It's officially Week One. We've made it. It's here. And it will look a little different in more ways than one.
Starting with the actual team, the Buccaneers nabbed quite the additions this offseason. In fact, it was probably the most active free agency in franchise history and one of the splashiest ever across the league. They added potentially three future Hall of Famers to the roster in Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and LeSean McCoy. The splashes continued into training camp as the team then signed two recent first rounders in Leonard Fournette and Josh Rosen right at the start of Week One.
So yeah, the team going into New Orleans will look a little different than the team the Saints saw way back in Week 11 of last year. But there is always some familiarity with division opponents, especially one that pins the top two all-time league passers against each other.
Another way this year looks different is the absence of the crowds. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans won't be allowed inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, which may actually work in the Bucs' favor in not having to deal with a raucous group of Saints fans in a dome.
Since we're all going to be watching from home, see below for all the ways you can watch your favorite team open the 2020 season.
Buccaneers (0-0) vs. Saints (0-0)
All-time record: New Orleans leads the all-time series 21-35
Road record: 12-19
Key Matchups (via Scott Smith):
1. Buccaneers OLB Shaquil Barrett vs. Saints T Ryan Ramczyk
Last year, Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks and he had at least one in 12 of the Bucs' 16 games. Two of the four shutouts pitched against him were by the Saints, including a Week Five contest that Barrett came into already boasting 9.0 sacks. As noted just above, as a defense the Buccaneers managed just one sack of New Orleans quarterbacks Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater in those two contests, while averaging 3.3 QB takedowns in their other 14 outings. Barrett burst out of the gates last year in his first Bucs season and drew raves throughout this year's training camp for his "slippery" moves. He will be seeking to prove his incredible breakout of 2019 was no fluke, but he can't ask for a much tougher test to start the year than the Saints' line, anchored at right tackle by Pro Bowler Ryan Ramczyk. The 6-6, 315-pound Ramczyk is a problem for every type of pass-rusher and the Saints often rely on their tackles to handle edge-rushers one-on-one. The powerful Ramczyk holds up well against bull-rushers but also has agile feet and the athleticism to combat speed merchants. The Buccaneers plan to move Barrett around their formation more this year to make it harder for opponents to key on him, but he will undoubtedly have some one-on-one battles with Ramczyk on Sunday.
2. Saints WR Emmanuel Sanders vs. Buccaneers CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
New Orleans quarterbacks targeted Michael Thomas an incredible 185 times (11.6 per game) in 2019, a good strategy that led to his single season-record 149 catches for 1,725 yards. It's hard to consider Thomas a key matchup because he's almost certain to get his catches and yards. What may matter most to the Bucs' defense is how they fare against everybody else. Running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook were Brees's next two options last year, and New Orleans has not had another receiver crack 500 yards the last two years. But Sanders comes in as Brees's second-best wideout option in years, carrying an average of 66.6 receiving yards per game over the last five years, which is a scary number to add into what the Saints already can do. Last year with Denver and San Francisco, Sanders played 70% of his snaps outside but also got 27% of them inside. The Saints are probably going to use both him and Thomas in the slot at times (Thomas was similar at 75% outside, 24% slot last year). So second-year Bucs corner Sean Murphy-Bunting may encounter the new Saint on the outside on one snap and then move into the slot to cover him on the next. Murphy-Bunting starts the season in the same role he finished last year, as a starter on the outside who goes inside in the more prevalent nickel package. Murphy-Bunting led the Bucs and tied for the NFL rookie lead with three interceptions in 2019.
3. Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Saints S Malcolm Jenkins
Jenkins probably has vivid memories of the last time his team tried to stop Gronkowski. In Super Bowl LII, Gronkowski used a huge second half to finish with nine catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns against Jenkins' Eagles. Two caveats for Jenkins, though: One, most of Gronkowski's damage that evening came against Corey Graham and Ronald Darby. And, two, Jenkins and the Eagles won the game. Still, Jenkins' second time around as a Saint will start with a Gronkowski challenge, and there's a decent chance those two will be matched up in coverage at some point. In re-signing Jenkins to replace Vonn Bell, Saints Head Coach Sean Payton said Jenkins is a "do-it-all-defensive player" who often plays at the linebacker level and ends up in coverage against both receivers and tight ends. Gronkowski, obviously, has spent his career being a mismatch for just about any opposing defender, whether it be a safety, a linebacker or a cornerback. If Tom Brady decides to rely on his long-time teammate in his first action as a Buccaneer, Jenkins could have his hands full trying to slow the big man down.
4. Saints QB/WR/TE/RB Taysom Hill vs. Buccaneers DC Todd Bowles
Last year, Saints reserve quarterback Taysom Hill threw only six passes (three completed) but also ran 27 times for 156 yards and one touchdown and caught 19 passes for 234 yards and six scores. He followed that with some memorable postseason performances that must have been atop the Saints' minds when they elected to give him that aforementioned lucrative deal. The numbers above don't necessarily scream $10.5 million per year, but that new deal suggests that the Saints plan to use his unique set of skills in even more ways in 2020. They might even work in some tricky plays in which Brees and Hill are on the field together and either one of them could end up throwing a pass. Since Hill lines up all over the place, including the backfield, there isn't one particular Bucs defender who is likely to be the key to containing him. Rather, the Bucs will need to recognize when Hill is in the mix and try to decipher how he is going to be used on that particular play. That's where Bowles and his instructions to the Bucs' defenders during the week leading up to the game will come into play. As the Saints work to confuse opposing defenses with Hill's versatility, Bowles' group is going to try even harder this season to disguise what their post-snap intentions are.
The game will kick off at 4:25 p.m. ET. The broadcast can be found on FOX, locally. It will also be available on a live stream that can be accessed through the Buccaneers Official App. See below for details.
How to Watch:
Sunday, September 13, 2020
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET | 3:25 p.m. CT
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (73,000)
Television Network: FOX
Broadcast Crew: Joe Buck (play by play), Troy Aikman (color), Erin Andrews (sideline)
*Geographic and device restrictions apply. Local & primetime games only. Data charges may apply.
*Local market only
How to Listen:
Buccaneers Radio Network: 98ROCK, Flagship Station
*In-market fans can listen through the Bucs Official App
Broadcast Crew: Gene Deckerhoff (play by play), Dave Moore (color), T.J. Rives (sideline)
BROOKSVILLE ………………………….WWJB 1450 AM/103.9
DAYTONA BEACH……………………..WRKO 93.1 FM
FT MEYERS/NAPLES …………….. WWNC 99.3 FM
GAINESVILLE/OCALA ……………… WRUF 850 AM/ 98.1 FM
HOMOSASSA SPRING……………….WXCV 95.3 FM
LAKELAND ……………………………….WLKF 1430 AM
MELBROUNE ……………………………WICX 1060 AM
ORLANDO…………………………………WYGM 740 AM/ 96.9 FM
PORT ST. LUCIE…………………………WPSL 1590 AM
PANAMA CITY…………………………..WGSX 104.3 FM
PENSACOLA……………………………..WBSR 1450AM/101.1 FM
SEBRING……………………………………WWTK AM 730 AM
TALLAHASSEE…………………………...WTSM 97.9 FM
TAMPA BAY/SARASOTA…………...WXTB 97.9 FM ..Bucs Flagship Station
Sirius/XM Channel 88
On the Bucs Official App*
*Access restricted to Tampa area