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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints: Prediction, preview, pick to win
Jameis Winstonand the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face off with the New Orleans Saints this weekend. Photo by AJ Sisco/UPI | License Photo

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-5) AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-2)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Mercedes Benz Superdome. TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Peter Schrager (field reporter).

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SERIES HISTORY: 51st regular season meeting. Saints lead series, 31-19. The winning percentage (.620) is New Orleans' highest against any opponent. The Saints hold a 17-10 edge in New Orleans, but the inaugural meeting was in the Superdome and was memorable for the Buccaneers, who prevailed 33-14 in 1977 for their first NFL victory after 26 consecutive losses. The home team won both meetings last season.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Saints had the perfect formula to beat the Bucs in Week 16 last season. They ran the ball down their throat. They used play-action. They took the football away.

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The Bucs did not have one of their best run stoppers -- DE William Gholston -- in the game. He will play on Sunday and the Bucs have an extra box safety in D.J. Ward. But stopping Mark Ingram will be the top priority for the Bucs defense. Both Ingram and Alvin Kamara have been very productive in the passing game.

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Offensively, the Bucs have self-destructed with turnovers and penalties. They have been unable to finish drives. Jameis Winston has struggled some with his accuracy. Last week, the Bucs went to heavy personnel and the Panthers loaded the line of scrimmage and shut down the run. In the second half, Tampa Bay went with more spread formations and created running lanes for Doug Martin. The Bucs could be without slot WR Adam Humphries. That means probably more two-TE formations.

The Saints want to prevent big plays from the Buccaneers' passing game. That has been Tampa Bay's biggest strength. A week after doing OK against Chicago's solid run game, the Saints should be able to handle Tampa Bay's. New Orleans should be able to pass on the Buccaneers, and any early success in that regard should open up the run game.

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The Saints have held the last two opposing quarterbacks to less than 50 percent completions, but those players (Green Bay's Brett Hundley and Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky) are less experienced than Winston.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Bucs RT Demar Dotson vs. Saints DE Cameron Jordan. Jordan is one of the NFC South's best pass rushers, with 5.5 sacks. Dotson has been a solid pass protector but had a major penalty last week against the Panthers.

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--Saints RB Mark Ingram vs. Bucs DE William Gholston. Ingram ran all over the Bucs in the season finale a year ago, in part because Gholston was unable to play. The Saints are much more balanced and Ingram leads the team with 464 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Saints WR Michael Thomas. He has consistently been Drew Brees' top target and should thrive against the NFL's 30th-rated pass defense. Thomas has caught at least three passes in every game and is averaging six catches per game and 11.4 yards per catch.

FAST FACTS: Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston has 777 passing yards (259 per game), seven TDs and three interceptions in the past three games on the road against division rivals. He has 484 passing yards, three TDs and two interceptions and a rushing TD in two games at New Orleans. He has 300 passing yards in four of the past six games. ... RB Doug Martin aims for his third game in a row against New Orleans with a rushing TD. He has 1,076 scrimmage yards (97.8 per game) and four rushing TDs in his past 11 games against the NFC South. ... DT Gerald McCoy has 35.5 sacks since 2013, the most among NFL DTs. ... Saints QB Drew Brees completed 23 of 28 passes (82.1 percent) for 299 yards in Week 8. He has 6,011 completions and joined Hall of Famer Brett Favre (6,300) and Peyton Manning (6,125) as the only players in NFL history with 6,000. In his past six games at home against Tampa Bay, he has 1,871 passing yards (311.8 per game), 14 TDs and five interceptions. ... RB Mark Ingram had 99 scrimmage yards (75 rushing, 24 receiving) and a rushing TD last week. He has 294 rushing yards (98 per game) and four TDs in the past three games. He had 90 rushing yards and two TDs in the last meeting. ... DE Cameron Jordan has 3.5 sacks and an interception return for a TD in the past four games at home. He aims for his third game in a row at home against Tampa Bay with a sack. He has 6.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble in his past six games at home against division foes.

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PREDICTION: The Buccaneers were a trendy pick to make some noise in September, but their season is just about shipwrecked. And the Saints, who were supposed to be poor enough to perhaps end Sean Payton's successful run, have instead turned into one of the NFC's best teams. Neither trend figures to end this week.

OUR PICK: Saints, 30-21.

--Bucky Dent

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