may only need 24-30 points to win this game.

Saints vs. Buccaneers Prediction: Buccaneers 26, Saints 21

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