Skip to main content

New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Prediction: NFC South Rivals Meet on MNF

The Bucs look to add to their lead in the watered-down division while the Saints hope to tighten things up even further.

Week 13 of the NFL season ends with a game between a pair of teams with a losing record, but it's still a critical "Monday Night Football" matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even though New Orleans (4-8) currently falls 14th in the NFC standings (due to tiebreakers), the Saints are still very much alive when it comes to playoffs because Tampa leads the NFC South with a 5-6 record. The Buccaneers defeated the Saints 20-10 back in Week 2, so this is pretty much a must-win situation for Dennis Allen's team.

Related: Expert Picks for Every Week 13 NFL Game

It doesn't help that New Orleans is trying to bounce back from a 13-0 loss out on the West Coast to San Francisco. The Saints were shut out for the first time since their regular-season finale during the 2001 season, as the offense couldn't get anything going against the 49ers' top-ranked defense. That wasted another solid effort by New Orleans' defense.

Tampa Bay also came up short on the road last week, falling 23-17 in overtime at Cleveland. The Buccaneers led 17-10 with a little more than seven minutes left in the third quarter but didn't score again, punting on their next four possessions before the clock expired on the final one of regulation right after the Browns tied the game on a touchdown with 32 seconds remaining. Tampa had the ball twice in overtime but managed just 34 total yards as Cleveland put together a drive in the waning seconds and Nick Chubb sealed the victory with a three-yard touchdown. 

New Orleans leads the head-to-head series 39-23, but Tampa Bay's home win in Week 2 snapped the Saints' streak of eight straight wins in the regular season. Now the Buccaneers aim for their first home win over the division rivals since Week 17 of the 2017 season. Current Saints backup quarterback Jameis Winston led Tampa to that win, beating Drew Brees and Co. 31-24, despite throwing three interceptions.

Monday Night Football: New Orleans (4-8) at Tampa Bay (5-6)

Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 5 at 8:15 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Buccaneers -3.5
Tickets: As low as $92 on SITickets.com

Three Things to Watch

1. Can the Saints pressure Tom Brady?
Brady may not be having an MVP-caliber season to this point, but he can't blame this offensive line for that. Tampa Bay has allowed just 17 sacks (all of Brady), the second fewest of any team in the NFL. Opponents have sacked Brady only on 3.5 percent of his pass attempts, the lowest rate in the league. Brady is certainly known for getting rid of the ball quickly, but given the Buccaneers' struggles running the ball (last in the league at 73 rushing yards per game), and the fact that the team had to reshuffle its line this offseason due to some key departures, that makes their pass protection success look even more impressive. However, the line will be tested in the weeks ahead with starting right tackle Tristan Wirfs expected to miss several games after suffering an ankle injury during overtime last week.

On the other side, New Orleans' defensive struggles cannot be blamed on a lack of a pass rush. The Saints have 33 sacks, which places them among the top 10 in the league. They have done this despite blitzing only 17.8 percent of the time on passing attempts, the ninth-lowest rate. In the first meeting in Week 2, New Orleans only sacked Brady once but did a good job of not letting him get too comfortable in the pocket, as he went just 18-of-34 for 190 yards and a touchdown. He didn't throw an interception, but he did lose a fumble. The Saints will try to apply even more pressure on Monday night against what will be a shorthanded Tampa line.

2. Will the Buccaneers be able to run the ball effectively?
As mentioned earlier, Tampa Bay has not been able to run the ball with any consistency. Besides averaging the fewest rushing yards per game of any team in the NFL, the Buccaneers also have just four rushing touchdowns all season. Seventeen different players have more than that themselves, including New Orleans' Taysom Hill (five).

Tampa has tried several different options to cobble together some sort of a running game, but most of the work has been handled by Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White. Fournette leads the way with 462 rushing yards and three of the four touchdowns on the ground, but he missed last week's game because of a hip injury. He's been a full practice participant, so there's a good chance he'll be back on Monday night. Fournette ran for 65 yards on 24 carries in the teams' first meeting as the Bucs totaled just 72 yards on the ground (2.7 ypc). White is next with 286 yards and the other rushing touchdown, but he's had more success as a receiver (29 rec., 6.2 ypr) than a runner (74 att., 3.9 ypc) thus far. Brady is the only other player on the roster who has logged double-digit carries, although his lack of mobility is no secret.

New Orleans' efforts against the run have been a bit of a mixed bag this season. The Saints have given up more than 200 rushing yards in a game twice, but they also have held three teams to 75 or fewer, including Tampa in Week 2. Overall, New Orleans ranks 22nd in the league at 129.1 rushing yards allowed per game. Given each team's body of work in this matchup, the Saints should have the advantage on Monday night even if Fournette returns to tag-team with White in the backfield. This is another area where Wirfs' absence at right tackle could show up.

3. Who will win the turnover margin? 
When a team has stumbled through a season, coming up on the wrong end of the turnover margin is nearly always one of the causes. In this case, the Saints have given away the ball like Santa Claus handing out candy canes in a shopping mall. Their quarterbacks have combined to throw 12 interceptions, the second most in the league. Their nine lost fumbles are the second-highest total of any team.

The number of giveaways by the Saints has a strong causation in the outcomes of their games. They have won two of the three contests in which they did not turn over the ball. They split the two matchups when they only gave away the ball once. However, they lost six of the seven times when they had two or more turnovers.  

Although Tampa Bay's offense has struggled during the season, turnovers are not a frequent problem. The Buccaneers are tied for the fewest interceptions thrown with just three. They also have fumbled away the ball just six times.

Final Analysis

The abysmal state of the NFC South should make fans question if anyone can win the division. After Week 12, all four members have a losing record. Its status should serve as the deciding impetus for the NFL to eliminate divisional winners from automatically receiving a home game for Wild Card Weekend.

With a victory, the Buccaneers would kill any realistic chance of the Saints' winning the division as it would give them the season sweep. It also would get them back to .500 overall.

New Orleans has twice as many losses as victories. Nevertheless, the Saints only trail the Bucs by a game and a half for the lead in the division. If they are still clinging to any fantasies of winning the NFC South, they must win this contest.

Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Saints 13

— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridiron-connoisseur.com and on YouTube.

*Price as of publication.