The 2-13 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still trying to find their first win at home and their first NFC South victory this season and have one final chance against the New Orleans Saints. What are the six things PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game? Find out right here in SR’s Pick 6.
Who: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints
Where: Raymond James Stadium
When: 1:00 p.m. ET – FOX
Last meeting: 37-31 overtime loss at New Orleans
Series notes: Saints have a 28-17 advantage over the Bucs all-time
1. UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF THE GAME
While some Buccaneers fans want the team to lose so that Tampa Bay can have the number one overall pick, Bucs players could care less about that dubious distinction. Tampa Bay has lost its last six games to New Orleans, including a hard-fought 37-31 overtime loss at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Week 5. While both teams are out of the playoffs, the Bucs still have a lot to play for.
In the history of the NFC South, Tampa Bay has never been completely swept by all three division foes before, but that would happen with a loss on Sunday. Also, the Bucs haven’t gone winless at home since the 1976 inaugural team, so that would be a humiliating accomplishment for the franchise if Tampa Bay loses and falls to 2-14 with the worst record in the NFL. There are jobs on the line in both Tampa Bay and in New Orleans, so which team wants to end this season on the right note?
2. BUCCANEERS MUST FIND BALANCE ON OFFENSE
Tampa Bay ran for a season-low 16 yards on 14 carries last week in a 20-3 loss to Green Bay, a team that had the 27th-ranked rushing defense. That dropped the Bucs’ ranking to 31st in the NFL with the team averaging a paltry 79.5 yards per game. Without a credible running game, the Buccaneers became one-dimensional and gave up a season-high seven sacks as the Packers teed off on quarterback Josh McCown.
Can the Bucs re-establish the type of ground game that allowed the team to rush for 151 yards two weeks ago at Carolina? New Orleans brings in the league’s 20th-ranked rushing defense, which is allowing 116.6 yards per game. If the Bucs don’t rush for 99 yards or more on Sunday, the team will finish with its worst season running the ball in franchise history. The offensive line and running backs Doug Martin and Charles Sims need to be very productive on Sunday.
3. TAMPA BAY’S TWIN TOWERS MUST RISE TO THE OCCASION
With a catch or two each, Buccaneers wide receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson will surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark this season. That will mark the first time in Tampa Bay history that the team has had two 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the same year. Evans leads the team with 997 yards and 11 touchdowns on 63 catches, while Jackson has a team-leading 69 catches for 991 yards and two scores. Jackson also has a chance to make history by tying Joey Galloway as the only Buccaneer to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in Tampa Bay.
So the goal for Bucs play-caller Marcus Arroyo is simple – get Evans and Jackson into the game and into rhythm early by feeding them the ball. Not just to get them the record, but also because Evans and Jackson, who had eight catches for 144 yards against the Saints in Week 5, are Tampa Bay’s most potent weapons on offense. Quarterback Josh McCown has had some success throwing deep down the sidelines and allowing the Bucs’ 6-foot-5 receivers to win jump ball opportunities. That needs to continue on Sunday if the Bucs are going to have a chance to prevail.
4. DON’T LET A STEADY BREES BEAT YOU
There is a reason why the Buccaneers have lost six straight games to the Saints – it’s New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. Despite the defeats, Tampa Bay has had some close games, including last year’s 16-14 loss at Raymond James Stadium and a 37-31 loss at New Orleans this season. What kept the Bucs in both of those games was getting a pick-six against Brees, who needs 329 yards passing to surpass the 5,000-yard mark for a fourth straight season, which would be an NFL record.
Tampa Bay’s pass rush took a big hit when Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was placed on injured reserve three weeks ago. Since then the Buccaneers have only generated four sacks, including just one against Green Bay last week. The Bucs didn’t sack Brees in New Orleans in Week 5, but he was intercepted a season-high three times in that game. Tampa Bay needs to rattle Brees with interceptions or sacks – or both on Sunday. That may prove difficult without McCoy on the field.
5. GET AN EARLY LEAD
Tampa Bay has struggled to get early leads on teams, evidenced by scoring just 40 points in the first quarter of games, while opponents have scored 95 throughout the season. By halftime, the Bucs have scored only 103 points while opponents have put up 188. New Orleans jumped out to an early 13-0 lead before the Bucs roared back to take the lead by the fourth quarter, 31-20. But the Saints scored the final 11 points in regulation to tie the game and collected the win in overtime.
The Bucs didn’t play against Saints running back Mark Ingram in the first meeting this year in Week 5, and he’s a big part of Sean Payton’s offense. Ingram has finally lived up to his first-round billing and needs just 93 yards against Tampa Bay to reach 1,000 yards in a season for the first time in his career. The Saints offense functions better with balance, and if the Bucs can get an early lead it may limit how many touches Ingram will receive on Sunday.
6. DON’T LET GRAHAM BEAT YOU
Drew Brees’ most potent weapon on offense is Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, who has had a good, but not great season, catching 79 passes for 835 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdowns. Graham didn’t hurt the Buccaneers too much in their first meeting this season after linebacker Lavonte David knocked him out with a shot to the ribs in the first half. Graham left the game with two catches for 36 yards.
Graham has underwhelmed down the stretch, failing to catch a pass against Pittsburgh four weeks ago and hauling in just 14 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown over the last three weeks. Yet the Bucs have always had trouble defending the tight end this year, evidenced most recently by surrendering 10 catches for 110 yards to Carolina’s Greg Olsen two weeks ago.
SR’s Prediction: Saints 23, Buccaneers 17
MC’s Prediction: Buccaneers 23, Saints21
Scott Reynolds is in his 22nd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
What makes you think the Saints are that much interested in winning? I don’t think they care at this point one way or the other. Payton is going to take a hard look of any rookies who might help them next year. I think they try some plays they haven’t used that much to see if they want them even in their play charts. Bucs win, 31 to 20.
Brees is going to get his 5000, Ingram is going to get his 1000 and we can’t stop any TE. Bucs lose 31-17 and take home the first pick and start the New Year off on the right foot.
WHY ,would anyone want the bucs to win this game??? The bucs have a chance to pick 1st in each round or trade pics which is more important that a win that means nothing.Yes, I am a season tkt holder
Sunshineben- Could not agree with you more, this game has no upside if we win, if we lose get the best pick to have in the draft instead of #5, Go Saints
If we win this game I will be a very pissed off buc fan.
JonnyG: It’s my understanding that we still own the 2nd pick with a win. Going to the game Sunshineben? I’m not sure I can sit there, as I have for 38 seasons, and cheer against our team. No, I won’t be disappointed if we lose knowing the reward is that we’ll be “on the clock.” But it’s no sure thing. Bet in 2007 Oakland wishes they didn’t have that first pick when they,like everyone else would have, drafted JaMarcus Russel. Oh, that second player…….Calvin Johnson. Then in 2010 the Rams took QB Sam Bradford. Next up a boy named Suh. Of course I want that first pick to give us control in every round. But I’m most concerned that we get the right player. Goodness knows we’ve got a long history of misfires. If I don’t cheer on the mighty Bucs to victory (hasn’t worked yet this year) I don’t have to cheer for the Saints do I?
Scu- Your understanding would be incorrect by the time you read this you will see I was right and thats if the Bucs lose they have the #1 pick in draft and btw Bradford or Russel weren’t as good in college as Mariota who won all the awards a qb can win unlike your examples
Score doesn’t matter, just get this scourge of a season over with!!!
Bucs offense generated 3 points last week at home against very average Packer defense. Don’t think anyone has to worry we squeak one out today. Bucs Offense is horrendous and been going backwards. So I would guess since Saints D sucks maybe 31-13 Saints? Like others said though who cares about score just get this piece of garbage season over without any key injuries to a player that will be here next year.
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Scubog, I am right with you. All my previous predictions the Bucs will win is an automatic loss for us in the past, especially when I say these last words:. Go Bucs! Get this win!
Horse – Thats great you think Bucs will win I hope its just you being optimistic that they can win instead of ignorance. After the FSU Game you will be on board with Mariota
We lost!!! Bring on Mariota!!!
Buclover1988= I’m with you and I’m glad you have the Football iq to know that Mariota is the superior qb in this draft
With 17 point lead at halftime I wasn’t too concerned about bucs blowing first pick. I knew this dreadful offense would find a way to squander the lead and lose and I wasn’t wrong. We are in the drivers seat now let’s hope the draft and free agency are kind to us. Seems like we are due for a good draft and qb after so many misses.
JonnyG: I didn’t mention any player the Bucs should draft and have only kept repeating that we get it right. You think it’s Mariota. I’ve said repeatedly that I haven’t seen him yet and my concern that the highlights keep showing his running prowess. So for the last time JonnyG. I don’t care if the Bucs take Mariota or some relative unknown from North Dakota State as long as the guy is the best player.
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