Saints vs. Buccaneers Odds & Picks: How To Bet This Spread & Total
Getty Images. Pictured: Drew Brees, Tom Brady
Saints vs. Buccaneers Odds
Their future Hall-of-Fame quarterback missed four games while their star wide receiver missed half the season, and still the Saints managed to secure their fourth straight NFC South title. And they did so despite Tom Brady’s arrival in Tampa Bay tipping the scales of the division — just not quite enough to unseat Drew Brees (with a lot of help from his defense).
In fact, the Saints handed the Buccaneers two of their five losses. Now the two will meet for a third time this season with a spot in the NFC Championship Game on the line.
Our staff details how they’re betting the matchup below.
Saints vs. Buccaneers Picks
Click on a pick below to skip ahead to that analysis.
Palmer: A common argument for taking Buccaneers will start with: It’s hard to beat a team three times in one season. Nonsense, it’s not hard to beat a team three times in a season.
Since 1970, there have been 21 instances in which a team has defeated another twice in the regular season and had a third matchup in the playoffs. The team that has swept the regular-season meetings is 14-7 straight up in the third, including 12-5 at home. And coincidentally, the last team to sweep an opponent in the regular season then beat them a third time in the playoffs was the 2017 Saints, who swept the Panthers in the regular season then defeated them in the playoffs.
The notion that it’s tough to beat a team three times is nothing more than gambler’s fallacy — the erroneous belief that if a particular event occurs more frequently than expected in the past, it is less likely to happen in the future.
The idea that a certain outcome is “due” has destroyed the bankroll of many gamblers.
I won’t sit here and try to convince you that the Buccaneers have a good chance of winning this game based on such a faulty premise, but what I will say is that sometimes NFL games have a way of taking on a life of their own. How many times have you watched an NFL game in which a turnover or two completely changes the outcome? Or one team gets into such a rhythm that the opposing team is on its heels from the opening kickoff?
Take the wild-card matchup between the Steelers and Browns — Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey botched the first snap of the game, Cleveland recovered the fumble to score a touchdown, Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception on the following drive and the Browns never looked back.
With turnovers largely being random and unpredictable, sometimes a game that out of the ordinary happens. If the Steelers and Browns played 10,000 times more, I’d imagine the Browns would win by 11 points in only 1.1% of instances. It would still be a possible result, but among the far less likely outcomes.
That’s exactly how I would describe the first two matchups between the Saints and Buccaneers, in which the Saints won by an average margin of 23 points.
In their first meeting, three turnovers were the clear difference in a game that was decided by two possessions: The Buccaneers drove right down the field, scoring on their first possession to take a 7-0 lead before a Brady interception set the Saints up at the Bucs’ 17-yard line, a blocked field goal took three points off the board, a pick-six on the opening drive of the third quarter made it 24-17, and a Mario Edwards muffed punt set the Saints inside the red zone when it was 31-17.
Despite that being Brady’s first game with the Buccaneers after no preseason and limited training camp due to COVID-19, they still out-gained the Saints in total yards (310 vs. 271), first downs(23 vs. 18), yards per play (4.8 vs. 4.1) and yards per carry (3.3 vs. 2.4). And while the Saints ultimately came away with the win, I wasn’t particularly impressed with what I saw from them.
The Saints clobbered the Buccaneers in their second meeting to win 38-3, but there was a long list of unique personnel situations for the Bucs: They were missing left guard Ali Marpet, it was Antonio Brown’s first game of the season, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin were coming off injuries and Brady was still getting acclimated to an offense that he had played only eight games in.
The absence of Marpet loomed large — Brady was pressured on 54% of his dropbacks compared to only 31% in the first meeting, when the Buccaneers out-gained the Saints in yardage. Nonetheless, Brady was sacked three times and the Bucs had just 194 of total offense. The Saints held a 31-0 halftime lead and with the game being all but decided, most people could go to bed early that night and get ready for work on Monday.
I generally subscribe to the theory that every line tells a story, so if the Saints defeated the Buccaneers by an average margin of 23 points in their two games this season, why are the Saints only 3-point favorites? This line is essentially telling us that this game would be a pick ’em if played on a neutral field, and that it would be handicapping malpractice to take away any lessons from their first two meetings considering the circumstances.
Tampa Bay’s offense is rolling. Since the Week 9 loss to the Saints, the Bucs averaged 34.1 points per game and are coming off a wild-card game in which they put up 31 points and 507 yards of total offense against a Washington Football Team that’s fourth in points allowed (20.6), second in yards per play (4.9), sixth in sacks (47), eighth in pressure rate (25.6%), third in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA, third in expected points added per play (-0.064), fourth in success rate (42.4%) and second in red-zone touchdown percentage (50%).
Washington’s defense is better than New Orleans in nearly every metric.
This Saints defense hasn’t been anything to write home about. Since Week 13, after being gifted a win by playing a Broncos offense that literally didn’t have a quarterback to start, the Saints have given up 24 points and 400 yards of offense to Jalen Hurts and the Eagles, 32 points to the Chiefs down multiple players on the offensive line, and 33 points to the Vikings. The Panthers moved the ball at will against the Saints, too, but were the victim of five turnovers that suppressed their offensive output.
And finally, in the Wild Card Round, the Bears were a Javon Wims wide open touchdown drop away from really putting pressure on the Saints.
The Saints are 18th in explosive pass rate, so while a defensive metric like DVOA ranks them second I believe they’re not nearly as good as that would lead us to believe. This unit can be scored on, and if the Buccaneers are able to protect Brady, we could see this Buccaneers offense thrive.
The Buccaneers are missing right guard Alex Cappa, but I’m not sure that will have the same caliber of impact as Marpet’s absence did in Week 9. We’ll likely see some heavier sets from the Bucs as Rob Gronkowski stayed in to block in much of last week, running a route on just 18% of his snaps as he helped to protect Brady from Chase Young and Montez Sweat.
Overall, my projections make the Saints 1.5-point favorites, and I believe this line is telling us to expect a closer matchup than we’ve seen the last two meetings.
Underdogs are 12-8 against the spread in playoff matchups within their division since 2003 per our Action Labs data, so while teams that have won both regular-season matchups might have fared well in the third matchup straight up, that hasn’t necessarily been the case against the spread.
I like the Bucs to keep this inside the number and potentially win outright, so I’ll take the +3 as well as add them to 6-point teasers to cross out the key numbers of 6, 7 and 9.
Anderson: This is the big one. This is the game we’ve waited for all week and, really, since the moment Tom Brady shocked the world by signing with the Bucs. This might be the last time we ever get to see Tom Brady and Drew Brees face off, and it could be the last opportunity for either of these future Hall of Fame quarterbacks to go to the Super Bowl.
These teams are both really, really good. The Saints and Bucs rank first and second in DVOA and have been near the top of those rankings all season.
The Saints defense has been one of the best in football, ranking in the top three in both passing and rushing defensive DVOA, and they’ve had the league’s most efficient running game by DVOA. Their only real weakness by the numbers has been the passing offense. The passing offense! That was the one thing we thought we could count on, but Brees has been good not great while Michael Thomas contributed almost nothing in an injury-plagued campaign.
Thomas has dominated the Bucs over his career, averaging nearly 100 yards per game, and it’s important to remember that the Saints rank first in DVOA even without maybe the best receiver in football most of the year (plus no Brees for four games). The Saints are just that good anyway.
Part of the reason the Saints’ metrics are so great is because they dominated these Bucs twice already this season.
The first came way back in Week 1. The Saints scored 17 in the second quarter and added a pick-six at the start of the second half, leading 34-17 late before a garbage-time Bucs score. It was more of a defensive game — the Saints forced three turnovers and held the Bucs to single-digit net yards on seven of 11 drives. The only way the Bucs really moved the ball was by drawing big pass interference penalties down the field. Brady drew four for 101 yards, including 67 yards to Mike Evans.
Those two lead the league in pass interference drawn, so that’s something to keep an eye on.
The second meeting was highly-anticipated Sunday night showdown in Week 9, but the game was over before it even got started. The Bucs went three-and-out on each of their first four drives. The Saints scored on five of their first six possessions and fumbled in the red zone on the other one. And New Orleans made Brady’s life miserable. The Saints recorded three interceptions, three sacks, six quarterback knockdowns, and six hurries.
It would’ve been a shutout if the Bucs hadn’t kicked a meaningless field goal in the final minutes.
In both games, the Saints defense had all the answers for Brady and the Bucs offense. New Orleans put consistent pressure on Brady, and he has struggled under pressure all year, and more and more as he’s aged. He just never looked comfortable in this matchup.
Those two games also showed another huge edge the Saints have: Special teams. The Saints have one of the best units in the NFL while the Bucs have one of the worst. New Orleans uses strong special teams play to gain a huge field-position edge. In both meetings, the Saints were constantly using quick defensive stops and a strong kick game to play on short fields. They blocked a field goal in the first game, too.
The Bucs are flashier and more aggressive, but Brees will not be rattled by Todd Bowles blitzes, and Tampa Bay ranked highest in Football Outsiders’ variance metric. When they’re good, they’re great, but they often go missing for long stretches — they did that in both Saints games this season, and if they do it again in a third, it could spell the end of the Bucs season.
There are a few other players I’ll be watching closely. We already know Alvin Kamara is a stud, but Ronald Jones has been just as good a runner and is a game-time decision. It’s a big drop-off from him to Leonard Fournette and other options if Jones is out and really hurts Tampa Bay’s offensive versatility, and the Bucs offensive line is also banged up, heightening the problem.
This is far from a slam dunk. I could see a close win or a blowout either way. But in the end, I like a lot of these little margins in the Saints favor. I’m riding with Brees and the Saints at home.
Freedman: An indoor playoff game? I can’t help myself. Since 2003, the over in domed playoff contests is 29-13 (36.9% ROI).
On top of that, the over at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is an A-graded 71-51-2 (14.2% ROI) in quarterback Drew Brees’ starts going all the way back to his first season with the Saints in 2006.
Stuckey: I’m putting my faith in Todd Bowles making adjustments this time — his signature 3-4 defense puts plenty of men in the box, which is why they’re elite against the run. They also play a lot of zone underneath, which enables them to best disguise which linebackers are bringing pressure.
On the back end, they do aggressively try to jump routes and make plays, but they also use a lot of off-coverage at the line of scrimmage. That’s a nightmare against Drew Brees, who picks apart off-coverage with the Saints’ quick passing attack, which is exactly what happened in their last meeting.
I fully expect to see much more press man on the outside, especially now that the Bucs’ secondary is fully healthy. That should make it much more difficult for a vertically-challenged Saints offense to move the ball, especially since Tampa can take away exactly what New Orleans wants to do on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, I love this Saints defense. They can get pressure (sixth-highest rate in the league) without blitzing. That’s exactly the formula you need to slow down Tom Brady, who had a 6.7% interception rate against the Saints this season compared to 1.2% against the rest of the NFL.
I’ve also seen too much talk coming out of Tampa about running the ball after rushing for only nine yards in the last meeting against New Orleans. Personally, I disagree with that sentiment, but it would be a bonus boost for the under.