Two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks meet in the NFL play-offs this weekend as the New Orleans Saints host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the pick of the Divisional Round.
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New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees says thought he about facing Tom Brady in the play-offs the moment his fellow quarterback joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last March.
The pair are the NFL’s all-time top two for passing yards and touchdown passes.
Brady’s switch to an NFC Conference team meant he could face Brees in the post-season, and the Saints host the Bucs in the Divisional Round on Sunday.
“I envisioned this game happening,” said Brees, who turned 42 on Friday.
“Tom and I have a friendship and mutual respect. We were texting back and forth on Monday, chuckling at this whole scenario.”
Brees had a 3-2 head-to-head record against Brady before the six-time Super Bowl winner left the New England Patriots.
But as Tampa Bay and New Orleans are divisional rivals in the NFC South, they met twice in 2020, with the Saints becoming the only team to beat Brady, 43, twice in the same season.
The Saints finished the regular season with a 12-4 record before beating the Chicago Bears in the super wildcard round last week.
Brady led the Bucs (11-5) into the play-offs for the first time since 2007 and they aim to be the first team to reach a Super Bowl in their own stadium as Tampa hosts Super Bowl 55 on 7 February.
Goff to start for Rams at Packers
The other NFC Divisional play-off sees the Green Bay Packers host the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday.
The Packers (13-3) earned a first-round bye and home-field advantage after finishing as top seed in the NFC Conference, with Aaron Rodgers throwing a league-high 48 touchdowns to make him favourite for the Most Valuable Player award.
Below-freezing temperatures are forecast in Green Bay, and Jared Goff will start as quarterback for the Rams three weeks after suffering a broken thumb which required surgery.
Back-up John Wolford started the last game of the regular season and at the Seattle Seahawks last week, but injured his neck in the first quarter and has been ruled out this weekend.
Goff came in to help the Rams upset Seattle and secure their first play-off win since losing Super Bowl 53 to the Patriots.
“He’s played in a lot of big games, and this is a great opportunity for us,” said Rams coach Sean McVay. “With him leading our offence, we feel great about the chance.”
The Rams sacked Russell Wilson five times last week and hope defensive tackle Aaron Donald (ribs) recovers in time.
“This is a legit, real-deal defence,” said Packers coach Matt LaFleur said, who called Donald a “once-in-a-lifetime player.”
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Mahomes and Mayfield set to renew college rivalry
Cold weather is also forecast for the AFC Divisional game in Buffalo, and visiting quarterback Lamar Jackson this week revealed he has never played in snow.
That could slow down the Baltimore Ravens’ running game, which the 2019 MVP demonstrated by rushing for a 48-yard touchdown to spark his side’s fightback to beat the Tennessee Titans last week.
Another 2018 draft pick Josh Allen has come of age this season, leading the Buffalo Bills to their first AFC East title in 25 years.
NFL predictions: Can the Buccaneers beat the Saints at the third attempt?
Baker Mayfield was the top draft pick in 2018 and has this year helped the Cleveland Browns end the longest active play-off drought of 18 years.
They then caught the Pittsburgh Steelers cold last week, racing into a 28-0 lead in the first quarter before securing a 48-37 win over their divisional rivals.
But this Sunday they face the defending champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, and Mayfield’s former college foe Patrick Mahomes.
In one remarkable game in 2016, Mahomes finished with a record 819 passing and rushing yards for Texas Tech, yet Mayfield’s Oklahoma Sooners ran out 66-59 winners.
“It’s cool to get to play against him in such a big game in the play-offs,” said Mahomes. “He got the better of me in college. I’ll do my best to win in the NFL.”
Mahomes was the MVP for the 2018 season and last year’s Super Bowl, while the Chiefs earned the AFC’s top seed after finishing with a 14-2 record in the regular season – the best in the NFL.
- AFC and NFC Championship games – 24 January
- Super Bowl 55 – 7 February