The first week of the NFL season is here and the Bucs will travel to New Orleans to take on a familiar opponent in the Saints this Sunday.
Tampa Bay was in the news during the offseason and the brunt of it was directed toward Jameis Winston and his three-game suspension.
Winston won’t be available against the Saints, but that doesn’t mean the Bucs can’t compete or win the game without him.
Let’s dive into this week’s preview.
- All-time series record: New Orleans leads the all-time series, 32-20, and holds a 19-13 record against the Bucs in NFC South play. The Bucs are 9-14 at home and 11-18 on the road.
- Longest win streak: The Saints won seven straight games against the Bucs from December 2011 until December 2014. Winston won his first NFL game and broke the streak against the Saints in 2015.
- Largest victory: Tampa Bay was crushed 41-0 by the Saints during their second meeting of the 2012 season.
- 2017 final offensive & defensive rankings: The Bucs finished with the ninth ranked offense (27th run, 4th pass) and the 31st ranked defense (23rd run, 22nd pass). New Orleans finished with the second ranked offense (5th run, 5th pass) and the 17th ranked defense (16th run, 15th pass).
What to watch for
Without having played any games yet, there aren’t many solid storylines to follow; however, here are a few nuggets to keep an eye on Sunday:
- Mike Evans and the Bucs’ all-time touchdown (receiving) record: Evans needs just two touchdowns to tie Jimmie Giles’ all-time record of (34). Can he get there despite facing off against Marshon Lattimore?
- Mike Evans vs. Marshon Lattimore: The talented rookie got the best of Evans last season to the tune of two terrible games and instigating a one-game suspension against the Bucs’ receiver. Can Evans turn the tables?
- Alvin Kamara: The NFL’s rookie of the year will be a tough test for the Bucs. Kamara absolutely shredded them in both meetings last season. But without Mark Ingram, it will be interesting to see if he can handle the full load.
- The Bucs’ kicking game: If it’s a close game, then all bets are off when it comes to Tampa Bay’s chances at making an important field goal. Chandler Catanzaro missed two extra points in the preseason, which is not a good omen.
- Records for DeSean Jackson: He has the chance to move into the number one spot in several categories for his career. DJax has four receiving touchdowns of 80 or more yards and needs one more to tie the NFL record of five, shared by Derrick Alexander, Lance Alworth, Bob Hayes and Jerry Rice. He also has 22 touchdowns of 60 or more yards (including returns) and needs one more to tie Jerry Rice (23) for the most total touchdowns of 60 or more yards in NFL history.
- QB Ryan Fitzpatrick: He’s no Winston, but he’s the quarterback, therefore one of the most important players on the field.
- WR Mike Evans: The Bucs will need some big plays out of him on Sunday.
- TE O.J. Howard: He represents a major mismatch for the Saints. It would be wise for the Bucs to use him often.
- DE Jason Pierre-Paul: Tampa Bay’s prize free-agent needs to carry over the momentum from the offseason into the regular season.
- LB Lavonte David: Arguably the Bucs’ best defender. He will be all over the place.
- CB Brent Grimes: Someone has to anchor the Bucs secondary.
- QB Drew Brees: See above statement about Fitzpatrick except Brees is much, much better.
- RB Alvin Kamara: The Saints’ offensive key to the 2017 season is ready for round two.
- WR Michael Thomas: Brees’ favorite target is set for a big day if the Bucs don’t get their secondary figured out.
- DE Cameron Jordan: The Bucs will have their hands full with the best defensive player on the team.
- CB Marshon Lattimore: After establishing himself as one of the NFL’s top corners, Lattimore is bound for a big 2018.
- S Marcus Williams: I’d think Williams has a bone to pick after his last play of the 2017 season, wouldn’t you?
The Bucs are coming off of a season-ending win against the Saints and are trying to beat them back-to-back for the first time since 2011.
The odds - both literally and figuratively - aren’t in the Bucs’ favor. They are (9.5) point underdogs and without Winston, we aren’t quite sure as to how the offense will perform just yet.
There’s also the fact that this game will be played in the Superdome and I’m willing to bet that it will be rocking for the first game of the season.
A Buccaneer win, while possible, is not likely. On the bright side, there aren’t many other things in life that are less predictable than Week 1 in the NFL.