Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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2021 Game Preview: Buccaneers-Saints, Week 8

NFC South bragging rights are on the line again as the Bucs head to the Superdome – this time with fans in the stands– with a small lead in the standings and a chance to break the Saints' stranglehold on the regular-season series

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Just like the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were predestined to go through Philadelphia before they could earn the first Super Bowl berth in team history, the 2020 Buccaneers were always going to have to survive New Orleans to make it back to the big game.

Both of those eventual title teams got swept in the regular season by the Saints, but the 2002 team still managed to win the NFC South with a 12-4 record. The 2020 Buccaneers won the NFL's biggest prize and wouldn't trade the Lombardi Trophy for any spoils from the regular season, but the fact remains that New Orleans has had a stranglehold on the NFC South crown for the last four years. The Buccaneers, in contrast, haven't won the division since 2007. Since a division championship is the only path to the lone bye in the seven-man conference playoff field, prying that crown from the Saints' grip is currently the Bucs' number-one goal.

All of which makes Week Eight a pivotal spot on the Buccaneers' 2021 schedule, and not just because it will essentially mark the midway point of the season with the bye week to follow. Tampa Bay is sitting at 6-1 for the first time in franchise history and has a 1.5-game lead in the NFC South, but that lead would shrink to just a half game and the Saints would re-exert some control in the division if they keep the Bucs from leaving the bayou with their seventh win.

Tampa Bay's most recent trip to the Superdome was the NFC Divisional Playoff Game last January, which the Buccaneers won, 30-20, in what proved to be the last game of the sublime career of Drew Brees. But the Saints took the very first game of Tom Brady's Tampa tenure to start the season, 34-23, then dealt the '20 Bucs their worst loss by far with a 38-3 prime-time thrashing in Week Nine. The Saints have won five straight games in the regular-season head-to-head series, much like the Eagles had dominated the Bucs of the late '90s and early '00s before the memorable 2002 NFC Championship Game.

Did the Buccaneers clear that Saints hurdle with their playoff win last winter? In terms of making it back to the Super Bowl, of course they did. But they can't declare division dominance until they break that regular-season streak by the Saints. To do so, they'll have to overcome a New Orleans defense that has star power at every level and is allowing the third-fewest points in the league. In addition, they'll need to adequately contain running back Alvin Kamara, the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week, who is both the Saints' leading rusher and receiver.

And, of course, the Saints have a new man under center with Brees now in the broadcast booth, and he is very familiar to the Buccaneers. Jameis Winston spent five seasons as Tampa Bay's starting quarterback after being drafted first-overall in 2015 and he currently owns virtually every major passing record in franchise history. In 2020, the Buccaneers chose to shoot for the moon by signing Tom Brady, which obviously worked out well, and that made Winston a free agent looking for a new chapter in his own NFL journey. He found it in New Orleans and only had to wait one season as Brees's understudy before returning to the starting ranks.

Statistically, it is a very new chapter for Winston. In Tampa he was last seen leading the NFL in passing yards in 2019 but also producing the first 30-touchdown, 30-interception season in league history. For Sean Payton's Saints, Winston is averaging just 186 passing yards per game for the NFL's 31st-ranked passing attack, but he also has a nice 13-3 TD-INT ratio an da 102.4 passer rating.

Meanwhile, the Saints' defense is perhaps even better than it was last year, when it finished fifth in points allowed and fourth in yards allowed. New Orleans is only giving up 16.8 points per game and has already picked off nine passes. Free agent addition Tanoh Kpassagnon (3.0 sacks) has helped make up for the departure of Trey Hendrickson and the Saints' defense just welcomed back end Marcus Davenport and linebacker Kwon Alexander from the injured list.

Still, this Saints defense is built around Cameron Jordan up front, Demario Davis in the middle and Marshon Lattimore on the edges. Davis, in particular, is constructing another excellent season, leading the team in tackles, tying for the team lead in sacks and even breaking up four passes. Brady and the Buccaneers' offense are ringing up an incredible 423 yards per game and seem to be able to hit the 30-point mark at will, but that production will be severely tested Sunday in the Superdome. The Buccaneers hope to pass that test and go into their bye week with a very solid hold on the NFC South lead.

GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS

New Orleans Saints (4-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1)

Sunday, October 31, 4:25 p.m. ET

Caesar's Superdome (capacity: 73,000)

New Orleans, Louisiana

Television: FOX (Local WTVT Channel 13)

TV Broadcast Team: Joe Davis (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst), Erin Andrews (reporter), Tom Rinaldi (reporter)

Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station

Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)

ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES

The Buccaneers and Saints were frequent opponents in the '70s, '80s and '90s when the NFL's annual game schedule was heavily influenced by the previous year's standings. They became even better acquainted when the league changed its scheduling format to a divisional rotation in 2002, after a 32nd team was added and the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions. The Buccaneers left their old NFC Central haunt that year to join the new NFC South, which also drew in the Saints, Panthers and Falcons. That meant two games against the Saints every year, of course.

The Buccaneers own the most recent win in the series, as the first-ever postseason meeting between the two teams went to the visitors' favor in the Superdome last year, a 30-20 Tampa Bay win in a Divisional Round game. That proved to be the final game in Drew Brees's illustrious career, as he retired a few months later.

However, Tampa Bay hasn't won a regular-season game in the series since the opening week of 2018, with the Saints taking the next five. New Orleans also scored at least 28 points in each of those five wins, and at least 31 in the last four. The roughest game for the Buccaneers in that stretch came on a Sunday night last November at Raymond James Stadium, with the Saints rolling to a 38-3 decision that was easily Tampa Bay's worst game on its way to a Super Bowl title.

Overall, the Saints hold a 37-21 edge in the all-time series, which was first contested in 1977. That initial meeting is famously the first win in franchise history for the Buccaneers, who left New Orleans on December 11 of that year with a 33-14 victory that snapped a franchise-opening 26-game losing streak. The Bucs still had a 3-2 edge in the series by the end of 1982, which would also prove to be the end of the franchise's first run of playoff seasons. The Saints took control of the series by winning six straight in the mid-'80s.

Since they became division mates, the Bucs and Saints have squared off 38 times, 24 of them going in favor of New Orleans. The two teams had a run of season splits from 2015-18, and it wasn't just a matter of the each club holding serve on home field advantage. The Buccaneers actually won at New Orleans in 2015 and 2018, as noted above. That 2018 game was a 48-40 decision that set an NFL record for most combined points in a Week One contest.

Weirdly, the Saints beat Tampa Bay twice in that first NFC South season in 2002, even though the Buccaneers would win the 2002 division title on their way to victory in Super Bowl XXXVII. Those two games represented half of the Bucs' losses that year. In a minor bit of payback, a 2-12 Bucs team beat a 13-1 Saints team in the penultimate week of the 2009 season, before the Saints would go on to win their first Super Bowl. The Saints also won both games last year in the regular season, in another Buccaneers championship campaign.

NOTABLE CONNECTIONS

  • Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians got his first NFL coaching job in Kansas City from 1989-92 but then returned to the college ranks in 1993. His second crack at the NFL would come in New Orleans, where he was the tight ends coach under Head Coach Jim Mora in 1996.
  • Among the many coaching stops for Buccaneers Assistant Coach Tom Moore over more than four decades in the NFL was one season as the Saints' running backs coach in 1997.
  • Jameis Winston, the Saints' choice to replace to succeed the retired Drew Brees, spent his first five seasons with the Buccaneers after being selected first overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. Winston left Tampa with the franchise's career records for pass attempts (2,548), completions (1,563), passing yards (19,737) and touchdown passes (121). He also set Buccaneers single-season records in all four of those categories in 2019, completing 380 of 626 pass attempts for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns.
  • Saints LB Kwon Alexander played his first four seasons in Tampa. A fourth-round draft pick in 2015, Alexander jumped immediately into the starting lineup as a rookie at middle linebacker and was a Pro Bowler by his third campaign. Alexander signed with San Francisco in free agency in 2019 then joined the Saints in 2020. He was briefly released by New Orleans this offseason but then eventually re-signed.
  • Tampa Bay QB Ryan Griffin, who is currently on the practice squad spent his first two seasons (2013-14) in New Orleans after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane. He went back to training camp with the Saints in 2015 but ended up in Tampa on a waiver claim.
  • The Bucs came close to losing TE Cameron Brate to the Saints in 2015. Brate had been released from Tampa Bay's practice squad on September 15 so the Bucs could add depth to a banged-up linebacker squad, but before they could bring Brate back he signed with New Orleans. Brate was actually on the Saints' sideline when the Buccaneers played in New Orleans the following weekend, but he didn't say in Louisiana long because Tampa Bay hastily re-signed him to their active roster.
  • Fred McAfee, the Saints' Vice President of Player Engagement, played 16 years in the NFL as a running back and that included a very brief stop with the Buccaneers in 1999. McAfee appeared in one game for Tampa Bay that season.
  • Saints Assistant Special Teams Coach Phil Galiano held the same post in Tampa under Head Coach Greg Schiano in 2012-13.

SENIOR COACHING STAFFS

Tampa Bay:

  • Head Coach Bruce Arians
  • Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
  • Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
  • Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
  • Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong

New Orleans

  • Head Coach Sean Payton
  • Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael
  • Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen
  • Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi

KEY 2021 ROSTER ADDITIONS

Buccaneers:

Saints

  • CB Paulson Adebo (3rd-round draft pick)
  • FB Alex Armah (UFA)
  • S Jeff Heath (FA)
  • RB Mark Ingram (T-HOU)
  • K Brian Johnson (FA)
  • DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (UFA)
  • CB Bradley Roby (T-HOU)
  • WR Kenny Stills (FA)
  • DE Payton Turner (1st-round draft pick)
  • TE Nick Vannett (FA – currently on injured reserve)
  • LB Pete Werner (2nd-round draft pick)

ADDITIONAL 2021 CHANGES OF NOTE

Buccaneers:

  • While "keeping the band" together on the field for a run at another championship, the Buccaneers also managed to keep their coaching staff almost entirely intact for 2021. The lone departure was Offensive Assistant Antwaan Randle El, who left to coach the receivers on Dan Campbell's staff in Detroit. There were two additions to Arians' staff: Offensive Assistant A.Q. Shipley and Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Thaddeus Lewis.
  • Mike Greenberg, who provided invaluable help to Jason Licht in the efforts to keep the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning roster together as the team's director of football administration, was promoted during the offseason to vice president of football administration. Greenberg is entering his 12th year with the team.
  • After playing their 2020 home schedule in front of audiences ranging from empty stands to about 25% capacity, the Buccaneers will be at full capacity at Raymond James Stadium in 2021. And we do mean full capacity. The defending champions have already sold out every home game this season; the last time every game at Raymond James Stadium sold out was in 2009.
  • The Buccaneers introduced new uniforms in 2020 that were heavily influenced by the look the team had during its first Super Bowl era but also included a brand new alternate set with matching pewter jerseys and pants. That gave the team four combinations last season: pewter on pewter, white on white, white on pewter and red on pewter. The Bucs will use a fifth combination in 2021, with a red jersey over white pants, which they will wear in the Sunday Night Football spotlight at home against the Saints in Week 15.
  • Veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown is not a new addition to the team in 2021 but he will have a chance to make a greater impact this season. Brown joined the Buccaneers at midseason last year and played in the last eight games of the regular season, recording 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns. He also appeared in three postseason contests and memorably scored a touchdown in Super Bowl LV. This time Brown will be an integral part of the offense from Day One, and he'll be moving more freely after having knee surgery in the offseason. From 2013-18, Brown averaged approximately 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 13 touchdowns per season.

Saints:

  • The Saints opened a new chapter in franchise history in 2021 as the incredibly successful Drew Brees era came to an end. Brees came to New Orleans as a free agent in 2006 after five seasons with the Chargers and immediately changed the fortunes of the team in the bayou. He would go on to start 228 of a possible 240 games over the next 15 seasons and the Saints would have a winning record in 10 of those campaigns, never faring worse than 7-9. When the Buccaneers made their own dramatic move at quarterback in 2020 by signing Tom Brady, their former starter, Jameis Winston, signed with the Saints to spend what turned out to be just one season as Brees's backup. Now Winston is under center for a Saints team that appears well on its way to another winning season.
  • New Orleans saw more than just Brees depart after the Saints' fourth straight division-title season in 2020. Among the other regulars from last year's team who moved on either as unrestricted free agents, trades, necessary salary-cap cuts or additional retirements were defensive end Trey Hendrickson, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, tight ends Jared Cook and Josh Hill, punter Thomas Morstead, running back Latavius Murray, defensive tackle Malcom Brown, guard Nick Easton, linebacker Alex Anzalone and cornerback Patrick Robinson.
  • The Saints lost a senior member of their coaching staff on January 20 when Dan Campbell was hired to be the new head coach for the Detroit Lions. Campbell had spent the previous five seasons under Sean Payton as the team's assistant head coach and tight ends coach. Defensive Line Coach Ryan Nielsen subsequently added assistant head coach to his title and the team reassigned Offensive Line Coach Dan Roushar to run game coordinator/tight ends coach. In turn, Assistant Offensive Line Coach Brendan Nugent took over that position group.
  • Aaron Glenn, formerly the Saints' secondary coach, followed Campbell to Detroit to be the defensive coordinator, prompting New Orleans to hire Kris Richard as their new secondary coach. Richard had been the Cowboys' defensive backs coach in 2018 and 2019.
  • After five seasons as the Saints' quarterbacks coach, Joe Lombardi left this offseason to join Brandon Staley's staff as the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers. That prompted the Saints to move Wide Receivers Coach Ronald Curry over to the quarterback room and add wide receiver coach to the title of Senior Offensive Assistant Curtis Johnson.

TOP STORYLINES

Power Rankings – As noted above, Sunday's game at the Superdome is a critical one in what could be a down-to-the-wire race for the NFC South title. The Saints can't quite catch the Buccaneers at the top of the division standings this weekend, but they can make it very tight and demonstrate once again that the division is in their control until somebody proves otherwise. In addition, the Saints have already had their bye while the Bucs will get to rest in Week Nine, which means New Orleans could pull into a tie at the top of the standings while Tampa Bay is idle. Moreover, the entire conference standings are starting to stratify into very discernable layers, with a group of five teams that have still lost one or fewer games. That group is led by the 7-0 Cardinals, followed by the 6-1 Bucs, Packers and Rams, and the Cowboys are 5-1 and coming off their bye week. Moreover, several of those teams are responsible for the others' lone losses – the Bucs beat the Cowboys, the Cardinals beat the Rams and the Rams beat the Bucs. The Saints are just outside that leading fivesome but could make a case for joining them as top NFC contenders by moving to 5-2 while giving Tampa Bay it's second loss. In addition, it's New Orleans that is responsible for the Packers only loss with a surprising Week One blowout in the Superdome. It will probably be some time before the NFC South is truly decided but this Sunday's game could go a long way towards determining who the real contenders in the conference are.

Jameis vs. the Bucs, Part 1 – Winston threw 12 passes in his first season with the Saints, postseason included, and the only one that went for a touchdown was a trick-play 56-yarder to Tre'Quan Smith in the NFC Divisional Round Game against the Bucs in the Superdome. That was his first haymaker against his former NFL team and it briefly gave the Saints a 13-10 lead, but the Bucs went on to win the game, and the Super Bowl, and thus didn't have to dwell much on that one play. This Sunday's game is different. Winston is now the starter in New Orleans, and whether or not he carries any kind of grudge against his first NFL team for pivoting to Tom Brady instead of re-signing him, it's still notable when a franchise's all-time leading passer is now in the opposition's huddle. Depending upon how well Winston fares in the Saints' offense for the entire 2021 season, this could be the first of many meetings between the Bucs and their erstwhile franchise quarterback. Winston's tenure in Tampa was mercurial from a standpoint of the onfield results, with plenty of very impressive performances and statistics but also a high number of turnovers and, most notably, no playoff appearances. That is a reflection of the entire team from 2015-19, not an indictment of Winston specifically, but he would surely like to find more postseason success in his second NFL stop, and if that comes at the expense of his former team, perhaps that would make it even more satisfying. Winston has definitely limited the turnovers better in 2021, with just three interceptions and one lost fumble through his first six starts, but the Buccaneers' defense has been one of the best in the league at taking the ball away since the arrival of coordinator Todd Bowles and would like to get Winston's numbers back up in that category.

Who's In and Who's Out – The week of practice started out on an encouraging note for the Buccaneers, as inside linebacker Lavonte David, tight end Rob Gronkowski and cornerback Richard Sherman all put on pads and participated after missing time due to injury. Gronkowski (ribs) hasn't played in four weeks, David (ankle) has missed the last two contests and Sherman (hamstring) was out in Week Seven. After that practice, Bruce Arians said, "Yeah, it was great. They looked good. And obviously the guys that stepped in did a hell of a job, so now they've got to live up to their standards." Meanwhile, five Saints starters who had been out with injuries returned for last Monday's game in Seattle: left tackle Terron Armstead, center Erik McCoy, defensive end Marcus Davenport, linebacker Kwon Alexander and wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith. Armstead has been to the last three Pro Bowls and is an integral part of the Saints' offense but the most noticeable impact made by those returning players in Week Seven belonged to Davenport. The Saints were expecting a breakout season from the fourth-year player and former first-round pick to fill the void left by the departed Trey Hendrickson, but a shoulder injury in Week One had landed him on injured reserve. Davenport got his first sack of the season against Seattle's Geno Smith and noticeably helped the rest of the Saints' pass-rushers get pressure opportunities. On the flip side, the Saints' offensive line could now be without its other three-time Pro Bowler, left guard Andrus Peat, and gadget quarterback Taysom Hill has missed the last two games with a concussion.

Containing Kamara – In the Saints' two wins over the Buccaneers in 2020, running back Alvin Kamara was limited to a total of 116 yards from scrimmage but he still scored three touchdowns. Kamara cracked 100 yards from scrimmage in the Bucs' playoff win in the Superdome but was held out of the end zone, and the critical fourth-quarter interception secured by Devin White was on a pass intended for the great receiving back. Kamara remains one of the NFL's most productive and versatile backs and he just collected another NFC Offensive Player of the Week award after keying a 13-10 win in Seattle with 179 yards and a touchdown. Kamara had 138 yards by halftime so the Seahawks fed him a constant diet of double teams in the second half but still couldn't stop him. Kamara leads the Saints with 25 catches but he was seeing fewer targets per game than usual during the Saints' first five games. That changed in Game Six as Winston looked in his direction 11 times and was rewarded with 10 completions for 128 yards and a score. On Monday, Bruce Arians stressed that limiting the damage by Kamara is the single most important goal for Tampa Bay's defense this weekend. Arians particularly wants to keep Kamara quiet on the ground so the Buccaneer D can return to its formula of completely shutting down the opposing rushing attack to make that offense one-dimensional. Tampa Bay still has the league's top-ranked rush defense but permitted a 100-yard outing by Bears rookie Khalil Herbert in Week Seven.

#3 vs. #3 on the Scoreboard – The Rams' talented defense held the Buccaneers to 24 points in Week Three and a rainy night in Foxborough the following weekend led to a narrow 19-17 Tampa Bay win over the Patriots. Otherwise, the Buccaneers have often seemed to be scoring at will, and they are currently averaging 33.3 points per contest to rank third in the NFL in that category. However, their average in three road games so far is "only" 23.7 points, and they are about to take on another very stingy defense in a very raucous Superdome environment. The Saints' scoring defense ranking matches the Bucs' third spot, as they are surrendering only 16.8 points per game. When New Orleans has defeated Tampa Bay in recent years they've done a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback, and their secondary complements that coverage some of the NFL's most consistently tight coverage. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, opposing quarterbacks have had to make 20% of their throws into "tight windows," the second-highest percentage against any defense. Tampa Bay could be getting tight end Rob Gronkowski back this week, which would give Brady another valuable weapon in the likely absence of Antonio Brown, but as noted above the Saints' defense just welcomed back two starters in Marcus Davenport and Kwon Alexander.

KEY MATCHUPS

1. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Saints CB Marshon Lattimore

Every Evans-Lattimore battle is appointment viewing, and while there is clearly mutual respect between two of the best players in the game there doesn't seem to be any love lost when they are on the field together. The two have faced off eight times, with Lattimore missing the second game in 2019 but the Bucs and Saints getting an extra meeting in the playoffs last season. Both have managed some big wins in the matchup, including one game in 2019 that is just one of two in Evans' career in which he did not catch a pass. Evans also was held to one catch in two of last year's three games, but notably they were both touchdowns. Evans controlled the action in the 2018 games, catching a combined 11 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown. This time around, Evans is coming off the second three-touchdown game of his career and is tied for second in the NFL with seven TD receptions overall. He's also recorded at least 75 receiving yards in five of his last six outings. Lattimore has already been used by the Saints to largely shadow the opposition's top receiver four times this year, against Green Bay's Davante Adams, the Patriots' Nelson Agholor, the Giants' Kenny Golladay and Seattle's D.K. Metcalf. Most notably he held Adams to two catches for 37 yards on three targets while in coverage.

2. Saints T Terron Armstead vs. Buccaneers OLB Jason Pierre-Paul

Despite playing with a rotator cuff injury and a large club taped on his injured right hand, Pierre-Paul made life miserable for Bears rookie Justin Fields in Week Seven, recording two of the Bucs' four sacks plus a forced fumble. In recent seasons, Pierre-Paul has made an art form out of maintaining a high level of production while managing multiple injuries. Last week, he did not participate in any of the Bucs' practices before suiting up on Sunday and playing 39 defensive snaps. Pierre-Paul and fellow edge rusher Shaquil Barrett sometimes flip sides but the greater number of JPP's snaps this season have come on the right end of the Bucs' front, which makes him a challenge this week for the Saints' outstanding left tackle, Terron Armstead. Pierre-Paul is an emotional leader on the field for the Buccaneers and plays with a very high energy level. Armstead is a three-time Pro Bowl selection who excels in both run and pass blocking and is athletic to get to the second level and make additional blocks. The Saints just got Armstead back in the lineup this past Monday night after a two-game absence due to an elbow injury and they allowed Jameis Winston to be hit just four times against the Seahawks. According to Pro Football Focus, Armstead has not allowed a sack yet this season.

3. Buccaneers T Donovan Smith vs. Saints DE Marcus Davenport

The same RE-LT matchup will be key when the Buccaneers' offense is on the field, too. Smith is part of a Bucs' front line that has held opponents to the second-lowest sacks per pass play (2.91%) in the NFL and just last week stone-walled Khalil Mack and the Bears' ferocious pass rush, not allowing a single sack of Tom Brady. Davenport just returned to the lineup after missing four games and, as noted above, made an instant impact on the Saints' already very strong defense. He had a sack of his own and was a factor in key plays by several other players in the team's front seven as Geno Smith was sacked five times and harassed constantly. With long-time Saints standout most comfortable rushing from the left end, Davenport usually sets up shop outside the opposition's left tackle, which in this case is Smith. When asked what the Buccaneers did better to win in New Orleans in the playoffs last year after losing both regular-season contests against the Saints, tight end Cam Brate says the difference was establishing the line of scrimmage and providing better protection for Tom Brady. Indeed, Brady was sacked three times in each in the two losses and just once in the win, and that helped the Bucs reduce their turnovers from six in the first two games to none in the third. The Buccaneers likely will need to keep Davenport and company away from Brady to improve to 7-1 on Sunday, and Smith will play a big part in that effort.

4. Saints WR Marquez Callaway vs. Buccaneers CB Richard Sherman or Pierre Desir

We're cheating a little bit with this one because injuries continue to force the Buccaneers to shuffle their lineup at cornerback. With Sherman out last week, the Buccaneers started Dee Delaney opposite Jamel Dean, but Delaney later left that game with an ankle injury and was not able to practice on Wednesday. Bruce Arians expressed some uncertainty over whether Delaney would be ready to go by Sunday. In the meantime, Sherman returned to practice on Wednesday after missing most of the last two games with a hamstring injury but it's not yet known if he'll be back in action in Week Eight. If he is, he would likely get the start over Desir, as Sherman was the initial replacement for the injured Carlton Davis before his own injury. If both Delaney and Sherman are out, the job would likely fall to Desir, with Ross Cockrell remaining in the slot. Whoever is in that spot will have some important reps against Callaway, who has been Winston's top target after Kamara. Callaway plays about 80% of his snaps on the outside, and while he's seen more action on the left side of the offense – where he would mostly be Dean's responsibility – he also takes plenty of snaps out wide to the right. Callaway had a very promising preseason and then a relatively slow start to the regular season but in the past but he had a 58-yard catch in Week Four against the Giants and a 49-yard grab the following weekend against Washington. Overall, the Saints' offense has not produced a high number of big plays, ranking last in the NFL with 12 gains of 20 or more yards. However, Callaway has demonstrated big-play ability and is averaging 15.9 yards per catch, so the Bucs' secondary will want to make sure it doesn't give up chunk plays to an offense that already hums on shorter throws to Kamara.

INJURY REPORT

Key:

DNP: Did not participate in practice

LP: Limited participation in practice

FP: Full participation in practice

NL: Not listed

Buccaneers:

  • RB Giovani Bernard (chest) – WED: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • WR Antonio Brown (ankle) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • LB Lavonte David (ankle) – WED: LP; THURS; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • CB Jamel Dean (shoulder/thumb) – WED: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • CB Dee Delaney (ankle) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • TE Rob Gronkowski (ribs) – WED: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • TE O.J. Howard (ankle) – WED: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • DL Steve McLendon (not injury related) – WED: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • OLB Anthony Nelson (elbow) – WED: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder/hand) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • CB Richard Sherman (hamstring) – WED: LP: THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • DL Ndamukong Suh (knee) – WED: DNP; THURS: FP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.

Saints:

  • WR Deonte Harris (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • QB Taysom Hill (concussion) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • CB Marshon Lattimore (hand) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • G Andrus Peat (pectoral) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • DE Payton Turner (calf) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • RB Dwayne Washington (neck) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.

WEATHER FORECAST

Domed Stadium. Outside: Mostly sunny, high of 74, low of 61, 6% chance of rain, 61% humidity, winds out of the N at 4 mph.

GAME REFEREE

Head referee: Clete Blakeman (14th season, 12th as referee)

BETTING LINE

  • Favorite: Buccaneers (-5.0)
  • Over/Under: 50.5

INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS

Buccaneers-

Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 53

  • Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 7
  • Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 2,275
  • Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 108.2
  • Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 413
  • Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 42
  • Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 520
  • Interceptions: CB Jamel Dean/S Mike Edwards, 2
  • Sacks: OLB Shaquil Barrett, 5.5
  • Tackles: LB Devin White, 51

Saints

  • Points Scored: RB Alvin Kamara, 30
  • Touchdowns: RB Alvin Kamara, 5
  • Passing Yards: QB Jameis Winston, 1,114
  • Passer Rating: QB Jameis Winston, 102.4
  • Rushing Yards: RB Alvin Kamara, 419
  • Receptions: RB Alvin Kamara, 25
  • Receiving Yards: WR Marquez Callaway, 254
  • Interceptions: CB Paulson Adebo/S Marcus Williams/CB P.J. Williams, 2
  • Sacks: LB Demario Davis/DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, 3.0
  • Tackles: LB Demario Davis, 48

TEAM STAT RANKINGS

Buccaneers-

Scoring Offense: 3rd (33.3 ppg)

Total Offense: 2nd (423.4 ypg)

Passing Offense: 1st (324.3 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 21st (99.1 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: 3rd (26.0)

Third-Down Pct.: 4th (47.3%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 2nd (2.91%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: 9th (65.7%)

Scoring Defense: 10th (21.0 ppg)

Total Defense: 9th (332.1 ypg)

Passing Defense: 23rd (264.7 ypg)

Rushing Defense: 1st (67.4 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-11th (20.1)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 17th (40.5%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 23rd (5.65%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 16th (59.1%)

Turnover Margin: t-4th (+7)

Saints-

Scoring Offense: 17th (23.3 ppg)

Total Offense: 29th (296.7 ypg)

Passing Offense: 31st (176.2 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 11th (120.5 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: 27th (17.8)

Third-Down Pct.: 23rd (38.0%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 20th (7.10%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: 2nd (77.8%)

Scoring Defense: 3rd (16.8 ppg)

Total Defense: 8th (331.5 ypg)

Passing Defense: 20th (250.7 ypg)

Rushing Defense: 3rd (80.8 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: 9th (19.8)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 7th (33.7%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 22nd (5.73%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 1st (35.7%)

Turnover Margin: t-8th (+4)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • Chris Godwin is climbing steadily up the Buccaneers' all-time receptions list. Last week, Godwin bumped his career total from 278 catches to 286, in the process passing Jimmie Giles (279) for ninth and Michael Pittman (284) for eighth. In fact, Godwin even caught Kevin House (286), tying him for seventh on the list and thus obviously needing just one more to take over that spot for himself. Godwin probably won't get 12 catches against the Saints, but if he did he'd catch Keyshawn Johnson (298) in sixth place.
  • Mike Evans' three touchdown catches in Week Seven against Chicago have him on the doorstep of assuming the mantle as the all-time greatest TD producer in franchise history. That title has belonged to Mike Alstott for a long time, but now Evans is at 69 career touchdowns, just two behind Alstott's 71.
  • If Rob Gronkowski is able to return to action in Week Eight he'll have a shot at moving up a spot on two prominent NFL charts. If he gets 71 receiving yards, he will pass Greg Olsen (8,683) for the fifth-most yards by a tight end in league history. And just one more touchdown catch would put him in a tie for 11th all time with Isaac Bruce (91).
  • Tom Brady recorded his 37th career game with four touchdown passes last weekend against the Bears, tying him with Drew Brees for the most such outings in league history. Another one against Brees's former team would give him the top spot by himself.
  • Both of Tampa Bay's starting outside linebackers, Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are sitting on 31.0 sacks as a Buccaneer after Barrett got one against the Bears and Pierre-Paul got two. Those two squeezed into the booth next to Brad Culpepper, also 33.0 sacks, at the seventh spot on the franchise's all-time sack list. Either one could pass Chidi Ahanotu (34.5) for the sixth spot with two more against the Saints.

NOTABLY QUOTABLE

  •  Head Coach Bruce Arians on what made the difference last year between the Bucs' two losses to the Saints and the win in New Orleans in the playoffs: "Turnovers. When you look at our two games, we turned it over, they scored. In the playoff game, they turned it over, we scored. When two good teams are battling, that's usually the deciding factor. Now, you've got to score when you get those turnovers. You can't kick field goals."
  • Tight end Cam Brate on another factor that made a defense in that third meeting last year: "Easiest thing to point out are turnovers, but it's a team we play twice a year – last year three times. A team we're really familiar with. Obviously, we had our struggles with them over the years and were kind of able to rectify that last year during the playoffs, but it's a new season. Watching them on tape still – great defense and they have great players all over the field. They do a lot of things with their front four to put pressure on us. We have to be on the same page this week, really work through the details throughout the week. It's a tough place to play. We really didn't have that element last year, which was nice. But I'm sure it's going to be wild on Halloween this Sunday. A lot of work this week to put in and as long as we are able to protect Tom [Brady], kind of establish the line of scrimmage – that's what really helped us in the playoffs. Hopefully run the football and protect the quarterback."
  • Outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul on the importance of Sunday's division matchup: "Every game is important, but every division game it seems to bring out the best in players. Because they know how [important the game is] and that will probably justify your season. It will make your season or break your season. I know they'll be coming after us and we're going to be coming after them. That game is important to both of us. We're going to be playing our hearts out and that's basically it. There really isn't too much to talk about. It's going to be some hard-playing football coming out on Sunday night. I can't wait for it. Hopefully we come out with a W. We already know it's going to be a tough game, and we know what the Saints can bring but this time it's Jameis."
  • Safety Jordan Whitehead on the efforts to stop Saints RB Alvin Kamara: "Versus the Saints, everybody [has] to get to the ball. You can't take a play off, you can't get out of your gap. It's just the Saints – they capitalize on when the defense messes up."
  • Wide receiver Jaelon Darden on taking over the punt return job and providing a spark with a 43-yard return earlier in the win over Chicago: "Obviously, it meant a lot being able to get out there and help my teammates start the game up. I felt like it was a big energy booster to help my team put points on the board and be able to come out on top with the win. I definitely felt like I helped as much as I could."

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