The 5-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will go head-to-head with their longtime division nemesis, New Orleans Saints on Monday Night in Prime-Time as playoff aspirations for both clubs hang in the balance. The Bucs currently lead the NFC South and will look to strengthen their hold this weekend. Tampa Bay is only a half-game ahead of the Falcons and one over the Panthers and Saints (4-8). The division is up for grabs and Week 13 could wind up as the season catalyst for one of these two teams, propelling them forward. The Bucs fell to the Browns in overtime in Week 12 and instead of capitalizing with a third-straight win, many are left questioning if the thrilling victory over Seattle was an anomaly or actuality. Meanwhile the Saints were shutout by a stout 49ers' defense in Week 12 and they will look to respond against Tampa Bay. There are many matchups and individual performances that could weigh heavily on the outcome of the Bucs-Saints clash in Week 13. Here is an in-depth look at five Buccaneers to observe on Monday Night Football.
The Saints prioritize putting the ball in both Taysom Hill and Alvin Kamara's hands. Both are the focal point of multiple personnel groupings and elevate New Orleans' screen game, power sweeps and draws. Kamara and Hill are a nightmare to bring down in the open field and Bucs' safety Keanu Neal will likely have an increased role on Monday night. With Antoine Winfield Jr.'s availability in question for Week 13, the Bucs will rely on Neal. Previously spending the majority of his career in Atlanta, Neal filled a prototypical Cover 3 strong safety role, playing versus the run in the box. His physicality set the standard during the peak of his NFL tenure and became invariably linked to his coverage ability, limiting running backs and tight ends. After playing linebacker for the Cowboys in 2021 under Dan Quinn, Neal shifted back to his natural position at safety with the Bucs. He fills a variety of roles for the Buccaneers and will play a crucial role in Prime-Time for Tampa Bay. For the Saints, Hill does it all, lining up as a tailback, tight end, wideout, and slot receiver. His arm-strength cannot be ignored either, completing eight of 14 passes this season for 115 yards and a touchdown. The Saints surely have trick plays dialed up featuring their Swiss Army Knife in preparation for the Bucs' defense. Kamara, although his numbers have dipped in 2022, still remains one of the most explosive runners in the league, with the capability of torching defenses inside and outside. In addition to Hill, Kamara is multi-faceted, with a pass-catching upside as a YAC-threat. Neal is disruptive near the line of scrimmage and will work to anticipate what both Kamara and Hill will do come Monday night, then react to mitigate their effectiveness.
Josh Wells will start at right tackle on Sunday for injured Tristan Wirfs, meaning he will see a heavy dose of defensive end Cameron Jordan. During the first meeting between the two clubs in Week Two, Wirfs held Jordan in check and did not allow a sack or a quarterback hit on Tom Brady. Wells has been a viable swing tackle for the Buccaneers over the previous four seasons, filling in at both right and left tackle when needed. On Monday in front of a national audience, Wells will go up against one of the NFL's best in Jordan. With quickness off the snap and a vast array of pass-rush moves, Jordan imposes his will in the trenches. He consistently demands double and triple teams, yet still finds success. Jordan possesses the power to hold the edge, closing rushing lanes. He has a unique blend of size, speed and strength that often overwhelms tackles around the NFL. Jordan has a relentless motor and this will be a crucial matchup in Week 13.
The Saints will look to get the ground game back on track against the Buccaneers with Kamara and Hill at the helm. New Orleans ranks last in the NFL with 57.0 rush yards per game since Week Nine. Conversely, the Saints averaged 141.3 yards per game in Weeks 1-8, which ranked inside the Top 10. With a plethora of weapons, the Bucs' ability to maintain gaps and force the Saints to become one-dimensional will be pivotal. Lavonte David is one of the Bucs' tone-setters on defense and will likely play a factor in limiting New Orleans' efficiency on the ground. David has accumulated 173 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 22 career games against the bitter rival. Monday could mark the next breakout game, adding to an impressive résumé. As a three-down player, David is a force against the run and can flip his hips fluidly to run with receivers, backs and tight ends. The hard-hitting, tackling machine will likely make a sizable impact whether on a blitz, outpacing rushers to the sideline or handling man-to-man duties versus Hill and Kamara.
Carlton Davis III
Rookie Chris Olave has emerged as a vertical threat for New Orleans with the ability to quickly get north, creating separation. The first-round draft pick is a burner, leading the team with 56 receptions for 822 yards and three touchdowns. He is currently averaging 14.7 yards after the catch. With snap anticipation, body control and an advanced route tree, Olave has emerged as a top aerial-weapon for the Saints. He mainly lines up on the outside, meaning Bucs' cornerback Carlton Davis III will see a lot of the first-year player. Davis is a solid matchup against the smaller receiver and forced an Olave fumble in Week 2, then subsequently recovered. In the chippy Bucs-Saints rivalry, the chess match between receivers and cornerbacks is routinely a highlight. Davis excels at the line of scrimmage, using his 6-1, 206-pound frame to his advantage to jam. He plays the ball well in the air, attacking throws with relentless aggression. This marquee matchup will garner attention and Davis will need a stout outing to prevent a big play over the top by Olave.
The insertion of Julio Jones in the Bucs' offense elevates the unit collectively. Against the Browns, the seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive serves as evidence. In that possession, Jones became the spark that ignited the Ko Kieft score. From streaking down the field on a vertical route which drew help over the top and left Mike Evans open underneath on a comeback route, to the ensuing play where Jones lowered his shoulder to gain 16 yards off a reverse, Jones fortifies the offense. He is another dangerous big-play threat that defenses must account for, which creates opportunities for Evans, Godwin and Otton. Jones is a vertical threat due to strength and speed and additionally generates big plays after the catch on crossing patterns. He can locate soft spots in zones and showcases superb body-control. Jones is willing to do the dirty work on crack blocks and although his career has been derailed by injuries as of late, Jones has continued to show signs of dominance. He has the capability of kickstarting Tampa Bay's aerial attack and in Week 13, he could be the X-factor.