New Orleans gave a tremendous effort last Sunday. The Saints attempted to tarnish the record of the sole remaining undefeated team in the NFL. They came commendably close. Now, they have nothing left for which to strive other than avoiding a losing season.
Tampa Bay is still in contention for the postseason. The Buccaneers trail the Seahawks by one game for the second wild card spot in the NFC. Obviously, winning their final four regular season games would greatly aid Tampa Bay's chances of grabbing that playoff berth. That course would start with defeating the Saints.
New Orleans leads the overall series 29-18. Tampa Bay's victory on Sept. 20 ended the Saints' seven-game winning streak in this series. The Saints hold a 13-7 advantage in games played in Tampa.
New Orleans at Tampa Bay
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Tampa Bay -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Offensive Balance for Buccaneers
The Buccaneers have lost six out of seven games when the difference between their passing yards and rushing yards is more than 80. In short, they need to have close to equal amounts in both statistical categories in order to win.
2. Plague of Penalties on the Saints
The Saints have committed at least seven penalties in all but one game this season. They have amassed at least 50 yards in penalties per game except for one. When they have committed eight or more penalties in a game, they are 3-5. When their amounts of penalties have exceeded 70 yards in a game, they have lost six out of eight times. The Saints' defense is too depleted and inexperienced to give away so many yards so often for usually avoidable infractions.
3. Can Bucs Exploit the Weakest Aspect of the Saints?
Tampa Bay has piled up more than 200 passing yards in eight games. Those include the five most recent games. Can the Buccaneers' offense continue that string of success and throw successfully against the Saints' secondary?
The Saints' struggling defense has given up more than 200 passing yards per game with the exception of two. The first of those two sub-200 yard performance occurred in the Superdome versus Tampa Bay. Can the Saints replicate that respectable effort against the Bucs' passing attack?
Tampa Bay does not control its own path to the playoffs. However, the Buccaneers could derail their own drive to the postseason with a loss at home to the Saints. The Saints showed a lot of heart in the nail-biting defeat at home to Carolina. The Buccaneers have a ton of motivation heading to this game. The Saints have nothing but pride left. The hope for a wild card spot outweighs the desire to avoid consecutive losing seasons.
Prediction: Buccaneers 30, Saints 14
-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.