The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to accomplish something they haven’t done in the history of the franchise, something only one other NFL team has done over the last four years, and something the team hasn’t done in over twenty years - and they can accomplish all three feats with a win against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
For the first time since the division realignment, the Buccaneers would win the NFC South for a third straight season, they would join the Kansas City Chiefs as the only team in the NFL to make the playoffs in each of the last four years, and they would tie a franchise record fourth straight playoff appearance which has only been accomplished from 1999-2002.
All of it happens if the Bucs beat the Saints on Sunday.
However, don’t expect the Saints to be pushovers by any means. While they don’t control their own destiny, their playoff hopes are still alive. With a win on Sunday, a win against the Falcons, and a Panthers win over the Bucs in week 18 it will be the Saints wearing the NFC South crown for the first time since 2020 - but they’ll have to do it without Michael Thomas and Marshon Lattimore.
While Thomas wasn’t a huge factor in the first meeting, the Lattimore vs Mike Evans rivalry has had a somewhat forgettable year in 2023. In game one, Evans had been getting the better of his nemisis with three receptions on three targets for 40 yards - two catches for 36 yards against Lattimore himself - before he left the game with a hamstring injury in the second quarter. Now, there appears to be no new chapter as Lattimore is unlikely to play while dealing with a ankle injury.
With Lattimore out, we may see a more typical version of Mike Evans - out there strictly business and not getting into any trouble. That would certainly come in handy as he and quarterback Baker Mayfield can set some personal records together.
Evans is two touchdown receptions away from a career high while Mayfield is two touchdown passes away from a career high of his own. The duo that has played so well together all season could accomplish that together - and what better time to do than with the division on the line and what better opponent to do it against than the Saints?
The Buccaneers trail the Saints 39-25 all-time so they have a long way to go to even that series up, but they have won three straight and four of the last six including that Divisional Round matchup on their way to a Super Bowl. Prior to that, New Orleans won five straight and seven of nine. The longest win streak in the series belongs to the Saints with seven straight from 2011-2014.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Buccaneers are 2.5-point favorites with an over/under of 42. The underdog has won each of the Bucs’ last three games while the Saints have covered the spread in their last five games in Tampa. Six of the last seven matchups between these two teams have hit the under.
The Bucs and Saints kickoff in Raymond James Stadium on New Year’s Eve at 1:00 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on FOX with Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen, Erin Andrews, and Tom Rinaldi on the call.