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
F
or 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

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About the Author: Zach Shapiro

Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders. Contact him at: [email protected]
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Horse
Horse
5 years ago

We have to score more than 30 points to win this game. I see no proof we can score anything higher than 16 points with our wounded OL. Just look at the last few games. The Saints and Panthers are in an up swing mode and we aren’t. I hope we can find a way, but I believe the Saints will beat us badly in their stadium. They have reviewed the tapes and saw what they did wrong and how weak our OL has become.

Bucnut2
Bucnut2
Reply to  Horse
5 years ago

Horse- I believe you are correct. I predict we get blown out.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
5 years ago

Well, us Bucs homers are out in force again this week predicting victory for the good guys (‘cept for Eric). I can’t argue with any pick on this game, it can go any which way, including a low scoring defensive struggle like two weeks ago, or a shoot out. I like our chances much better in a defensive struggle, given that our offense has been struggling most of the season. But, Jameis and the running backs and the offensive linemen simply have to step up their game against a defense that could be weaker than Dallas’s was … which Dallas… Read more »

cgmaster27
cgmaster27
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 years ago

Have to agree with you Naples as this one could go any way. I don’t think we keep them out of the end zone that’s for sure and our offensive line scares the crap out of me. I don’t make predictions as we lose every time I do. Our running game needs to show up this week and keep Brees off of the field. As for Dallas’ defens last week, they are the definition of n=bend but don’t break. They are 12th in total yards but 4th in the NFL in scoring defense, which matters way more.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  cgmaster27
5 years ago

Yup – wins and losses are measured only in points for and points against … the rest are just stats.

The Saints defense is ranked no. 30 in PA, so that gives us some hope that if our offensive stars show up we can outscore a damned good offense going up against our pretty darned good defense.

Bucnut2
Bucnut2
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 years ago

Problem with that scenario is that we didn’t do well against the Saints defense in our house. I am very sure that we lose this one.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Bucnut2
5 years ago

The home game offensive performance was limited by extremely conservative playcalling by Dirk Koetter, who readily admitted his fault in that game. He’s been in the league a long time and is capable of making adjustments, so I expect that he will not call the same plays this time. Watching tape from a single game only tells one how things worked out in that specific game with the specific personnel and the specific plays called. Tape from a single game doesn’t tell you what a team is likely to do the next week. In fact, the most successful team of… Read more »

jshumaker
jshumaker
5 years ago

If the Bucs lose it will be disappointing and almost eliminate any chance at the playoffs. Regardless, the team has shown progress this year. Especially the defense, they are playing well enough to beat anybody. My concern is the offensive line and Jameis still not at the maturity level to handle an elimination game. I know sooner or later Jameis will get there but this will be another very tough game for him mentally. But these are the type of games that a #1 overall pick is supposed to step up and lead his team to victory.

Bucnut2
Bucnut2
Reply to  jshumaker
5 years ago

Really great post!! I agree with everything you said.

scubog
scubog
Reply to  Bucnut2
5 years ago

Shocking that you would agree with a negative comment about Jameis.

Bucnut2
Bucnut2
Reply to  scubog
5 years ago

Scu- Here is our QB, so I HAVE to root for him. Bottom line- he’s just not very good. Best, Buc

Horse
Horse
Reply to  jshumaker
5 years ago

Nah, it’s mostly the RT injury; Dotson is missed.

jshumaker
jshumaker
Reply to  Horse
5 years ago

I hope you are right

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  jshumaker
5 years ago

Jameis is still only 22 years old and he admits that his head-butt in last week’s game was unacceptable. He has a number of weaknesses as well as obviously a number of strengths. One strength of Winston that we have seen is that he is coachable and readily admits his mistakes. High draft picks and college stars are actually all too often uncoachable – see Johny Manziel – so this is an important strength that Jameis brings to the table. Consequently, I expect Jameis will NOT let his emotions get the better of him against the Saints tonight. That by… Read more »

Garv
Garv
5 years ago

This is the scariest game of the season, particularly when you consider it’s ramifications. You know the young Buccaneers will be fired up and give it everything they’ve got. Sometimes Jameis tries to do too much, gets too amped up and overthrows or takes too many chances. If he plays within himself and if the Buccaneers can run the ball, something that has not happened since Quizz was starting, the Bucs have a good chance. But the Saints are healthier than they were in Tampa 12 days ago and have nothing to lose. A playoff game for the Buccaneers and… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Garv
5 years ago

You’re almost there, Garv … c’mon, go ahead and inch yourself out onto that plank and predict a Bucs win. Go on, it’ll make you feel good!

:-)

Garv
Garv
Reply to  Naplesfan
5 years ago

The ONLY thing that will make me feel good, GREAT in fact, is a real Buccaneer win today. But to type I’m not worried would be a lie. Guessing they might win or lose won’t make me feel better or worse, trust me.

Maybe the diversion of Payton possibly coaching in LA next season will hurt the Saints, help the Bucs? Hope so. Can you imagine the Ray Jay on New Year’s Day coming off a win today? That I can do until kick-off. Imagine.

Bucnut2
Bucnut2
5 years ago

I’ll stick with prediction I made 5 weeks ago. Bucs beat Charges, then lose to Dallas and NO on the road. Then finish the season by beating the Panthers. Lots of progress, but the Bucs are not yet a playoff team

Bucnut2
Bucnut2
5 years ago

I’m just wondering how the season would have played out, had we re-signed Connor Barth and used the 2 picks we spent on RA to draft a WR and safety??? Just saying.

jme0151
jme0151
Reply to  Bucnut2
5 years ago

I think you are right on Bucnut2. I predicted same thing. 9-7 is a BIG stepping stone for this team. RA will be OK though.

e
e
5 years ago

The Bucs could really use a 100 yard rusher for this game. I’m just wondering if it’s Quizz…

owlykat
owlykat
5 years ago

We beat NO in our House where we rarely won this year. Now we play them away where we have won all but two games all season. Also Jameis will definitely rebound from a bad game and will the Bucs to get into the playoffs. Bucs win by a cat’s whisker, I predict.

Bucnut2
Bucnut2
Reply to  owlykat
5 years ago

Orly- sorry to say but I was right

scubog
scubog
5 years ago

New Orleans is a mediocre team with a great but egotistic QB and HC. All Drew Brees wants to do is pass, pass, pass and pass some more. Then the over-rated HC rides the coat tail of Brees’ accomplishments like Dungy did with Manning. Oh, they’ll run a few times and catch a defense focusing too much on defending the pass, and gain a few yards, then go right back to Brees rearing back, often without a line of sight, and letting it fly. For that reason the loss of Gholston will be a non factor. What likely will be… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  scubog
5 years ago

You aren’t going to give up your asterisk meme,apparently, Scubog. Oh well, other than that you actually agree with me that the very conservative playcalling against the Saints two weeks ago is probably not going to work in today’s game in New Orleans. Brees is unlikely to be held to 11 points on the board, meaning 16 points by our offense isn’t going to be enough. Which is all the point I’ve been making. I believe that our skill players – Winston, Evans, Brate, Martin, Sims, Rodgers – are up to the task of an aggressive offensive game plan. But… Read more »

David DeLeon
David DeLeon
5 years ago

As bad as we looked against the Cowboys, we had a chance to win on the last drive. I think we have the plays work our way again. Couple timely sacks we win 28 – 21

Michael WestDominguez
Michael WestDominguez
5 years ago

I think we find a way to win this game, in any case, we will see the direction forward this team going and whether the culture is shifting towards not just laying down but coming back from a loss and beating a team you are supposed to beat. The games that make me grind my teeth in particular this year right now are the Rams and Raider games….Imagine those 2 being W’s and not L’s. It’s amazing we gave up 30 plus points to that Rams offense which seems like last season when we played them. I still think the… Read more »

fredster
fredster
5 years ago

No long winded comments from me. I like Bucs winning a tough gritty game. I’ll go about 24-20. McCoy, Ayers,Spence all need big games and I think they deliver. Don’t think we will run ball over 70-80 yards. This O line is not good at all. Winston will have to scramble a lot. I love Jameis but if he doesn’t learn how to coral his emotions he will never be great. I’ve said it before too but Koetter needs to game plan some easy completion stuff for first qtr to get him calmed down and in a groove passing. Go… Read more »