Tampa Bay swept New Orleans in 2007 on their way to the NFC South title.
Expectations are high for both teams this season. The Buccaneers are attempting to become the first NFC South team to repeat as division winners. The Saints, on the other hand, are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 7-9 season and prove that 2006 was no fluke.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of both teams.
Both teams possess Pro Bowl signal callers in Jeff Garcia and Drew Brees. Garcia and Brees have each won in the postseason and are proven leaders. I'll give the edge to Brees. He completes a higher percentage of his passes and for more yardage than Garcia.
Much of the Saints' running game depends on the health of Deuce. When healthy, the Saints are a respectable running team. When he's not, the Saints run for less than 100 yards per game like they did in 2007.
Earnest Graham and his 10 rushing touchdowns are back for the Bucs. While he is not an All Pro player, his consistency gives the Bucs the edge over the Saints in the ground attack.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The Bucs possess Saints-killer, Joey Galloway. Galloway has torched the Saints' secondary for the past three seasons. In the six games against the Saints since 2005, Galloway has amassed over 600 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.
If Galloway played against the Saints in every game throughout a 16-game season, he would have more than 1,600 yards and 21 touchdowns.
To counter, the Saints have Marques Colston. While the third-year receiver has never made the Pro Bowl, his numbers say he should. He has 168 catches, 2,240 yards, and 19 touchdowns in his first 30 NFL games.
The Saints also feature two weapons they did not have last season: wide receiver Robert Meachem and tight end Jeremy Shockey. Both will help make this offense more explosive.
This is a tough group to judge. As far as pass protection, there is no better unit than the Saints. Despite 668 pass plays, Drew Brees was only sacked 16 times. Bucs quarterbacks, on the other hand, were sacked 36 times.
Run blocking is a different issue. The Bucs averaged half-a-yard more per carry than the Saints in 2007 (4.2 to 3.7).
A lot of it has to do with mentality. The Bucs are more of a power team than the Saints, and they exude that personality on the field. The Saints are the superior pass-blocking team.
Surprisingly, the Bucs only had one more sack (33) than the Saints (32) in 2007. The Saints, though, generated very little pressure with their front four.
Most of the time, the Saints had to blitz in order to get to the quarterback. This is disappointing, considering they have used first-round picks and given huge extensions to both starting defensive ends.
While Will Smith had a respectable seven sacks a year ago, Charles Grant was largely ineffective.
This year, the Saints spent another first-round pick on a defensive lineman. The Saints traded up in the draft to select DT Sedrick Ellis.
The Bucs starting front four didn't set the world on fire, either. They managed a total of 17 sacks between them. I see Gaines Adams improving in his second year.
The Saints made a much-needed upgrade to their linebacking corps by adding Jonathan Vilma to the mix. Vilma proved, in his first two seasons, that he is a perfect fit for a 4-3 scheme, with his speed and nose for the football.
The Bucs have something the Saints do not: a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Derrick Brooks has started every game for the Bucs every year since 1996. All he does is make 100+ tackles every season and collect invitations to Honolulu.
This is the big question mark for the Saints. They allowed nearly 4,000 yards through the air last season. There are some new faces, so there is some hope. Mike McKenzie is the leader of this suspect group.
While the Bucs' secondary isn't spectacular, theirs is certainly better than the Saints'. Safety Jermaine Phillips led the Bucs with four interceptions, and the secondary is led by seasoned veteran Ronde Barber.
The Saints put a fork into the Olindo Mare experiment and are going with Martin Gramatica after his impressive showing at the end of 2007 and throughout training camp. Punter Steve Weatherford averages nearly 44 yards per punt and pins almost a third of his punts inside the 20.
Expect for Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Terry Porter to return kicks this season. Bush's first career touchdown was a game-winning punt return against the Bucs in the Superdome in 2006.
Michael Spurlock recorded the first kickoff return for a touchdown in Buccaneers' history last season. Kicker Matt Bryant missed only three field goals within 50 yards, and punter Josh Bidwell pinned 30 of his 77 punts inside the 20.
Jon Gruden already has his Super Bowl ring, and I believe that Sean Payton will eventually get his. Both coaches are offensive-minded and handle their quarterbacks well. Both arrive with excellent game plans and adjust well at halftime.
Gruden gets the edge because of his experience. Payton still needs to learn that there are certain times when it is better to pound the ball, play straight up, and not get fancy (see Bucs @ Saints, 2007).
The Saints must gain at least a split of the season series with the Buccaneers in order to have a chance to win the division and make it back to the playoffs. Their high-powered offense and home turf will be enough to hold off a tough Buccaneer team and gain a leg up in the division race.
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