This has already been a rollercoaster season for Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans, but after a rocky start, the Bucs appear to be heading in the right direction on top of the NFC South and they have a good opportunity to increase their Divisional dominance in Week Thirteen.
NFL betting sites have made the Bucs the strong favorites to top the Division, but there is still some way to go before the playoffs and Tampa Bay have to keep pushing in their remaining regular-season games—including when they welcome the Saints to Raymond James Stadium on December 4.
Bucs Back on Course
At 3–5 going into Week Nine, the situation looked bad. Tom Brady’s much-discussed off-field issues appeared to have a knock-on effect on the rest of the team. With Brady slightly off his game, the starting lineup lost direction, effectiveness declined, and results fell away.
Yet, having achieved a degree of closure on his personal issues, Brady was back to something like his recent best in time for the visit of the reigning champion Rams. He masterminded a vital 16–13 victory that halted the losing streak and gave the team back some confidence.
Better still, the Bucs were able to back up that win when they traveled to Munich to take on the resurgent Seahawks. The Seahawks, guided by Geno Smith, were on a four-game winning streak, but that came to an end abruptly with a 21–16 Tampa Win to make it 5–5 going into their bye week.
Now, the situation is looking a lot brighter. Although there are tough games against the 49ers and the Bengals to come, the other remaining games look like winning opportunities, and with a lead at the top of the Division, they look well-placed to clinch that playoff spot.
Season to Forget for the Saints
The first season without Drew Brees produced a predictable slump for the Saints last year. However, Sean Payton was still able to guide them to a winning season, finishing 9–8 before he left the franchise and writing his name into their history books as the team’s most successful coach.
Some further deterioration was expected this year under former defensive coordinator Dennis Allen as the rebuilding process got underway, but the fall-off in form has been even more dramatic than anticipated, and after Week Eleven, the Saints were sitting on a 4–7 record.
There have been some bright moments for New Orleans, most notably, an early season win over the Seahawks and a 27–20 victory against the Rams. They have also been relatively strong at home, but away from Caesars Superdome, they are 1–6.
Disappointingly for Saints fans, Allen’s experience as a defensive coordinator has not led to any improvement in the defense. In fact, in terms of scoring defense, the Saints are ranked in the bottom ten, although they are holding their own in the top ten passing offenses.
As Divisional rivals, these franchises are old enemies and have met one another many times. In total, they have played 62 games, and the Saints have a solid 39–23 lead in the series.
Tampa Bay joined the NFL in 1976, famously becoming the first team to go winless through a whole season, but they didn’t meet the Saints until the following season when they were switched from the AFC West to the NFC Central—it turned out to be a memorable game.
Having gone 0–12, the Bucs were facing another winless season, but in their penultimate game, they traveled to the Louisiana Superdome and pulled off a remarkable 33–14 victory, earning their first-ever NFL win, which they followed up by beating St Louis in their last regular season game.
That proved to be a rare early success, however. The Bucs lost nine of their next twelve against the Saints and have never won more than two in a row against their rivals from New Orleans, although they did win their biggest game—the NFC Divisional Play-Off—in the 2020 season.
No prizes for originality here, but the Bucs depend hugely on their legendary quarterback. Not the player he once was, Brady nevertheless exudes assurance and confidence and his leadership qualities have been vital since he arrived at the franchise.
Brady can get the best out of even the poorest offense, and he is metronomically consistent in the big moments and the big games, which means that the Bucs are always in with a chance.
For the Saints, the most reliable offensive presence is Chris Olave. His importance is underlined by the fact that he is inside the top ten in terms of the most-targeted receiver in the NFL this season. He also ranks just outside the top ten for yards per catch.
Quarterback Andy Dalton is a middle-of-the-pack kind of player, but he does have the fourth-best touchdown-to-pass ratio in the NFL, and much of that is down to his reliance on Olave to make big plays and force space for other receivers.
Who Will Win?
New Orleans cannot be underestimated, and if Olave and Dalton are allowed to establish some momentum, this could be a difficult game for the Bucs.
That seems unlikely, however, given that Tampa Bay has generally done a good job of countering passing offenses this year. Only Dallas and New England have better sack percentages than the Bucs and Dalton may be in for another difficult afternoon.
With their season already effectively over, there has to be some question marks about the Saints’ motivation here, and their poor record outside New Orleans will also count against them. The Bucs will be expecting the win here, and failure to pick up a victory would be a major disappointment.