The New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers became division rivals when the NFC South was created in 2002. Of course, the rivalry is nothing like that of the Atlanta Falcons, St. Louis Rams, or San Francisco 49ers, but these two are starting to get at each other.
The New Orleans Saints lead the series with the Bucs 20-14, and last year the Saints won the first game at home and the Buccaneers won the second on their turf. The New Orleans Saints are by far are a more dominant team at 9-0 than the 1-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Although one might think the Buccaneers don't stand a chance, they actually could find a way to pull the upset. Last week the number one offense of New Orleans traveled to St. Louis to,well what was expected, punish the 1-7 Rams. With all kinds of turnovers like the weeks prior, the Saints just pulled out the victory 28-23 to continue the undefeated season.
Although the Buccaneers are 1-8, they have showed more improvement than almost any NFL team in my opinion. They played quarterback Byron Leftwich for the first two weeks and then Josh Johnson for five as they went into their bye week 0-7.
When Tampa Bay came back from the bye, Josh was the quarterback but it wasn't Josh Johnson. Josh Freeman led the Buccaneers to their first win of the season after out-scoring the Packers 21-7 in the fourth quarter.
Last week, the Buccaneers took their eighth loss of the season though with a 25-23 loss to the Dolphins. The truth is that the Buccaneers made another fourth quarter comeback though, scoring 14 but Miami won off a last second field goal.
With the New Orleans Saints looking sloppy in the past few weeks and the Buccaneers drastically improving lets look at the offenses. The Saints have the number one offense in total yards per game and points-a-game. They have the number four air attack and the number five rushing game.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are number twenty eight in yards per game and twenty fifth in points-a-game. Remember their improving though. Their new quarterback has thrown four touchdowns in two games with only two interceptions, and overall the team is improving.
Although the Saints are looking great, they have so many areas to patch up. Drew Brees has thrown six touchdowns and seven interceptions in his past four games, and their defense's injury list seems to get longer and longer.
On defense, the Saints had a great secondary. Their two starting defensive backs, Porter and Greer, are both injured. Greer is doubtful for this week and Porter isn't going to be back for four-eight weeks. The best news for Saints fans is that the league's leading interceptor, Darren Sharper, is back and they signed three time pro-bowler, Chris McAlister.
The Buccaneers defense is improving just like the offense. Aquib Talib has five interceptions and he is tied for third in the league. This defense is agressive and with a home crowd backing them, taking the ball from Brees and the Saints offense shouldn't be extremely tough. That will be a huge part of this game; how many times can Talib and this rebuilding defense overplay the Saints offense?
Here are some key matchups:
I am not going to do team rankings to team tankings considering they have improved and it seems inaccurate.
1. Jonathan Vilma (LB) VS. Kellen Winslow (TE)
These two played at the University of Miami together, and Kellen Winslow talked all kinds of trash about his former team-mate the past few days.
2. Darren Sharper (FS) VS. Josh Freeman (QB)
Darren Sharper is coming off an injury and has three defensive touchdowns with seven interceptions. He has fed off many rookie QB's and Josh Freeman is just a new victim. Freeman has played his first two games extremely great and Sharper is a great test.
3. Antonio Bryant (WR) VS. Chirs McAlister
If Antonio Bryant returns, then Chris McAlister's debut should be a good one. He is expected to start this week and Bryant is going to be a big target for Freeman.
4. Drew Brees (QB) VS. Talib
Drew Brees has thrown quite a few interceptions and every team in the past four weeks has found a way to blitz Drew and force fumbles. Talib has five interceptions this year and he is going to be wanting to add to his total while covering Henderson and watching #9.
5. The Two- Headed Monster (Bush is Questionable) (RB's) VS. Barrett Ruud (LB)
Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell go to Tampa without Bush facing the agressive Ruud. He leads his team with tackles and this number four rushing attack has to get through him if they want to get a few yards.
All in all, you have a team improving its offense. Freeman will be facing a beaten defense still trying to patch injuries. The only bad new for the Bucs is that they picked up McAlister to patch those holes and Sharper is back. Winslow will be continueing his great play and the return of Bryant will also lift this team. Drew Brees and the offense will contine to do what they have been doing minus the turnovers. I predict the Saints win 31-28.