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Buccaneers 2016 season preview: Saints in week 14

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images

Previewing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2016 season, one game at a time. Today: the New Orleans Saints in week 14.

Bucs’ all-time record vs. Saints: 18-30

We’re entering the crucial period of the 2016 regular season. In the final four games, the Bucs play division opponents three times: the home and away games against the Saints, and the home game against the Carolina Panthers to close out the season. There’s a very good chance the Bucs will enter this stretch being competitive within the division, and those three games will determine whether Tampa Bay will end up playing a playoff game in 2017.

The Saints were terrible last year, but so were the Bucs — the two teams split their matchups in 2015. Both affairs were low-scoring, which is somewhat surprising given both teams’ penchant for giving up a lot of scores throughout the year. It was particularly baffling that Dirk Koetter, who loved to go deep the year, couldn’t crack the trivially easy code of the Saints defense: just go deep, every play.

Of course, the Saints defense won’t be as easy to crack this year. After all, Rob Ryan isn’t running it anymore. Dennis Allen is a better defensive coordinator, what with having had success ever, but the Saints didn’t add much talent to an underwhelming group: Nick Fairley was the only significant free agent addition, and Sheldon Rankins and Vonn Bell are the most important rookies. Both of them should start and both of them are very talented, but it’s notoriously difficult for defensive backs to make early impacts. Rankins, though, could present some problems — especially for J.R. Sweezy, who’s been inconsistent as a pass blocker.

On offense, the Saints lost the age-limited Marques Colston and got tight end Coby Fleener to replace him. That’s probably an upgrade, but not a massive one — and the Saints have systematically removed good players from their offense the past few years, which has crippled Drew Brees’ ability to turn his side into a consistently dominant unit. It doesn’t help that Brees himself is aging as well.

Overall, it feels like the Saints are on a downward trajectory while the Bucs are on an upward one. That should determine who wins this game, too.