For the third time in the 2020 NFL playoffs, two clubs will clash for the third time in the same season. A look at the numbers.
We saw it happen twice in the first round of this year’s postseason. The Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks split their two-game set this season and then Sean McVay’s club won at Seattle on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday night at Heinz Field, the Cleveland Browns bested the Pittsburgh Steelers, 48-37, in that rivalry’s third installment of 2020. Those two clubs also split their regular-season series.
But this Sunday at the Superdome, it’s a totally different set of circumstances when the New Orleans Saints host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sean Payton’s club bested the Bucs twice during the regular season and now look to make it a three-game sweep. The popular notion is that “it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season.”
Uh, not really. Now, keep in mind that back in the 1920s and ’30, some clubs faced each other three times without a postseason encounter. For a more modern perspective and including the aforementioned instances from this year’s wild card round, Sunday’s clash at New Orleans will mark the 70th time that a pair of clubs will meet for a third time in the same season since the 1970 merger.
On 48 occasions, the rivals split their two-game set. Meanwhile, the Saints’ 2020 sweep of Tampa Bay marks the 22nd time that a club came into the playoffs meeting with a sweep on their resume. In 14 of the prior 21 examples, the winning club made it three straight victories. The last time that happened was just three years ago when these Saints made the rival Carolina Panthers a victim twice during the regular season and once in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs.
Of course, Payton’s club certainly has some work to do when it comes to knocking off Tom Brady and the surging Bucs. Keep in mind that the last time a team won the first two games, then lost the third game was in 2007, when the Dallas Cowboys swept the New York Giants during the regular season, then lost, 21-17, in the ‘07 NFC Divisional Playoffs. Yes, that was Tom Coughlin’s club that would eventually go on to upset Brady and the 18-0 New England Patriots, 17-14, in Super Bowl XLII.
One weekend into the 2020 NFL playoffs and there have already been some surprising results. So can the Buccaneers avenge their two losses at the hands of the Saints and take another step towards Super Bowl LV?