1. RB Leonard Fournette
As quarterback Tom Brady put it in practice on Wednesday: the Prodigal Son returns. If New England was 'The Return' for Brady, this weekend might be Fournette's version. While he wears No. 7 on his jersey for the seventh ward where he grew up, he carries the city on his back – but that doesn't mean he doesn't want to beat the Saints. Yes, Fournette went back to New Orleans as member of the Bucs last season – but the regular season contest was with an empty stadium. Even the divisional round had limited fans. Now, he'll walk into the Caesars Superdome at capacity – and on Halloween, at that.
Against New Orleans in the playoffs, Fournette had 107 total yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. That was part of Playoff Lenny's debut. Now, All-Season Lenny has recorded over 100 all-purpose yards in the last four games. He has four touchdowns to his name so far this season and against a New Orleans rush defense that ranks third, he'll have his biggest test this week.
2. ILB Devin White
Speaking of Louisiana boys, there's White on the other side of the ball from Fournette. Now White may not be from the actual city of New Orleans, just watch Horsin' Around with Devin White to see he's as country as they come. Nevertheless, he always seems to have a little bit of extra juice when he plays the Saints.
In four career games so far against New Orleans, White has 49 tackles, two for loss, a fumble recovery and an interception. If you remember, that interception came in the divisional round of last year's playoffs. White just somehow sees black and gold and plays out of his mind. The Bucs will be needing more of that rangy tackling ability against Saints running back Alvin Kamara. The addition of Lavonte David, who should return from injury for this game, could also provide a big boost.
3. WR Mike Evans
All eyes will be on the Evans and Lattimore matchup. If I have to tell you why, you're reading the wrong article.
Lattimore shadowed Evans on at least 65% of coverage snaps in their last three meetings. In the playoffs, Lattimore was on Evans 75% of the time, though Evans still managed a three-yard touchdown in that game. It was his only reception on six targets with Lattimore covering him – but he made it count. All six targets came vs. press coverage.
And while it's true Lattimore ranks first in the league this year in completion percentage allowed in press coverage, according to PFF, Evans leads the league with six receiving touchdowns in such situations. Arizona's DeAndre Hopkins is next with just three. Evans has excelled in tight-coverage windows, in general, ranking fifth in receiving yards with 187. He also has four receptions and three touchdowns on eight tight-window targets (meaning less than a yard of separation) this season, which is tied for the most in the league.
Yeah, this is going to be a good one.
4. OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Well, I've made it this far without talking about the obvious: Jameis Winston. This will be the first time the Bucs will see their former quarterback in what is being dubbed a 'Jameis Winston Revenge Game.' The Bucs replaced him with the greatest quarterback of all time – I fail to see how that's any sort of slight. But I digress.
One thing we know about Winston is that he has that backyard football ability and can make some ridiculous things happen. In his new offense, he's been a bit more conservative and is throwing the ball a lot less. The Saints have the 31st-ranked passing offense, averaging just 176.2 yards through the air per game. But Winston is producing quality over quantity. At home this season, he has the highest passer rating among qualified quarterbacks with 138.0. He has a 72.1 completion percentage at home and has six touchdowns against no interceptions in the Superdome. That's a far cry from the Winston the Bucs knew.
But that's not to say he won't try to hold the ball or heave it down the field – and that's where Pierre-Paul and the Bucs' defensive front come into play. Though Pierre-Paul hasn't practiced all week as he works through two broken bones in his finger and a torn labrum, he said he 'can't wait' to get after his hiking buddy, Jameis. No, seriously, the pair went hiking in Colorado together this offseason. Pierre-Paul is gunning for him, as will all the guys up front, in some friendly competition.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
5. Bucs' O-line
The Bucs' offensive line has been playing at an elite (yes, I said it) level this season so far. They've allowed for a bolstered run game and have kept Brady clean, tying for third in sacks allowed this year with 9.0. But this week, they'll have to pull double duty against a very formidable defense. The Saints' rushing defense ranks just two spots behind the Bucs at third, allowing an average of just 80.8 yards on the ground per game. And though they haven't pressure the quarterback as well as they have in years past – their 27.1% pressure rate is their lowest since 2016 and their 5.4% sack rate ranks 22nd in the NFL – their front still includes guys like Cam Jordan. And let's not forget linebacker Demario Davis, who Brady called one of the best in the league. Jordan leads New Orleans with 20 quarterback pressures this season, according to Next Gen Stats, which is a 10.3% pressure rate. That's the fifth-lowest for a team leader in the NFL this season – but again, anything goes in a rivalry game.
It'll be up to the O-line to continue to work as a unit. And hey Ali, just this once, maybe you should read Ryan Jensen's mind.