Two NFC South rivals square off this Sunday in the Superdome when the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the New Orleans Saints in a scheduled 1:00 PM matchup. The home-standing Saints are -8 point favorites according to the early football betting lines.
First place atop the NFC South is at stake in this contest, with the Saints, despite their stunning upset loss to previously winless St. Louis on Sunday, presently sitting 1/2 game ahead of both Tampa Bay and Atlanta. This also will be the second meeting between the Bucs and Saints, with Tampa prevailing at home, 26-20 just 3 weeks ago. That Buccaneer victory snapped a 4-game New Orleans winning streak. Bucs QB Josh Freeman was the master of the "play-action" in that game, connecting on 8 of 11 passes off of the fake, including a touchdown. Tampa Bay's defense came up big as well, forcing a season-high 4 turnovers.
New Orleans was riding high after a Sunday night 62-7 whacking of Indianapolis as the NFL's highest scoring team, and most observers predicted a similar outcome going up against the woeful Rams. Instead, behind RB Steven Jackson's 159 yards (most rushing yards in the NFL this week) and 2 TDs, St. Louis pulled off the shocker, 31-21, for the first win of 2011. Saints QB Drew Brees didn't bring his "A" game to St. Louis, throwing for 269 yards on 30 for 44 attempts and 2 interceptions as the Saints fell to 5-3. New Orleans ground game was stymied by the Rams defense, accumulating just 56 yards on 20 carries, but they largely abandoned running the ball after falling behind 24-0 midway through the 3rd quarter. Leading rusher, rookie Mark Ingram, sat out the game with a heel injury, but should return this Sunday.
Going against backup QB A.J. Feeley, who was filling in for injured starter Sam Bradford, New Orleans' defense had trouble, obviously, containing Jackson, and Feeley engineered the game plan nearly flawlessly, consistently connecting on short to intermediate throws, while mixing in runs by the bullish Jackson. Jonathan Vilma got the Saints first score by recovering a fumble in the end zone late in the 3rd quarter, and when Pierre Thomas scored early in the 4th, New Orleans was within 10 points, but St. Louis immediately executed a long time-consuming drive to seal the win.
Tampa Bay had a bye week, and their last game, two weeks ago against Chicago in London, resulted in a 24-18 loss. The Bears RB Matt Forte shredded Tampa's defense for 145 yards and a score, while QB Josh Freeman suffered 4 interceptions, by far his poorest performance of the season. His final pick, with 37 seconds remaining, sealed the win for the Bears at Wembley Stadium. Tampa also rushed for a season-low 30 yards versus the Bears. Leading rushed LaGarrette Blount missed the Chicago game with a tweaked knee, but is expected to be ready for New Orleans. That's a good thing, because Blount's back-up, veteran RB Earnest Graham, suffered a torn Achille's tendon in London, sidelining him for the remainder of the season.
Defensively, the Bucs had very little success in slowing down Forte and QB Jay Cutler, and the week off was surely focused on tightening up holes in both the defensive front as well as the shaky pass defense. On the year, Tampa's overall defense has been somewhat inconsistent, ranking 26th in pass defense and 22nd in stopping the run. Going up against Drew Brees isn't exactly encouraging.
It's almost guaranteed that New Orleans will come out breathing fire after their collapse in St. Louis, and it will be surprising if the Superdome isn't filled with a lot of passes this Sunday. For the Buccaneers, they are hopeful that Freeman will bounce back to his usually accurate ways, while the return of Blount is critical for their offensive balance.
|NFL OFFENSIVE RANKINGS||TOTAL||Passing||Rushing|
|TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS||15||340.4||12||240.3||23||100.1|
|NEW ORLEANS SAINTS||2||444.1||1||326.8||11||117.4|
|NFL DEFENSIVE RANKINGS||TOTAL||Passing||Rushing|
|TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS||29||391.1||26||267.7||23||123.4|
|NEW ORLEANS SAINTS||15||346.0||11||221.9||24||124.1|