For possibly the last time, Drew Brees and Tom Brady will square off as the New Orleans Saints (5-2) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) battle for first place in the NFC South on Sunday Night Football.
New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, November 8, 2020 – 08:20 PM EDT at Raymond James Stadium
The Saints won the Week 1 meeting 34-23, but the Buccaneers have improved, the venue has switched, and most NFL betting sites have Tampa Bay as a 4-point favorite with a total of 50.5 points in this crucial matchup.
The Return of Antonio Brown
We know Brady (561) and Brees (560) have been in a battle for the all-time touchdown pass record, but did you know they throw more passes to running backs than all other quarterbacks in 2020? Alvin Kamara is second in the NFL with 55 catches this season, or 29 more than his next closest teammate.
A big reason for this has been the injuries these offenses have had at wide receiver this season. So, while the quarterbacks get the headlines, this game could be decided by which wideouts take the field on Sunday night.
Starting with Tampa Bay, Antonio Brown is expected to play in his first NFL game since September 2019 after doing all he could to throw away his superstar career. However, this is the move Tom Brady wanted. If Brown can stay on the roster and play up to his past abilities, it is a big asset to an offense that has already caused problems for defenses. No one can seemingly cover Scotty Miller this year. Miller would technically fall to No. 4 on the depth chart and that does not include tight end Rob Gronkowski’s growing role in the passing game.
This offense will be able to field four receivers who have a 1,300-yard receiving season under their belt. It is not clear how effective Chris Godwin will be if he plays after having finger surgery. Mike Evans has a rough history against the Saints, including four games where he failed to break 13 receiving yards. Evans is usually guarded well by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, but again, the Buccaneers have so many weapons now that they will give the Saints plenty of problems in the passing game.
This also won’t be a rusty Brady in Week 1 without a preseason of experience like in the first matchup. You have to expect Tampa Bay’s offense to perform better than it did in that loss.
The Return of Michael Thomas (Maybe?)
Wide receiver Michael Thomas set an NFL record last year with 149 receptions, but we have not seen him since Week 1 when he had three grabs for 17 yards against the Buccaneers. Injuries and some discipline issues have plagued his year, but he is hoping to get back on the field in time for this crucial matchup.
Thomas is not a deep threat or great YAC receiver, but his chemistry and efficiency with Brees on the short-to-intermediate throws has been greatly missed in this offense. It got even harder with Emmanuel Sanders missing the last two games, but he too is looking to be available this Sunday night.
In the meantime, Brees has found unique ways to use Kamara in the passing game and even threw a big touchdown to Swiss Army Man Taysom Hill in Chicago on Sunday. The Saints have won four close games in a row and Brees is back to leading the league in completion percentage. Brees (79.2, sixth) even ranks higher in QBR than Brady (71.6, 14th) this season. If that surprises you, then consider the Saints also rank higher in yards per drive (ninth) and points per drive (fifth) than the Buccaneers (22nd and ninth) do this year.
This offense has still been highly effective, even if Brees looks his age at times and the receivers just have not been there. However, Tampa Bay is the toughest defensive test for this offense. In Week 1, the Saints had a season-low 271 yards and Brees only passed for 160 yards in that game, most of which Thomas did play. The Buccaneers have exceptional players at every level of the defense, and they play fast and aggressive. Brees does not stretch the field much these days and he won’t likely do it on Sunday even if everyone plays.
With all the skill players expected to play in this game, hitting Over 50.5 points feels like one of the safest bets for your NFL picks this week. Also consider the fact that the 2020 Saints have scored and allowed at least 23 points in all seven games this year. The only other team in NFL history to do that is this year’s Seahawks. Even the Bears’ lowly offense took the Saints to overtime on Sunday in a 26-23 final.
The Over is not in question, but how about the spread? Tampa Bay (4-4 ATS) is far from invincible this year. There was a lot of hype after the 38-10 Green Bay blowout. However, this team has already lost to the Saints by 11, needed a 17-point comeback against the Chargers, blew a 13-point lead to the Bears, and just had to squeak by the awful Giants in a 25-23 win as a 12.5-point favorite on Monday night. This team is not peaking yet and it will likely take more than one night of Brown and post-surgery Godwin to get there.
On the other hand, the Saints (2-5 ATS) have just won their last three games by a field goal each. Brees with Thomas and Sanders available has already struggled once with this defense this year. I think the tables will turn from Week 1 and the Buccaneers will be in first place after a 31-24 type of win.
NFL Pick: Buccaneers -4 (-115) and Over 50.5 (-110) at Bovada (visit our Bovada Review)