The New Orleans Saints (1-4) will travel southeast this weekend to take on the NFC South rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) in sunny Florida.
Both teams desperately need a win in Week 7, but only one can escape Raymond James Stadium with the coveted W. New Orleans and Tampa Bay split the season series in 2011, with each team winning at home.
Each team will attempt to extend its winning streak to two games this weekend and close the gap between the perfect Atlanta Falcons in the division standings.
Here we get you set with everything you need to know for Sunday afternoon's NFC South rivalry clash in Tampa.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
When: Sunday, October 21 at 1:00 p.m. ET
Listen: 105.3 FM (New Orleans), WDAE 620 AM (Tampa)
Live Streaming: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Line: Buccaneers (2.5), according to Covers.com.
What's At Stake?
A crucial division victory is at stake on Sunday afternoon in Tampa. If the Bucs can win their second straight and pull their record to 3-3, they'll find themselves just three games back of the undefeated Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South. Tampa is currently second in the division heading into Week 7.
For the Saints, Sunday's matchup is another must-win. After an 0-4 start, New Orleans is in desperate need of reeling off a few wins in a row in order to make up for lost time. A win this weekend would send the Saints to 2-4 and into a tie for second in the NFC South. New Orleans plays at Denver next weekend so a loss to the Bucs on Sunday all but ensures it will miss the playoffs.
Saints Injury Report (according to USA Today)
CB Jabari Greer (Groin), questionable for Sunday
WR Lance Moore (Hamstring), questionable for Sunday
LB Jonathan Casillas (Neck), questionable for Sunday
LB David Hawthorne (Hamstring), questionable for Sunday
DE Turk McBride (Ankle), questionable for Sunday
LB Jonathan Vilma (Knee), eligible to return Sunday
LB Chris Chamberlain (Knee), out for season
T Marcel Jones (Knee), out for season
Buccaneers Injury Report (according to USA Today)
CB Aqib Talib (Suspension), eligible to return Week 10
DE Da'Quan Bowers (Achilles), questionable for Sunday
DE Adrian Clayborn (Knee), out for season
WR Sammie Stroughter (Foot), out for season
G Davin Joseph (Knee), out for season
CB Anthony Gaitor (Hamstring), out indefinitely
Fantasy Start 'Em, Sit 'Em and Sleeper
Start 'Em: Darren Sproles, RB
Sure, Darren Sproles was nowhere to be found two weeks ago against his former team, the San Diego Chargers, but that will change this weekend. Where Tampa's defense is stout against the run, it's porous against the pass, ranking second-worst in the league.
In two meetings with the Bucs in 2011, Sproles caught 13 passes for over 100 yards and a touchdown. Expect the Saints to utilize their speedster mostly in the passing game as they look to exploit the Bucs' deficiencies on the outside.
Sit 'Em: Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST
Although the Bucs' defense scored big in Week 6, holding the Kansas City Chiefs to just 10 points, forcing two interceptions and getting on the board with a touchdown, fantasy owners are better off sitting Tampa Bay this weekend.
The Saints boast the NFL's No. 1-ranked passing attack and are coming off a bye week. Also consider that New Orleans has not scored less than 24 points in any game yet this season. There may be an opportunity for the Bucs to force a turnover or two, but in the end this isn't a favorable matchup for them.
Sleeper: LeGarrette Blount, RB
The former Oregon running back is coming off his best outing of the season a week ago against Kansas City. Blount rushed for 58 yards and a score on just seven carries vs. the Chiefs. Now he'll welcome in the league's second-worst rushing defense: the Saints.
Expect Greg Schiano to pound the rock in Week 7 and look to keep New Orleans' offense off the field. Doug Martin will get plenty of carries obviously, but Blount will be brought in red-zone situations and have an excellent shot at scoring a touchdown or two against a suspect Saints defense.
What They're Saying
Saints safety Roman Harper is excited to have Jonathan Vilma back in the middle of New Orleans' defense (via NOLA.com's Katherine Terrell):
I'm looking forward to him getting out there and trying to hit some guys. He's been a leader for us for a long time and I'm just excited to get the guy back out there on the field playing with us.
Earlier this week the veteran linebacker said he would be coming off the physically unable to perform list and ultimately play in Week 7. Vilma has not played a down since last January's NFC Divisional round playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano delivered some positive news this week on second-year defensive end Da'Quan Bowers (via the Tampa Bay Times' Stephen F. Holder):
He'll do some stuff the rest of this week and we'll just observe and kind of go from there and see how he responds.
Bowers suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon back in May and hasn't played in an NFL game since last season. Tampa certainly hopes he can go on Sunday vs. New Orleans.
Saints Player to Watch
Wide receiver Marques Colston remains one of the NFL's top big-play threats years after bursting onto the scene in 2006. The veteran is on pace this fall to record his sixth 1,000-plus-yard receiving season in seven years.
In five games, Colston has been targeted 50 times by quarterback Drew Brees, and has 28 receptions for 444 yards and four touchdowns. Even more impressive, though, Colston has seven plays this season of 20 or more yards. At 6'4", he is New Orleans' top receiver and No. 1 big-play threat on offense.
Buccaneers Player to Watch
Even at the tender age of 37, veteran cornerback Ronde Barber is still making it look easy. Barber hasn't missed a regular season game since 1997, and will be looking to add to his count of 45 career interceptions this weekend. Tampa will need him on his A-game going up against the No. 1 passing attack in football.
Barber returned an interception for a touchdown last week against Kansas City and boasts an impressive 24 tackles, seven passes defended, two interceptions and a sack in just five games in 2012. Keep an eye out for No. 20 in Week 7. After all, he's one of the greatest to ever play the position.
Barber will make his 205th consecutive start on Sunday.
The most pivotal matchup in Sunday's game will be that between the Saints' passing attack and the Bucs' secondary. New Orleans has been averaging nearly 327 passing yards per week, while Tampa has been surrendering more than 312 yards through the air per game on average.
If Drew Brees can get into a comfort zone early in Week 7, it could be a long day for the home team, which doesn't have an explosive enough offense to rally back if it finds itself in a hole.
On the Hot Seat
First-year head coach Greg Schiano has gotten off to a rocky start in Tampa. His Bucs have become infamous for bum rushing opponents late in games with the clock running out, and are just 2-3 after six weeks. A second home loss in three games there would have Schiano's seat heating up.
This is the 46-year-old's first ever NFL head coaching job and a 2-4 start wouldn't exactly be promising for Bucs' ownership. You have to win your home games in the NFL, especially in the division, and definitely against opponents that are 1-4.
The Saints got just what they needed two weeks ago against the Chargers, a win. All it takes is one and now New Orleans knows what it has to do to finish out a football game in 2012. The Bucs are coming off a big win of their own, but they just don't possess the talent that the Saints do. Sunday's game will be close, but I give the edge to Drew Brees and company in the end.
Saints 27, Buccaneers 21
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