Saints vs. Buccaneers: Will Drew Brees and New Orleans Get Back on Track?
Last week, Saints fans watched in awe as their Superbowl Champion Saints lost to a struggling Arizona team 30-20.
This wasn't a case of Arizona showing up in a good old-fashioned ball game. This was New Orleans having multiple chances to win the game, but imploding from within. Turnovers, penalties, and miscues defeated the Superbowl Champions.
Blame is being thrown around, and many fans claim Drew Brees has lost his special touch.
Now they go to Tampa Bay to face a Bucs team who has been quite a pleasant surprise this season. Second-year quarterback Josh Freemen has improved greatly after last year's lackluster performance.
The defense has been stopping offenses in their tracks and creating turnovers.
They will face a Saints team trying to regain some Superbowl magic from the previous season.
So the question: Will the Saints be able to get back on track against the Tampa Bay Bucs or will they stay at third place in the NFC South, falling two games behind Tampa Bay?
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The Bucs stand at 3-1 as the leader of the NFC South Division.
But have they really had a tough schedule at all? The teams they have beaten aren't exactly top-notch teams. They've won three relatively close games against Cleveland, Carolina, and Cincinnati. These teams have records of 1-4, 0-5, and 2-3, respectively.
The only time they played a team with a winning record, they lost. That was against the 3-1 Pittsburgh Steelers, who mauled the Bucs 38-13.
So let's not get too excited over the 3-1 record.
Although, it is the exact same way for the Saints. With a 3-2 record, they have accumulated victories against some of the most lackluster teams in the NFL. They have defeated Minnesota, San Fransisco, and Carolina. These teams have records of 1-3, 0-5, and 0-5, respectively.
Not too pretty either.
So either way, the two teams do not have bad records, but let's not overlook who they had to face to get those records.
NFC South Division Rivalry
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The NFC South is one of the craziest divisions in all of football. Unlike other divisions, every year a new team rises up and beats the others. Never has a team won the division two years in a row.
After taking a look, we see that NFC South Division rivalries in the past have been very exciting and close.
The two times the Saints have played division rivals this season, the point differential was less than three points in each game.
But the games have also been unpredictable. Anything can happen.
Though, both teams know the other team so well. They know the other team's offensive and defensive tactics. Drew Brees even trained young Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman during the offseason.
There will be no surprises. Whichever team brings their absolute best A-game will win.
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The Bucs had a bye-week last week, but they are still nursing some aches and pains. They have 9 players on the injury report, but only one who is definitely out, the center Jeff Faine. They are an injured team, but not nearly as injured as the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints have 19 players on the injury report. Four major players are already ruled out: Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Randall Gay, and Tracy Porter. And let's not forget Darren Sharper is still out as well. The Saints are a beat up team and this is obviously hurting them.
Without the running back tandem of Bush and Thomas, the Saints have struggled on offense to keep a balanced, yet successful approach. Defenses know who to focus on, decoys aren't as effective. Screen passes are stopped for minimal gain.
The Saints are currently ranked 31st in the NFL in the run.
Defensive problems are also occurring from the lack of manpower. Defenses are picking on Malcolm Jenkins at safety, and Jabari Greer has to solely cover some of the best receivers in all of football.
Injuries on both sides of the ball are obviously hurting the Saints. It will be interesting to see if they can temporarily fix this problem, after the inability to do so last week.
Will The Saints Offense Hit a Rhythm?
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Perhaps the biggest question going into this ball game concerns Drew Brees and the Saints offense. They have been playing at an unusually weak level, averaging a lowly 19.8 points a game, 18th in the NFL.
They drive into the red zone, but they can't finish drives. They either miss field goals or turn the ball over to the other team, switching the momentum of the entire ball game.
With injuries to the RB's, it has been harder to find a balance on offense that can be successful on both sides. Brees has looked uncharacteristically off-key. There is constant lack of communication with receivers, and Brees hasn't been hitting the long ball like he did last season.
Hopefully, the Saints offense will find its rhythm. Maybe they can find a balance with newly acquired running back Julius Jones and recently acquired running back Ladell Betts. Maybe Brees and his receivers will once again connect and hit some big plays.
If not, the Saints could end up 3-3 and third in the NFC South Division. I know it is a little early, but playoff implications start to creep into the corner of my mind. If the Saints are 2 games behind two teams in the NFC South, it will be tough to regain control, after another tough loss hits their morale.
Either Team Could Win
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This is a tough game to predict. Either team could win.
The Saints haven't been playing too well. The Bucs have been playing well, for their standards.
The Saints definitely have potential to win this one, but with so many injuries I'm not so sure. It is also impossible to tell what Saints team will show up Sunday. The Superbowl Champions or the lackluster struggling Saints of recent games.
But as a Saints fan, I have to be optimistic. I am hoping the true Saints team, with one of the most potent offenses in the league and one of the most dangerous defenses in the league, shows up.
I'm going to call it 23-20 Saints.
Watch for Drew Brees to reconnect with his offense and come up with some big plays.