Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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What's Next: 6-1 Bucs Get First Crack at Saints

The Buccaneers will take a four-game winning streak and the top spot in the division standings into New Orleans next Sunday but will have to overcome their former quarterback to put a strong grip on the NFC South

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston works out prior to an NFL preseason football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV at the end of the 2020 season and they vanquished the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome during the playoffs along the way. What the Buccaneers did not do in 2020 was unseat the Saints as division champs or win their first NFC South title since 2007. That leaves Tampa Bay with some unfinished business in 2021, and a Week Eight road trip that could be season-defining.

The Buccaneers are 6-1 through seven games for the first time in franchise history after battering the Chicago Bears, 38-3, on Sunday for their fourth straight win. To get their first 7-1 start ever, the Bucs will need to get a road win against a Saints team that has won the last five games in the head-to-head series, as well as the last four division championships. New Orleans came into Week Seven with a 3-2 record and will look to move closer to the Bucs in the standings on Monday night with a game in Seattle.

In a season that has seen Tom Brady return to Foxborough and defeat the New England Patriots, his team for the first 20 years of his unparalleled career, the Buccaneers will experience the other side of that coin in New Orleans in Week Eight. After the retirement of Drew Brees, the Saints have now turned their offense over to Jameis Winston, who spent his first five NFL seasons as a Buccaneer. The first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, Winston played five seasons in Tampa and is the team's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, but he signed with the Saints in 2020 after the Bucs lured Brady to town.

Winston is enjoying his fresh start in the bayou, compiling a 12-3 touchdown-interception ratio and a 108.3 passer rating through his first five starts as a Saint. Winston's passing yards per game (178.4) is down drastically from his five years in Tampa but his 10.3% touchdown rate leads the entire NFL. The Saints' current formula for winning includes a rushing attack that ranked ninth in the NFL heading into Week Seven and a scoring defense that was allowing the fourth-fewest points. That's how the Saints are 28th in total yards but ninth in scoring through six weeks.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is trying to keep pace in an NFC race that is very top-heavy. The Arizona Cardinals improved to 7-0 with a win over the Houston Texans on Sunday, and both the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams joined the Bucs at 6-1 with victories over Washington and Detroit, respectively. The 5-1 Dallas Cowboys were on a bye.

The Buccaneers could also be getting some key performers back from injuries in Week Eight, though the looming bye week that follows could lead the team to take a cautious approach with some of those injured regulars. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Antonio Brown and linebacker Lavonte David are among the injured players the team will be tracking closely as they prepare for the Saints.

The Buccaneers have an early lead in the NFC South as the season nears its midway point, but they've played only one division game so far. Next Sunday's contest in New Orleans kicks off the division race in earnest.

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