Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6) at New Orleans Saints (6-8)
Saturday, December 24, 2016, 4:25 P.M. ET
Mercedes-Benz Superdome (73,000)
Network Television: FOX
Play-By-Play: Kenny Albert Analysts: Daryl Johnson Sideline: Laura Okmin
Bucs Radio: US 103.5, Flagship Station (103.5 FM, 620 AM & 95.3 FM)
Play-By-Play: Gene Deckerhoff Analyst: Dave Moore Sideline: T.J. Rives
Last Game: Tampa Bay Lost at Dallas, 26-20; New Orleans Won at Arizona, 48-41
For the second time in three weeks, the Buccaneers will take the field against the New Orleans Saints. Only this time it’s in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where Drew Brees is at his best, and playoff implications are intensified.
While the Bucs five-game win streak was snapped last Sunday in Dallas, a close 26-20 loss, they’re still very much in the picture and a win here would likely make Tampa Bay the front-runner for the sixth wild card, or better. But a victory – and its first sweep of the Saints since 2007 – won’t come easy.
New Orleans’ offense seemed to recover one week after scoring 11 points against Tampa Bay by putting up 48 in Arizona. It remains to be seen whether Drew Brees and company are simply that much better in a dome or if the Bucs defense justified heavy praise for holding the NFL’s No. 1 offense to zero touchdowns and three interceptions two weeks ago.
Not much has changed from a statistical standpoint since these teams first met. Brees still leads the league in passing (4,559 yards) while Mark Ingram is still averaging over five yards per carry. New Orleans offense ranks No. 1 in the league, while its defense checks out at 26th, 31st against the pass.
The Bucs offense, meanwhile, is still looking for a breakout performance, particularly in the run game where they haven’t had a 100-yard rusher since Jacquizz Rodgers in Week 7. Last week Doug Martin totaled 42 yards on 16 carries, while Jameis Winston threw three interceptions and struggled in the first half and fourth quarter.
The object this Saturday is to protect the football. Based on the Cardinals 41-point effort against the Saints last Sunday – throwing for 318 and running for 116 yards on 15 carries – Tampa Bay should be able to move the ball if it can do just that. Right tackle Demar Dotson is still in concussion protocol, status up in the air, but Rodgers should be back to take some of the heat off Martin in the backfield.
If Tampa Bay can complete the season sweep, it will, in all likelihood, be staring at a clear path to the playoffs with one game left. And what a step forward it would be for the franchise to secure a winning record in 2016. Read what the Pewter Reporters think will happen in NOLA.
PewterReport.com Publisher & Bucs Beat Writer Scott Reynolds
The Buccaneers need two win their remaining two regular season games, and with a little help, they will be playoff bound. That starts in New Orleans where the Bucs will try to sweep the Saints for the first time since 2007. Ironically, the last time that happened is also the last time Tampa Bay made the playoffs. Beating Drew Brees and Co. twice in the span of two weeks is quite a feat, but I believe the Bucs are up to the task given how impressive they’ve been on the road, evidenced by their impressive 5-2 record away from Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs are already in a playoff mindset and I expect the defense to rebound from a subpar showing in Dallas where Tampa Bay forced just one takeaway, didn’t play well on third down and surrendered a season-high 185 yards rushing, including 159 yards and a touchdown to Pro Bowl rookie Ezekiel Elliott. What was worse was allowing Pro Bowl rookie QB Dak Prescott to complete a ridiculous 88.9 percent of his throws, which nearly set an NFL record for the highest completion percentage in a game. If the Bucs don’t have tighter coverage in New Orleans, Brees will pick Tampa Bay’s back seven apart.
The Bucs defense harassed Brees two weeks ago in Tampa and intercepted him three times while holding him without a touchdown pass, which is a monumental accomplishment. I look for Brees to rebound at home, and if the Saints can establish the run it will make their offense even more dangerous. Tampa Bay’s defense held Tim Hightower to 31 yards on six carries and Mark Ingram to just 14 yards on seven carries. Forcing the Saints to become one-dimensional on offense is the key, even with a deadly QB like Brees, who gets rookie receiver Michael Thomas back for the rematch against the Bucs.
After scoring 48 points in New Orleans’ win against Arizona, I expect a shootout in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. After not scoring more than 21 points in any of the last six games, I think the Bucs offense comes to life against the Saints’ improving defense, but it won’t be easy. Since rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins returned from a broken leg the Saints have been better at stopping the run upfront. Tampa Bay’s offensive line, which has a huge question mark right now at right tackle, needs to get the running game going and provide balance for Jameis Winston and the Bucs’ play-action passing game. I think Winston rebounds from a shaky performance in Dallas and does enough to get the win – as long as whoever starts at right tackle can hold their own against Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan.
Reynolds’ Score Prediction: Bucs win 30-26
Reynolds’ Pick To Click: TE Cameron Brate
PewterReport.com Editor and Chief & Bucs Beat Writer Mark Cook
For all of us wondering if the Bucs were going to make the playoffs this season, well, the playoffs actually start on Saturday. While the Bucs could lose against the Saints, and even the Panthers and still make the playoffs(against astronomical odds) the easiest path is to win, then win again. Go 10-6 and most likely Bucs fans will have something to cheer for for the first time in January, other than coaching changes and draft seeding, since 2007.
What the Bucs defense did to Drew Brees and his motley cast of Bourbon Street teammates two weeks ago was an anomaly. The Bucs defense most certainly is capable of playing well again, and I expect them to, but to hold the Saints to less than 300 yards of total offense and out of the end zone, most likely doesn’t happen again. Which makes it imperative that the Bucs offense has a breakout game.
As much as I love Jameis Winston, he had a number of plays he missed last week that could have been the difference. Actually I will say it, it would have been the difference. That isn’t to say the offensive line wasn’t too blame, along with a lack of a running game, or the that the defense allowing a rookie quarterback to carve them up wasn’t a factor in the loss. But if Winston wants to make that jumpy to elite status eventually, games like Dallas – and this week against the Saints – are the ones he needs to be sharper in. The good news is the Saints pass defense is bad.
I said if the the Bucs beat Seattle earlier in the year that I wouldn’t pick them to lose again, so I will stick with my promise, although this game scares me as much as an of the previous 14. The Bucs are the better team, with more to play for and they squeak one out late to send Saints fans home with a lump of coal in their stocking.
Cook’s Score Prediction: Bucs win 28-27
Cook’s Pick To Click: DE Noah Spence
PewterReport.com Bucs Beat Writer Eric Horchy
The Saints’ chances of making the playoffs are slim. They’re 6-8, need to win out, and need everyone in front of them to lose out. But New Orleans is still in the hunt with Drew Brees at quarterback and an offense that can blow up on any given week.
For the Bucs to win and increase their more-realistic postseason odds, they’ll have to recreated much of what they did two weeks ago at Raymond James Stadium against the Saints.
Defensively, that is.
Tampa Bay limited the Brees-led attack to a season-low 11 points and 294 total yards. It was the second straight week New Orleans’ league-best offense was held below 14 points and the Saints took out their frustration last Sunday in Arizona by posting 48 against the Cardinals.
The Bucs will not hold New Orleans under 20 points in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday, so that means it’s time for quarterback Jameis Winston and the offense to get on track. A struggling offensive line and severe lack of offensive weapons is going to make that difficult, however.
Horchy’s Score Prediction: Saints win 33-26
Horchy’s Pick To Click: DE Robert Ayers Jr.
PewterReport.com Bucs Beat Writer Zach Shapiro
I’m wary about this Saturday. Drew Brees and the Saints offense take their game up another level at home, and the Bucs have been on the wrong end of too many blowouts at the Mercedes-Benz Dome in recent years – especially towards the end of the season.
But, unlike Greg Schiano’s teams – which lost by a combined score of 83-17 at the Dome – these Bucs are playoff contenders with a rising defense and a franchise quarterback poised for a breakout game. After Carson Palmer lit New Orleans up for 318 yards while completing 28 of 40, I have confidence that Winston will put together his most complete performance since Kansas City this Saturday. Just protect the football and eat the clock.
Defensively, the Bucs were dominant in their last meeting, holding the NFL’s No. 1 offense to 257 passing and 44 running with three interceptions and no touchdowns. It’s unrealistic to expect a repeat performance, but if Robert Ayers and Gerald McCoy can generate enough pass rush – even without Will Gholston – then I believe the secondary will be able to get at least one interception and hold a few red-zone drives to three points. Pro Bowl alternates Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, as I see it, will be forces against the run. That’s a recipe for the Saints to score 23, falling short of the Bucs’ 31.
Chris Conte gets a pick in the end zone and Winston connects with Mike Evans, Cameron Brate and Doug Martin for three passing touchdowns. Despite failing to rush for 100 again, Bucs get it done through the air and with a few critical third-down stands and a late interception on defense.
Shapiro’s Score Prediction: Bucs win 31-23
Shapiro’s Pick To Click: WR Mike Evans
PewterReport Intern Jaret Rojas
Week 16 is the start of the playoffs for the Buccaneers. There are other scenarios, of course, but to feel safe and keep the math simple Tampa Bay must take care of its own.
Two weeks ago against the Saints, the Bucs’ defense prevailed in a game, where for the first time against the Bucs, Drew Brees did not throw a touchdown. They have to slow Brees down again in order to stay in this one.
A key in the Tampa Bay victory two weeks ago was the pressure they put on Brees. This week, without starting defensive end Will Gholston, the Bucs’ pass rushers have to step up again. I believe Brees will have more time in the pocket, as New Orleans starting center Max Unger is back, along with a few other offensive weapons. You could see the improvement last week when the Saints won a shootout in Arizona.
On the offensive side of the ball, Winston and company have the opportunity to step up in a big way. Although Gosder Cherilus seems as if he won’t play, along with Demar Dotson, the Bucs offense is playing the worst-ranked passing defense in football. If given time, Winston could pick this defense apart. Adam Humphries and Cameron Brate could be in for big games, along with Mike Evans of course.
Coming off a shaky offensive outing in Dallas last Sunday, I see the Bucs recovering in New Orleans. Coach Dirk Koetter will use Humphries to his advantage, and the running game will get more traction against a weaker front seven. The offensive line and Doug Martin need to come up strong.
If the Bucs can regenerate what they did defensively during their win streak, and have a couple breakout plays, which I believe they can, I see Tampa Bay winning this game with ease.
Rojas’ Score Prediction: Bucs win 30-22
Rojas’ Pick to Click: WR Adam Humphries