Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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2021 Game Preview: Saints-Buccaneers, Week 15

With memories of last year's prime-time meeting with the Saints still fresh in their minds, the Bucs will be looking to snap a losing streak against their division foes Sunday night and in the process capture an NFC South title

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For the second season in a row the New Orleans Saints will come to Raymond James Stadium to share the prime-time national stage with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football. The first one did not go very well for the home team and, oh yes, they remember it well.

What was expected to be a very entertaining show and a fierce battle for NFC South supremacy between the 6-2 Buccaneers and the 5-2 Saints, a game also featuring the legendary quarterback matchup of Tom Brady and Drew Brees, turned into a lopsided mess for the home team. The Saints won, 38-3 – by far Tampa Bay's worst loss during a Super Bowl-winning campaign – and then celebrated rather emphatically in the visitors locker room.

The Buccaneers took notice.

"Those images kind of stick with you, definitely give you something, a little motive, incentive to go out there and play harder and better," said tackle Donovan Smith. "At the end of the day if we go out there and play our style of ball, keep doing what we've been doing, and building, we'll be having a different conversation next week."

Indeed, the Bucs could be talking about playoff positioning next week if they can avenge that rough loss from last year and break a six-game regular-season losing streak against the Saints. New Orleans has won the last four NFC South titles – the Bucs took a long Wild Card road journey to the title last year – but a Tampa Bay win on Sunday night would bring the division crown back to Florida for the first time since 2007.

Combine that carrot with the still-fresh feelings from last November and the Buccaneers are certainly not lacking for motivation this week.

"It would mean a lot for me personally with not being able to win one throughout my career here and finally having the chance," said inside linebacker Lavonte David of the looming division title. "You definitely want to capitalize on that opportunity. Last time we played on this stage, they put a whooping on us. Whenever you have the chance to go out there and play again and play for a lot more – it's not just a regular season game. There's a lot more at stake so it should definitely be a fun football game. For us to get his win would be really huge to clinch the division."

The Buccaneers have employed the fans attending Sunday night's game to create a "Red Out" by wearing as much red Bucs gear as possible. Regardless of the color pattern in the stands, the Buccaneers hope that a packed house will provide the kind of home field advantage the Saints generally enjoy in the raucous Superdome.

"We always have goals each season," said Smith. "Last year we started with the Super Bowl, so now it's like, what's the next goal? We wanted to win our division last year and obviously we couldn't, but that's our task this year. To be able to do that at home for the fans to enjoy it with us and have fun. Make sure you're all wearing red. I'm going to be checking out for everybody in the stands so make sure you all wear red, but it will be fun."

As one of five 6-7 teams in a logjam at the bottom of the current NFC playoff standings, the Saints are trying to keep their own postseason hopes as healthy as possible. In addition to staving off elimination in the division race, the Saints are trying to get on a hot streak to finish the season after finally breaking a five-game losing streak last weekend. Taysom Hill has taken over at quarterback and added a dangerous rushing element to the Saints' offense, and that ground game should also have Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram together for the first time in six weeks.

The Saints also still feature a fearsome defense, one that Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians says is one of the toughest on the Bucs' 2021 schedule, and that crew is getting some injured players back and getting closer to full strength. The Saints have won six straight in the regular season series in part because that defense routinely creates multiple takeaways against the Buccaneers. That's an issue that the Bucs will be looking to correct Sunday night as they try to make this year's prime-time meeting with the Saints a much more competitive affair.

And, of course, they are hoping they end the night with a transfer of NFC South supremacy.

"I think it's an honor," said wide receiver Chris Godwin of playing for what would be the first division title of his career. "I think it's a testament to the hard work that everyone in this building puts in. I know there have been some pretty bad years here, and I've been a part of a few of them, so just to be a part of a couple of the teams that turned things around here is pretty cool."

GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS

New Orleans Saints (6-7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)

Sunday, December 19, 8:20 p.m. ET

Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 65,618)

Tampa, Florida

Television: NBC

TV Broadcast Team: Mike Tirico (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst), Michele Tafoya (reporter)

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

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

GAMEDAY INFORMATION

Coming to the game or enjoying pregame festivities? Check out our Tailgate Packages or visit the Buccaneers Gameday Page for everything you need to know about Bucs Beach and more!

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.

Overall, the Saints hold a 38-21 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. New Orleans has a 25-14 edge in the series since the formation of the NFC South, a competition that was nearly dead even before the Saints ripped off a seven-game win streak from 2011-14, and they have further widened the gap with a current six-game run in regular-season play.

Tampa Bay's last regular-season victory was the season-opener in 2018, a wild 48-40 shootout that set an NFL record for most combined points in a Week One contest. The Saints have scored 28 or more points in each of their last six wins, including a 36-27 decision this season in the Superdome in which Saints starting quarterback Jameis Winston sustained a season-ending knee injury, leaving it to Trevor Siemian to finish off the win with 159 yards and a touchdown. Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes in the loss but was also picked off twice, one returned for a touchdown.

Tampa Bay, however, does own the one postseason victory in this series, beating the Saints in the Superdome last January on their way to victory in Super Bowl LV. Sean Murphy-Bunting, Devin White and Mike Edwards all had interceptions in that 30-20 decision, which proved to be the final game in Drew Brees's illustrious career, as he retired a few months later.

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

Saints

  • 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)
  • T Caleb Benenoch (FA)
  • RB Mark Ingram (T-HOU)
  • K Brett Maher (FA)
  • DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (UFA – currently on injured reserve)
  • CB Bradley Roby (T-HOU)
  • WR Kenny Stills (FA)
  • DE Payton Turner (1st-round draft pick – currently on injured reserve)
  • TE Nick Vannett (FA)
  • 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

Traveling Trophy – With a four-game lead in the NFC South and four weeks to go, the math for the Buccaneers in their quest to win a division title is simple: one win for Tampa Bay or one loss for the only other team still alive in the division race will get the job done. In this particular case, the Buccaneers could actually accomplish both in one fell swoop and take the crown in rather emphatic fashion. That's because their only remaining pursuer in the division is the Saints, who will be at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday night. This would be a fitting way for the Buccaneers to win their first division title in 14 years because it is the Saints who have been playing keep away with that honorific for years, having won the division four seasons running. If the Bucs can get that one win this Sunday, it would almost be like the Saints had finally cracked open their trophy case and brought that NFC South trophy to Tampa to hand it over to its new owners. Beyond that, the Buccaneers are also trying to keep pace in a top-heavy conference race in which the Packers, Cardinals and Cowboys all have reasonable shots at getting the first-overall seed and that hugely helpful first-round bye. The Packers are currently in the pole position for that bye but with the Bucs and Cardinals matching their 10-3 record none of those teams can afford to stumble right now. If Tampa Bay can't catch the Packers for the top spot, they would at least like to hold onto the second seed so that they would be guaranteed a second home playoff game if they win the first one.

Ground and Pound – Just seven days after getting gashed by the Bills Josh Allen for 109 rushing yards and a touchdown, the Buccaneers must now face yet another big, fast and hard-to-tackle quarterback in the Saints' Taysom Hill. Hill is just two weeks removed from his own 100-yard rushing game, having ran 11 times for 101 yards against Dallas in Week 13 (not to mention another 73-yard outing at New York last weekend). The Saints rank 29th in the NFL in passing yards but have the makings of an extremely strong rushing attack with Hill now under center. Running back Mark Ingram, a midseason trade acquisition, is expected to come off the COVID list this week and rejoin the offense, marking the first time in more than a month that the Saints will have Ingram and Alvin Kamara on the field at the same time. That one-two backfield punch and the surprise jaunts by Hill will stress the NFL's third-ranked rush defense in many different ways. Until just a few weeks ago, that was the NFL's top-ranked rush defense but it has shown some cracks in recent weeks, giving up 107 yards to the Colts, 121 to the Falcons and 173 to the Bills. In fact, after allowing just 45.8 yards per game on the ground over the first five games of the season, the Bucs have surrendered 119.5 per game over the last eight. At least the Buccaneers have had plenty of practice trying to catch quarterbacks on the run this season. So far the Tampa Bay defense has faced 33 quarterback scrambles in 2021, the most against any defense in the NFL.

Brady Has Saints Marching – Of all the things that have changed drastically for the NFL's franchise in Tampa since the arrival of Tom Brady, nearly all of them for the better, one of them is not who has the upper hand in the regular-season Bucs-Saints series. Tampa Bay won the most important battle between those two teams in last year's playoffs but the Bucs still haven't beaten the Saints in the regular season since Brady came to town. And Brady himself, absolutely spectacular overall in his two seasons with the Buccaneers, has been less than spectacular against the Saints in that span. It was not particularly surprising when the seven-time champion struggled a bit in his Buccaneer debut in 2020, which was in New Orleans, because he had had no offseason or preseason games to build chemistry with his pass-catchers. That came along gradually. And Brady did throw for 375 yards and four touchdowns in the Superdome seven weeks ago. Still, he has yet to put together the sort of all-around outstanding efforts like the ones that have produced a 25-5 record in every other game he's started for Tampa Bay (playoffs included). Overall, in 2020 and 2021 regular-season games not played against the Saints, Brady has a 70-15 TD-INT ratio and a 105.9 passer rating. In his three regular-season starts against New Orleans as a Buccaneer, Brady has a 6-7 TD-INT ratio and a 77.5 passer rating. What we're saying, in a nutshell, is that Brady is very, very due to crack a Saints defense that has given him more trouble than any other team.

No Bucs Beating Bucs – On Wednesday, left tackle Donovan Smith repeated the same mantra several times as a short and sweet answer to Tampa Bay faring better against New Orleans than it has in the last six regular-season meetings: "No Bucs beating Bucs." As Head Coach Bruce Arians also noted, the recent Saints-Bucs games – including a Divisional Round Playoff game last January that Tampa Bay did win – have all hinged mostly on the turnover battle. A common thread of the Bucs' losing streak to the Saints is self-inflicted wounds, not just turnovers but penalties and mental errors. In Tampa Bay's Week Eight loss in the Superdome, the team committed 11 penalties for 99 yards and lost the turnover battle, 3-0. In their two losses to New Orleans in 2020, the Buccaneers lost the turnover battle, 6-2, and gave up 31 points off giveaways while scoring none off takeaways. The Bucs also drew 14 flags for 142 yards in those two outings combined. Said Arians after the loss in Week Eight: "That was an embarrassing display of football. With all the things that we talked about coming down here it was going to take to win, and to play like that starts with me. Obviously, we weren't ready to play. Penalties, turnovers – you can't beat anybody that way." The Buccaneers have significantly curbed their penalty issues since that game in New Orleans with no more than six infractions or 44 penalty yards in any game since. The Bucs have also turned the ball over just six times total in the five games since that New Orleans trip. They'll need that sort of clean play to finally break their losing streak against the Saints.

Who's Healthy? – The NFL season can be a war of attrition, and that's only become more true since a 17th game was added to the schedule. After a rather fortunate season in terms of injuries that not coincidentally ended in a Super Bowl championship in 2020, the Buccaneers are one of a handful of teams that have been hit relatively hard by health misfortune in 2021. For Tampa Bay, the injuries have been largely concentrated in the secondary but the tide has started to turn in that regard in recent weeks, with cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting, Carlton Davis and Richard Sherman all returning from injured reserve. The current concerns are safety Jordan Whitehead, who has missed two games with a calf injury but was a limited participant in practice to start the week, and cornerback Jamel Dean, who is dealing with illness that may be related to a prior concussion. The Buccaneers also have to manage the situation with their other starting safety, Antoine Winfield, Jr., who unexpected popped up on the injury report this week with a foot ailment. The Saints have arguably had even worse injury luck in 2021, particularly of late. At times they have been without such core contributors as Alvin Kamara, Terron Armstead, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Davenport, Payton Turner, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Adam Trautman and Mark Ingram. Last week, the Saints were also without Ingram, Cameron Jordan and Ty Montgomery due to COVID cases. And, of course, original starting quarterback Jameis Winston has been out since he hurt his knee against Tampa Bay in Week Eight. However, the tide seems to be turning for the Saints, who recently got Armstead, Davenport, Trautman and Kamara back into the mix and should have all those COVID cases cleared by this weekend.

KEY MATCHUPS

1. Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin vs. Saints CB C.J. Gardner-Johnson

The Saints will certainly be keying on Godwin after watching film of the Bucs' last two games, because Tom Brady just won't stop throwing the ball to his most-targeted receiver. In wins over Atlanta and Buffalo, Brady targeted Godwin a whopping 32 times, and it paid off to the tune of 25 catches for 248 yards. Though he can line up anywhere along the formation and is by far the most likely Buccaneer to go in motion before the snap, Godwin still takes 52% of his snaps in the slot. That's where he will frequently encounter Gardner-Johnson, who this year is listed as a safety on the Saints' depth chart but has remained their primary slot corner. Gardner-Johnson and the Saints beat the Bucs in Week Eight but didn't really slow down Godwin, who finished with seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown on nine targets. Gardner-Johnson will be facing a stiff challenge when the Bucs get the ball into Godwin's hands quickly; in that Week Eight meeting, Godwin picked up 105 of his 140 yards after he caught the ball. Gardner-Johnson has had good production across the board in 2021, playing 77% of the defensive snaps and contributing 27 tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, one interception and four passes defensed. The Bucs-Saints series is also one that tends to get intense and emotional on the field, and at times Tampa Bay players haven't controlled their emotions as much as they would like. Gardner-Johnson just happens to be one of the best Saints at instigating such issues.

2. Saints RB Alvin Kamara vs. Buccaneers ILB Lavonte David

When the Saints whipped the Jets in New York last weekend, 30-9, Kamara was on the field for 52 snaps and he ended up with the ball in his hands on 31 of them, or an incredible 60% of his playing time. In his first game back after missing four due to a knee injury, Kamara ended up taking a career-high 27 handoffs, turning them into 120 yards and a touchdown. When the Buccaneers played the Saints in Week Eight, Tampa Bay's defense did manage to hold Kamara to 61 yards on 19 carries and 15 yards on three catches, but he did manage to find the end zone, as usual against the Buccaneers. The Saints are certain to keep Kamara at the center of their offense this Sunday night, and there's a good chance that Lavonte David will be in the vicinity when Kamara gets the ball. In Week Eight, David made eight tackles in the Superdome and six of them were against Kamara. David who has made a career out of shooting the gaps on stretch run plays and racking up tackles for loss, must be ready for Kamara to be coming around the edges because Kamara runs between the tackles on a lower percentage of carries than all but two other qualifying backs in the NFL, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. David has also been one of the NFL's best coverage linebackers for the majority of his career, and those skills will come in handy on Sunday night against a Saints offense that loves to get the ball into Kamara's hands out in the flat. Even with the time he has missed, Kamara is the Saints' leading receiver, with 36 catches.

3. Buccaneers G Alex Cappa vs. Saints DT David Onyemata

According to Football Outsiders, the Buccaneers' offensive line has been the best in the NFL in run blocking in 2021, with an average adjusted line yards (ALY) of 4.91 per carry. (Adjusted line yards takes into account such factors as down and distance, opponent, situation and formation.) Specifically running behind the guards and the centers, the Buccaneers also rank first with a 4.94 ALY mark, and they also take the top spot on power runs. According to NFLGSIS, the Buccaneers are averaging 4.46 yards per carry when running over right guard, eighth-best in the league. All this speaks well of the season that fourth-year player and third-year starter Alex Cappa is having. However, Cappa and the Bucs' other interior blockers will have their hands full Sunday with Onyemata, one of the more underrated interior defensive linemen in the NFL. Onyemata has just a half-sack so far this season but has a combination of power, explosiveness and length that makes him tough to move. He is one of the main reasons the Saints rank sixth in run defense this year, and first in fewest yards allowed per carry (3.66). Cappa is also part of a Bucs line that has produced the NFL's lowest sack rate this season. Onyemata might not have flashy sack numbers this year but his penetration can help create one-on-one opportunities for edge rushers like Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport. If Cappa can win his one-on-one assignments with Onyemata it will help the rest of the Bucs' blockers keep Saints pass-rushers away from Tom Brady.

4. Saints T Ryan Ramczyk (or James Hurst) vs. Buccaneers OLB Shaquil Barrett

Barrett appears to be heating up again at the end of the season, just as he did in his first two years as a Buccaneer. He has 3.5 sacks across Tampa Bay's last three games to push his season total 9.0. One more and he will have his second double-digit sack campaign as a Buccaneers. Barrett was particularly disruptive last Sunday against Josh Allen and the Bills, registering a season-high five quarterback hits and being credited with seven quarterback pressures by Next Gen Stats. Since Week 11, Barrett has 17 QB pressures, tied for the fourth-most in the NFL in that span. Since he first put on a Bucs uniform in 2019, Barrett has recorded 186 QB pressures, second-most in the entire NFL in that span, and his 16 turnovers caused by pressure is the most in the league in that same timeframe. Barrett more often rushes from the left end of the Bucs' line, meaning he's an issue for opposing right tackles. Fortunately for the Saints, they have one of the NFL's best right tackles in Ryan Ramczyk. Also fortunately for the Saints, Ramczyk has a good shot at returning to the lineup this Sunday after missing the last four games with a knee injury. Ramczyk was a first-team AP All-Pro after the 2019 season and has been a rock for the Saints on the right edge ever since he was taken with the final pick of the first round in 2017. The 6-6, 314-pound Ramczyk is very strong but also light enough on his feet to keep speed rushers from getting around the corner on him frequently. If Ramczyk is forced to miss another game, the Saints would likely slide left guard James Hurst over to right tackle and move Calvin Throckmorton up into the guard spot.

INJURY REPORT

DNP: Did not participate in practice

LP: Limited participation in practice

FP: Full participation in practice

NL: Not listed

Buccaneers:

  • QB Tom Brady (not injury related/right shoulder) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • CB Jamel Dean (concussion) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • RB Leonard Fournette (ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • TE Rob Gronkowski (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • DL Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • P Bradley Pinion (right hip) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • CB Richard Sherman (Achilles) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Doubtful.
  • DL Ndamukong Suh (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • S Jordan Whitehead (calf) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • S Antoine Winfield, Jr. (foot) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.

Saints:

  • T Terron Armstead (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • DE Marcus Davenport (shoulder) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • LB Kaden Elliss (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • S C.J. Gardner-Johnson (toe) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • TE Garrett Griffin (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • QB Taysom Hill (right finger) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
  • WR Lil'Jordan Humphrey (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
  • T Ryan Ramczyk (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
  • LB Pete Werner (elbow) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

WEATHER FORECAST

Considerable cloudiness, evening low of 67, 8% chance of rain in the evening, 87% humidity, winds out of the NNE at 6 mph.

GAME REFEREE

Head referee: John Hussey (20th season, 7th as referee)

BETTING LINE

·    Favorite: Buccaneers (-11.0)

·    Over/Under: 46.5

INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS

Buccaneers-

Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 98

Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 11

Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 4,134

Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 104.2

Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 778

Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 92

Receiving Yards: WR Chris Godwin, 1,054

Interceptions: S Mike Edwards, 3

Sacks: OLB Shaquil Barrett, 9.0

Tackles: LB Devin White, 110

Saints-

Points Scored: RB Alvin Kamara, 48

Touchdowns: RB Alvin Kamara, 8

Passing Yards: QB Jameis Winston*, 1,170

Passer Rating: QB Jameis Winston*, 102.8

Rushing Yards: RB Alvin Kamara, 650

Receptions: RB Alvin Kamara, 36

Receiving Yards: WR Deonte Harris, 523

Interceptions: CB P.J. Williams, 3

Sacks: DE Marcus Davenport, 5.5

Tackles: LB Demario Davis, 88

TEAM STAT RANKINGS

Buccaneers-

Scoring Offense: 1st (31.5 ppg)

Total Offense: 1st (410.2 ypg)

Passing Offense: 1st (314.2 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 25th (96.0 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: 1st (24.5)

Third-Down Pct.: 2nd (48.2%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 1st (3.02%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: 5th (65.5%)

Scoring Defense: 11th (22.8 ppg)

Total Defense: 14th (343.0 ypg)

Passing Defense: 24th (251.8 ypg)

Rushing Defense: 3rd (91.2 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: 22nd (21.3)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 18th (40.1%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: t-15th (6.58%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 13th (56.5%)

Turnover Margin: t-5th (+9)

Saints-

Scoring Offense: 16th (23.4 ppg)

Total Offense: 23rd (319.4 ypg)

Passing Offense: 29th (197.9 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 14th (121.5 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: t-24th (19.2)

Third-Down Pct.: 21st (38.0%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 12th (5.93%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: 2nd (67.4%)

Scoring Defense: 19th (21.9 ppg)

Total Defense: 11th (339.5 ypg)

Passing Defense: 18th (244.5 ypg)

Rushing Defense: 6th (90.5 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-5th (18.6)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 10th (37.9%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 19th (6.32%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 1st (43.6%)

Turnover Margin: t-14th (+1)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • Tom Brady, who is not yet done with just his second season in Tampa, needs just two more touchdown passes to move past Vinny Testaverde (77) and into third place on the Bucs' all-time list. If he happened to throw five touchdown passes on Sunday he would also move past Josh Freeman (80) for second place. Those five TDs would also give him 41 on the season, which would break his own franchise single-season record of 40, set last year. By the way, Brady has already had two five-touchdown games this season.
  • Tight end Cam Brate broke a tie with Chris Godwin with his three-yard touchdown catch in Atlanta in Week 14. Brate now has 31 touchdowns, which moves him into a different tie with Kevin House for the fifth-most touchdowns and third-most receiving touchdowns in franchise history. Brate could take the fifth spot for himself with one more score and/or Godwin could join the tie at fifth or move past Brate with one or two TDs of his own. One of Godwin's 30 career touchdowns came on a run, so he's a bit farther behind on that list.
  • Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett had 1.5 sacks last Sunday against Buffalo and now has 9.0 on the season. Since joining the Buccaneers in 2019, Barrett has racked up 36.5 sacks. He is just 2.5 behind David Logan for fifth place on the team's all-time list in that category.
  • Wide receiver Chris Godwin broke the Bucs' single-game record with 15 catches at Atlanta in Week 13 and followed with another 10 grabs against Buffalo a week later. If Godwin gets 10 or more receptions against the Saints he will be the first player in team history to record three straight games with 10-plus receptions. That would also be enough to put him over 100 on the season and allow him to join Keyshawn Johnson (106 in 2001) as the only players in team history with 100-reception campaigns.
  • Rob Gronkowski needs just 18 receiving yards to become the fifth tight end in NFL history to reach 9,000 career receiving yards.

NOTABLY QUOTABLE

  • Head Coach Bruce Arians on the Saints offense being different than it was when the two teams met in Week Eight: "It's totally different than when we were getting ready for Jameis [Winston] because you've got all the quarterback runs like we had last week with Josh Allen. Taysom [Hill], he's a hell of a player. He's a tough tackle, so he can kill you running the ball. We've got to keep him contained and make him throw it."
  • Cornerback Richard Sherman on getting his first action at safety last week against Buffalo: "It's football so I felt good about going in. Anytime you're on the football field, I still understand the concepts, I understand the defense. It's just a different spot on the field, a different adjustment, different communication, but I felt good. Obviously, it was a limited capacity. They kept the playbook small when I was out there, and I appreciated that. I had a good time."
  • Wide receiver Chris Godwin on how well the Bucs' offensive line is playing in 2021: "I've got a lot of appreciation for our linemen, and I tell them that all the time. They're a group of badasses and I love seeing them work. They're so close. They're such a close-knit group and they work so hard with Tom [Brady] to make sure they're all on the same page. They put the work in, and it shows on gameday."
  • Tackle Donovan Smith on how much pride the offensive line takes in providing good protection for Tom Brady: "A lot of pride. It's fun. Anytime you can keep your quarterback clean with no touches or anything like that is even better. Anytime you have a guy like him back there delivering the ball and you know he's coming out clean, you preserve him. Put some more years in his NFL career. It feels good to keep him clean and allow him to do whatever he needs to do. It just allows our receivers, running backs and everybody else to go out there and go unnoticed."
  • Inside linebacker Lavonte David on facing Saints QB Taysom Hill after playing against another very mobile quarterback in the Bills' Josh Allen: "They're different, very different. Both of them are special in their own right. I've been playing against Taysom since he's been in the league. Josh was a guy who was just real savvy with it, but Taysom you already know what you're going to get. Definitely a talented guy, but [normally] at quarterback you don't have to worry about him being at tight end or wide out. It's definitely going to be a task for us that we have to handle. Last week, we didn't handle it well, so I'm sure they're going to come with that, so we have to be able to handle it well."

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