Many people saw this Week 9 matchup earlier in the year and immediately circled it on their calendar(s). It was considered a potential doozie then and fortunately, both teams are primed and ready to go on Sunday Night Football. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) are hosting the New Orleans Saints (5-2) in Raymond James Stadium and are looking to establish themselves as top dog in the NFC South.
But before the game kicks off, let’s take a look at all of the major keys and components to this game.
- All-time series: New Orleans leads, 36-21.
- Longest win streak: The Saints won seven games in a row from 2011-2014
- Largest margin of victory: The Saints blasted the Bucs, 41-0, in 2012.
- 2020 offensive and defensive rankings: Tampa Bay is currently ranked eighth in total offense (6th passing, 22nd rushing) and seventh in total defense (20th passing, 2nd rushing). New Orleans is 16th in total offense (14th passing, 19th rushing) and fifth in total defense (9th passing, 3rd rushing).
What To Watch For
- The return of Antonio Brown: It’s crazy to think that Brown will make his Buccaneers debut in this game, but hey, it’s 2020, after all. How many snaps will he get? How many targets? Will he be able to make a play or two? All of these questions —and more— will be answered tonight.
- The return of Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders: The Saints will also receive a big-time boost on offense with the return of their top two receivers. Thomas hasn’t played since these two teams met back in Week 1 and Sanders has missed the last couple of games due to COVID-19 protocol.
- Missing Marpet: Tampa Bay will be without Ali Marpet, the team’s best offensive lineman. Not only is it a big deal in terms of the run game, but he would also help out left tackle Donovan Smith with double teams from time to time. Fortunately, Saints defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins is out, as well, or else this injury could be a much bigger deal.
- Tampa Bay’s red zone offense vs. New Orleans’ red zone defense: The Bucs have one of the best touchdown percentages in the red zone on offense (77.4%), while the Saints have allowed the highest touchdown conversion rate in the red zone on defense (83.3%). Tampa Bay must score touchdowns this week when they are in this situation.
- Bruce Arians/Byron Leftwich/Todd Bowles vs. Sean Payton/Pete Carmichael Jr./Dennis Allen: The Saints appear to have BA and his staff’s number. They are 0-3 since arriving in Tampa Bay and for the most part, the Bucs haven’t been very competitive in these meetings. BA and co. will need to have their best game as Bucs if they want to win this game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- QB Tom Brady: This is his biggest game (so far) in a Bucs uniform. Can he avenge the Week 1 loss?
- The offensive line: Joe Haeg will take over in place of Marpet this weekend and the rest of the unit tends to struggle against an aggressive Saints front seven. These guys have to keep Brady upright and have to create some lanes for the running backs.
- TE Rob Gronkowski: The Brady-Gronk connection is getting better each week. The Saints struggle when it comes to defending tight ends, so expect some more plays from Gronk this week.
- DL Ndamukong Suh: He was solid against the Giants, but the Bucs need the guy from the first 6-7 weeks to show up, because it makes all the difference for the defense.
- LB Devin White: The second-year linebacker is second on the team with 5.0 sacks and has picked it up after a few down weeks.
- CB Carlton Davis III: Davis shut down Thomas back in Week 1 and is becoming a premier corner in the NFL. Can he do it again?
New Orleans Saints
- QB Drew Brees: People keep talkin’, but Brees keeps producin’. His arm may not be what it once was, but he knows this offense inside-out. The Saints are actually scoring more points per game this year than they did last year, as well.
- RB Alvin Kamara: The former Tennessee Vol is having an MVP-type season. It’s impossible to stop him, but you can slow him down.
- WR Michael Thomas: How will he look after missing six games with an ankle injury? Thomas’ presence alone makes this offense a lot better.
- DL Marcus Davenport: I know Cam Jordan is on the other side and is the better player, but Davenport appears to be fully healthy and has been playing really well the last couple of weeks. Plus, he’ll be on Smith’s side for the majority of the game.
- LB Demario Davis: It’s easy. Davis is one of the best linebackers in the game and must be accounted for on every play.
- CB Marshon Lattimore: He hasn’t been playing well for the majority of the season, but we know how he locks down Mike Evans when these two meet up. Lattimore has also picked up his play over the recent weeks. Will this be another game that goes in his favor?
- Brady has never been swept by a division opponent. That in itself is pretty amazing.
- Tampa Bay has posted at least 3.0 sacks in each of the past four games and with 3.0 or more sacks against New Orleans, the team will have its longest streak of consecutive games with at least 3.0 sacks since 2002 (five games, 10/27/02-12/1/02). It would tie for the third-longest streak of such games in franchise history.
- Brady has thrown 189 consecutive passes without an interception. He needs nine more to pass attempts without an interception to surpass Jeff Garcia (197 consecutive passes without an interception in 2007) for the longest such streak in franchise history,
- Gronkowski has caught a touchdown pass in each of the past three games. With a touchdown reception against New Orleans, he will tie Cameron Brate (four consecutive games, 9/24/17-10/15/17) for the longest streak of games with a touchdown reception by a tight end in franchise history.
- K Ryan Succop made four field goals at New York Giants. With four or more made field goals against New Orleans, would be the first player in franchise history to post consecutive games with at least four field goals made.
**Stats provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Communications Department**
Bleh. I just don’t have a good feeling about this game.
The Bucs have run into a brick wall when playing the Saints over the last few years and while there’s a chance that won’t happen this week, it’s hard to like the Bucs in this matchup when you break down the numbers.
In 21 other games, BA’s Bucs have scored an average of 31 points per game and have allowed an average of 25 points per game. When the Bucs play the Saints, they average just 21 points per game and allow 33 points per game. The defense averages 3.5 sacks per game and two turnovers per game in those 21 contests, but has just two total sacks and one total turnover in three games against the Saints.
Those are just a few of the numbers that reflect how this matchup has gone over the last couple of years. The Saints are very good at keeping the Bucs out of rhythm and exploiting their weaknesses and the Bucs usually don’t have any answers.
This doesn’t mean they won’t have any answers on Sunday night. In fact, this should be Tampa Bay’s most competitive game against the Saints on paper. However, I just can’t see them beating the Saints until they actually do so.
But don’t worry, 6-3 is still a good record and a tough loss to one of the NFL’s best teams is nothing to cry about. Even if the loss does come at the hands of the Saints.