As the Buccaneers battle for a playoff spot in the final month of the season, they are doing so largely against divisional opponents. Three of the Bucs' final four games of the season are against NFC South teams, and two of this games are against the same team – the Saints.
The Bucs will take the field on Christmas Eve against New Orleans just 13 days after defeating them in Week 14. There are certainly some benefits to squaring off against a familiar opponent, but there are some challenges as well.
"I do on a short week, I do like that," Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken said. "When we played Atlanta again it was nice in a short week, you have some familiarity with [them], which I think the league tries – especially with those Thursday Night games – tries to have that happen, just allows you to prepare a little bit easier. But in the end, we still have to – whatever we decide to do offensively is execute it, practice it and give ourselves the best chance to win."
The Buccaneers can turn to their game film from Week 14 for hints at how to beat New Orleans. The Bucs rushed for over 100 yards and won the time of possession. Tampa Bay didn't commit a single turnover, while forcing three. But the Bucs' staff knows the same game plan won't work twice.
"I think it's always been interesting when you play somebody twice," Monken added. "No matter when you play them, whether it's a couple weeks removed or you're in a playoff system and you play another team that you played earlier in the year because common sense says, 'Okay, what did we do well against them? Let's do it again.' You don't know what their adjustments are going to be, based on what you did the first time around, that's what makes it so difficult in any sport when you play back-to-back or play an opponent twice, to win both games just because there's adjustments that take place on both sides. So, that's the real challenges of it, trying to figure out what they're going to do to change. I would guess that some of the things that both teams have success, they're going to stress that as well, from the first meeting. So, that's the big chess match."
Head Coach Dirk Koetter, who is responsible for calling the Bucs' offensive plays, echoed Monken's sentiment.
"Well, that's the whole chess match part of playing somebody this close together is both staffs have to decide what plays are you leaving in, what plays are you taking out and what are you replacing them with. There's only so many things out there and then how much do you care about practicing at full speed and you never know how much they're going to change either. You can't just assume they're going to go out and play exactly the same."
Neither coach entertained questions about playoff scenarios, insisting that the Buccaneers' focus is on the game ahead. There is a scenario where the Buccaneers can clinch a playoff birth this weekend, albeit unlikely. If the Bucs can turn around quickly and defeat the Saints for the second time in three weeks, they could find themselves playing against Carolina in the regular season finale with a trip to the postseason on the line.