2021 REWIND: Dynasty-Fantasy Analysis: 2020 Season NFC Divisional Playoff – Bucs 30, Saints 20
As I’m going through research for the 2021 FF Draft Guide, I am re-reading some of my game recaps just to get a feel for how certain things developed...to see what I was thinking/sensing/feeling/tracking in-season, week-to-week in real time/as it happened.
One team’s 2020 seasonal flow of interest to me was just how the Buccaneers unfolded and became the Super Bowl champs. In September, our final preseason projection was for the Bucs to win the NFC South but then fizzle out in the playoffs.
When the Bucs made the playoffs, I thought they might get upset by Washington (and they sweated that down to the end). I did not believe the Bucs were going to run through the playoffs and dominate KC in the Super Bowl...but they did.
To review some of the 2020 season...to have some game recap material to read during the summer, to fill the lack of football void, I am going to republish a couple team’s 2020 season week-by-week, a game report each day just to walk through their season again.
Let’s see how the Bucs went from ‘interesting Brady drama team, but can’t beat the Saints’, to beating the Saints in the playoffs and going on to win the title…
*The FFM 2021 Fantasy Football Draft Guide is now open for early sign up and Combo deal/savings with in-season coverage. See FFM homepage for more info!!*
*Just like our in-regular-season coverage, we’ll be analyzing all of the playoff games for Dynasty/Fantasy purposes…with an eye on 2021 valuation changes, etc. During this time, I’m watching the tape and writing up an analysis on NFL Draft prospect scouting studies and prepping/studying for the Senior Bowl (still on for now) – so, I’m typing out my thoughts/notes quickly and not hardcore editing. Forgive any typos/grammar, etc.
The Saints living off their 2009 Super Bowl season…living off a perpetual ‘we’re built to win now’ philosophy, are officially ‘done’ as via team for the upcoming season/s (for now). They were always expected to ‘do things’, get back to a Super Bowl for the past decade -- but they only have five playoff wins in the last 11 years since their Super Bowl run with no return trip to the big game. Were they just lucky once a decade+ ago?
Should the Saints be lauded for their great regular seasons or be chastised for their playoff ineptitude over the past decade? Seems like history has decided Drew Brees is a god and Sean Payton is beyond criticism or skepticism. It’s fair to praise them both – they’ve won the NFC South four years in a row (after five straight years of not) and been a Super Bowl threat the last four playoffs. It’s hard to get to the Super Bowl, no matter how good a team you are. Kansas City almost missed out on their chance this year because of Patrick Mahomes getting knocked out (literally) of the game with Cleveland (and still have to get by Buffalo). It’s a very fragile/near-impossible thing to get to the Super Bowl, repeatedly…that’s why only Brady-Belichick deserves top canonizing in this current era.
Respect for the Saints…but they’re probably given too much respect. Regardless, it’s over. The team will undergo a transformation for the future this offseason…a potential change at QB and a needed/forced (by CAP) purge of the payroll/veteran players.
It’s hard to beat any team three times in a season, and the Saints were hanging in there against the Bucs…but Tampa Bay is a weird Jekyll and Hyde team. They can look so bad for a quarter or half or game, then look like world beaters the following quarter or half or game. The Saints had the lead 20-13 late into the 3rd-quarter, with the Bucs not looking all that well…and then all the sudden Tampa woke up and the next thing you know the Bucs are dominating.
Remember back in the preseason when people mocked anyone pushing the Bucs as NFC South winners or playoff makers or Super Bowl picks – because Tom Brady was old, and so was Gronk…and the NFL doesn’t work like this…just add old/past prime stars and you just run to the title is silly? Well, the Bucs are a game away from the Super Bowl.
Remember when Bruce Arians and Tom Brady were a bad fit, didn’t get along, and Arians needed to go midseason? Where are all those analysts now? They’ll probably be back, crying, when the Packers stomp the Bucs in the cold this week.
I’ll take/pick Green Bay in the freezing cold over Tompa Bay this week, but I would never bet money against Brady…
*2021 NOTE: Another week, another Tampa Bay rallies to a victory...and they are going to pull another one out again next week. It's truly amazing, the more I re-read their season notes, that the Bucs got to and won/dominated the Super Bowl. I keep saying tjhat but it's all I can think of as I read through. it's mind-blowing this team won a Super Bowl.
Fantasy Player Notes…
-- You would think Drew Brees (19-34 for 134 yards, 1 TD/3 INT) played so poorly here that it would be his final game and he’d go off into retirement and into a cushy TV job (and I for one have zero interest in listening to Drew Brees on commentary), BUT NFL players don’t typically go out with some juice left in the tank. They usually have to be embarrassed out of the game…and Brees certainly did not shine here but it’s not like he’s a nothing – would you rather have Brees in 2021 or Derek Carr or Tua or Sam Darnold or Drew Lock or Jared Goff or Mitch Trubisky or Jimmy Garoppolo (just grabbing QBs people are skeptical of/hate) as your team’s QB in 2021? Just to name a few. Brees still has some kind of value. And I’m sure Brees thinks he can still play OK enough.
My guess is Brees is 50/50 to return, but not the way/reasoning you’d think…
He will likely ‘return’ for a simple reason: for the money. I don’t know if ‘return’ is the right word…more he’s not retiring right away in 2021. Why? He has 36,150,000 reasons to return for 2021. The Saints either pay him $36M to play in 2021…or eat/pay him $22.7M to release him. The Saints would be better off to trade him vs. cutting him and eating the payroll number.
If he actually does retire before the end of January or February, it would probably only happen if the Saints pay him some settlement to do. There is no way Drew Brees is just freely retiring and leaving $36.5M (to play) or $22.7M (to get released) on the table. Maybe he agrees to like a $15M buyout and retires…or he retires with no CAP hit but they sign him to some 10-year/$20M community outreach VP/hoax position. Brees would be silly to retire without getting some money due out the door. If the Saints don’t settle or release him…Brees returns to collect $36.5M or $22.7M…which beats a $2-3-4M salary to be a useless TV analyst…and Brees can get to that TV job anytime he wants.
The Saints will probably have a decision to make, as Brees is holding all the cards – and don’t think he won’t play them. Brees just walking away from all that ‘free’ money…I can’t see it happening. He’s going to have to be paid to go away…or he is coming back.
Side Note: Over Brees’s last 9 playoff games, spanning the past 8 seasons, he sports a (4-5) record with 15 TD passes/11 INTs. Very mediocre.
*2021 NOTE: Brees agreed to a league minimum new contract and then retired to make it easy for the Saints. I wonder if there will be a scenario where he is coaxed out of retirement in 2021? Players usually don't leave on a high or decent note...it's usually forced upon them.
-- Drew Brees is fading away, as a talent…but Tom Brady (18-33 for 199 yards, 2 TDs/0 INTs, 5-2-1) continues to fight.
Brady has only completed 54.8% of his passes in two playoff games this year, as he toggles back-and-forth from looking shot and looking fine. He keeps winning, which hides some of the warts…but the legend grows regardless.
Brady has faced 8 playoff teams (including his two playoff games) this season. In those 8 games, Brady has a (3-5) record with 13 TDs/9 INTs and flirting with less than 60% Comp. Pct. – ‘meh’ numbers. It’s not the Brady of old, but he can pull out those magical moments when they need it…it seems, with some help from the refs giving him ‘veteran treatment’.
Brady is starting to feel like he might be the Drew Brees of next/2021 season…the real downfall season where everyone realizes they are no longer ‘it’, as the season wears on. Not a bust/embarrassment like Peyton Manning’s last year…but just a gradual not ‘it’ anymore…like Brees 2020.
*2021 NOTE: Brady's career has to wind down at some point...so we've all wondered for like 5 years now...
I still say, Brady is slipping and he's a lot closer to what Drew Brees was turning into in 2020 than he is 'the old Brady'.
-- The Brees drama upcoming, and how the Saints deal with it puts all their 2021 plans in flux awaiting what happens.
Will Taysom Hill be the starting QB in 2021?
Are the Saints going to then trade Michael Thomas?
The Saints are currently the worst 2021 CAP positioned team in the NFL…a lot of tough decisions are going to have to be made along with what to do when Brees wants to come back for his big money. The Saints are currently $100+ million over the projected CAP…the next closest is Philadelphia at $50M+ over.
My ‘gun to head’ bets on what will happen…
1) The Saints will pay Brees to go away.
2) Once that happens, they will trade Michael Thomas (just a theory…to Detroit in a Kenny Golladay-involved deal…or to Jacksonville to be with Urban Meyer).
3) Taysom Hill, not Jameis Winston will be the 2021 starting QB.
4) The Saints finish 3rd in the division in 2021.
5) In 2022, rumors swirl that Sean Payton wants a big new deal or he is leaving.
*2021 NOTE: On those five bets...
1) The Saints didn't have to pay him on the way out, he left willingly/gracefully.
2) Thomas has yet to be traded, and will likely not be now.
3) We'll see about QB for Week 1, but I'm betting on Taysom.
4) I'll bump the Saints to 2nd-place for a projection now...Carolina shot themselves in the foot.
5) We'll see what happens with Payton after this season...if a drop-off year, it could get a little interesting on his future in New Orleans.
-- Tre’Quan Smith (3-85-2/3) breakout? No. Just a guy on the field who was open/the least concerning receiver to cover. When Smith caught his TD pass from Winston – four guys chased after Kamara on the developing trick play and Smith was left wide open down the middle, not a player within 10-20 yards of him. It’s not a sign of his ‘breaking out’, he’s just an average NFL WR at best.
I was wondering if this game would be more of a Deonte Harris (1-0-0/1) continued break out, and it started that way – two huge punt/kick returns to start the game and then he got hurt and left the game soon after. The game prior to this, he led the Saints in receiving and has quietly been ascending all season…just injuries keep hiding him from view.
*2021 NOTE: Tre'Quan Smith is one of my least favorite WRs in all of the NFL/FF...he just gets on my nerves, I don't know why really. I think because of all the WRs who will never get the shot a very bland/average Tre'Quan does annually.
-- If you’re watching these TB playoff games…how much better does Ronald Jones (13-62-0, 0-0-0/1) look than Leonard Fournette (17-63-0, 5-44-1/6)?
Those are two highly drafted RBs…one outright cut by his original draft team, the other failed so miserably he almost got cut by his original draft team – so, he just added 15-20 pounds of muscle and reinvented himself into a legit NFL RB.
Please, tell me again why we get so hyped about these incoming, highly rated rookie RBs each year?
Fournette and Jones 2020 were outperformed by an undrafted free agent rookie from the FCS ranks (James Robinson) and a failed Memphis WR (Antonio Gibson) who started taking some jet sweeps pretty nicely late in his senior season and only became a real running back in his rookie NFL training camp (drastically reduced due to COVID).
…but Saquon has such big quads…
*2021 NOTE: But I'm sure Najee Harris will be a huge star from Week 1 on through the next decade...
-- Another Tampa Bay game…another event where Cameron Brate (4-50-0/5) is clearly Tom Brady’s favorite TE throw.
In their two playoff games (per game):
4.0 rec. (5.5 targets), 65.0 yards, 0.0 TDs = Brate
0.5 rec. (3.0 targets), 7.0 yards, 0.0 TDs = Gronk
Gronk (1-14-0/5) has 0 or 1 or 2 catches in a game in eight of his last 10 games.
*2021 NOTE: Brate beat Gronk again the following week...but then Gronk rose up in the Super Bowl and Brate was a ghost.
-- Bucs rookie WR Tyler Johnson (1-15-0/1) made a heckuva catch in this game, which made Troy Aikman go into his patented ‘I really like this kid’ speech that he says every time ANY player does ANYTHING. Aikman then went into how Tom Brady told him that he needs to remember to get the ball to Johnson more.
I want to be encouraged by that statement…but then I also know that Tom Brady usually has a hard time finding Mike Evans (1-3-1/1) every other week.
Johnson is a talent, a real potential star WR…but buried until Brady and/or Evans or Godwin are gone.
*2021 NOTE: Brady must have forgotten to throw to Tyler like he forgot what down it was against Chicago last season -- because Johnson had 1 catch on 3 targets the next two playoff games.
-- This was deemed a great defensive game by the Buccaneers, and there were flashes of greatness here – but recall Taylor Heinicke whooped them the prior week. This Bucs defense flashes sometimes, but usually is worked by good offenses/QBs. It could just be that Drew Brees is not in the ‘good’ category anymore.
It will be a test with Aaron Rodgers this week, but they did hold Rodgers to 10 points and crushed him most of the game in a midseason beatdown of Green Bay.
You never know which Tampa Bay defense is going to show up any given week, but there’s always hope that the dominant one shows up – which might lead them to the Super Bowl.
Snap Counts of Interest:
31 = J Cook
28 = Trautman
27 = J Hill
35 = Tre’Quan
20 = Callaway
03 = Deonte Harris
55 = Gronk
29 = Brate
49 = Fournette
21 = RoJo
66 = Godwin
63 = Evans
29 = A Brown
15 = Tyler Johnson
08 = S Miller
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