The New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at a logical and reasonable point in the season: Facing each other in Sunday's NFC Divisional playoff game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
That expectation was forecast early given that the Saints (13-4) and Buccaneers (12-5), rivals in the NFC South Division, are led by two of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history.
So, for the third time this season, and with the stakes higher than they ever have been in a matchup between them, New Orleans' Drew Brees, who will turn 42 years old Friday, will see his friend, 43-year-old Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, across the field.
The Saints, who won the NFC South for the fourth consecutive season, won the two regular-season games 34-23 and 38-3, the latter game in Tampa, Fla.
"Tom and I have a friendship and a mutual respect," Brees said Wednesday during his weekly press conference. Brady played his first 20 NFL seasons with New England, and never faced Brees in the playoffs when Brees played with the San Diego Chargers from 2001-05. Brady joined the Buccaneers as a free agent last offseason.
"We were texting back and forth on Monday, just kind of chuckling at this whole scenario, right," Brees said. "He's 43, I turn 42 on Friday, so that's 85 years and a lot of football experience that's going to be on the field on Sunday.
"When Tom Brady signed with the Bucs and I knew that he was coming to our division, I envisioned this game. What was that, nine months ago? Eight months ago? I envisioned this game happening, because I knew our aspirations as a team, to be in the playoffs and beyond, and I certainly knew what he was bringing to the Bucs and that talented roster. And so, I think this is probably where we all envisioned being at this point in the season."
For Brees, it also will represent another step closer to his final snap in the Saints' uniform.
The 20-year veteran hasn't announced his playing intentions beyond this season, but repeatedly has said that he only returned this year to play for his teammates, organization and city.
Currently – regular-season totals only – Brees ranks first in NFL history in passing yards (80,358), completions (7,142), and consecutive games with a touchdown pass (54). He ranks second in touchdown passes (571), behind Brady's 581, and second in completion percentage (67.7, behind DeShaun Watson's 67.8).
Brady is second all-time in passing yards (79,204), but first in Super Bowl victories (six) and regular-season wins (230), with Brees fourth in wins at 172.
That dual level of success made it rational to deduce that, even coming from the same division, the Saints and Buccaneers might find the path to one another in the playoffs.
"It's a division opponent," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "It's someone we're familiar with. Obviously, they're the same way (in terms of familiarity with the Saints), and here we end up with this third game. It kind of felt like all along that this might be the case."
Now that it is, everyone recognizes the magnitude, not just of the game but also of the future Pro Football Hall of Famers at quarterback.
"They've been great at their position for a very long time," Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk said. "So it's obviously special to be a part of something like that, for sure."