Sunday’s Divisional Round playoff clash between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints will be a landmark encounter for several reasons. Not only is it the first time the NFC South Division rivals have met in the postseason, but it will also feature the oldest quarterback matchup in history as 43-year-old Tom Brady and Drew Brees, 42, square off for potentially the final time.
That clash at the Superdome is preceded by the Cleveland Browns travelling to the home of the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Browns sprung a surprise when beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild card round, but knocking off the Chiefs is another matter entirely.
Browns Can Hold Their Own
Cleveland’s first playoff win in 18 years came in true Browns style as they nearly blew a 35-10 half-time lead in Pittsburgh, eventually holding on to triumph 48-37. It was a cathartic moment for a franchise that has had more than its fair share of disappointment and sends them to Arrowhead with the season already viewed as a success.
The Browns are unsurprisingly the biggest underdogs of the weekend but with few expectations upon them for this game, they look capable of covering the 10-point handicap at
4/5. Cleveland ran riot against a Pittsburgh defence that entered the playoffs ranked second overall in the league, the offensive line giving good protection to quarterback Baker Mayfield.
They should have an easier time keeping Mayfield upright this week against a Chiefs defence that has dropped off following a strong start to the season. Kansas City managed 32 sacks during the regular season, the 19th most in the league, but their real issue has been stopping the run.
The Chiefs ended the regular season ranked 31st against the run and Cleveland have one of the top rushing attacks in the league in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb is averaging over 88 rushing yards per game this year and is
10/11 to have over 73.5 against the Chiefs on Sunday.
With the Chiefs defence likely to struggle, it will be up to quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the offence to save the day. The offence is averaging over 29 points and 303 passing yards per game this season, helping to power them to a 14-2 record and top spot in the AFC in the regular season. Mahomes has again been lights out at times, while Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have proven impossible to stop on their day.
However, their faults on defence have allowed teams to hang in games, the Chiefs failing to cover the handicap in six of their last seven and offering hope the Browns can keep it close.
Brees Buc-ling Under Pressure
After both favourites won their respective Divisional playoff matches on Saturday, Sunday could be a day for the underdogs with Tampa Bay
7/5 to take out the Saints, who are three-point favourites.
The Bucs lost twice to New Orleans during the regular season, including a 38-3 spanking in Week Nine, as the Saints clinched the NFC South title. Tampa Bay got hot towards the end of the season though, particularly on offence, and look to have carried that into the playoffs after racking up 30 points for a fourth match in a row with a 31-23 wild card win in Washington.
It has taken some time but Brady, who joined from the New England Patriots in the offseason, finally appears familiar with his offensive weapons. That arsenal, which already featured top-tier wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, has been boosted by the return to form of Antonio Brown, who is
7/4 to score a sixth touchdown in his last five appearances on Sunday.
The fitness of running-back Ronald Jones is a concern when it comes to the Bucs’ offensive plans and head coach Bruce Arians has already said Leonard Fournette will start against the Saints. Ex-Jacksonville Jaguar Fournette will need to have his best game of the season if Tampa Bay want to keep a New Orleans defence that ranks highly against the run honest.
The Bucs defence ranked number one against the run this season, allowing just over 80 yards per game, and if they can shut down Alvin Kamara’s ability to run the football, that will heap a lot more pressure on quarterback Brees.
Brees does have a full complement of wide receivers available for the game with Michael Thomas back to full fitness but his form this year has been erratic. Every game could be Brees’ last at the moment ahead of his expected retirement at the end of the season so the pressure upon the NFL’s all-time leading passer is huge.
As a six-time Super Bowl winner, Brady knows what it takes to win the playoffs and he can guide his team past the Saints in what will be a tight game, with under 52 points appealing at
25/27 given the two sides respective defences.
*All odds correct at time of writing.