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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints Prediction and Preview

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints Prediction and Preview

Saints look to narrow the gap in the NFC South when they host the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers on Sunday

The Saints and Bucs may be meeting for the first time this season on Halloween, but each team got a taste of spooky season the week before.

Last week, the Tampa Buccaneers dominated an amateur football team at home. The opponent dressed like the Chicago Bears, presumably as Halloween costumes. Tampa Bay (6-1) raced out to a 35-3 halftime lead before coasting to a 38-3 victory.

Meanwhile, New Orleans (4-2) was in Seattle for "Monday Night Football." Despite the eerie, windy, and wet conditions, the Saints' newly acquired kicker, Brian Johnson, showed some promise as a replacement for Wil Lutz, as he knocked home what proved to be the game-winning field goal with a little more than two minutes remaining. While the offensive highlights (outside of Alvin Kamara) were few and far between, the defense did its job. They sacked Geno Smith five times and more importantly, snuffed out the Seahawks' final attempt to potentially tie or take the lead.

New Orleans leads the all-time series with Tampa Bay, 37-22, which includes a 20-12 edge at home. The four-time defending NFC South champions have won the last five regular-season meetings, but it was the Buccaneers who came into the Superdome in January and left with a 30-20 victory in the NFC Divisional Round on their way to winning Super Bowl LV.

Tampa Bay (6-1) at New Orleans (4-2)

Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 31 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV: FOX
Spread: Buccaneers -4.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Does the Bucs' defense have to be concerned about anyone other than Kamara?
Kamara carried the Saints' offense in Seattle. He rushed the ball 20 times for 51 yards. He also caught 10 passes for 128 yards and scored the Saints' only touchdown. He contributed those numbers despite drawing the full attention of the Seahawks' defense.

Jameis Winston targeted Kamara 11 times or nearly a third of his 35 pass attempts. Can anyone besides Kamara make enough plays to force Tampa Bay's defense to not focus solely on No. 41 in black and gold?

Wide receiver Marquez Callaway and tight end Adam Trautman both chipped in three catches against Seattle, while Trautman had the second-most receiving yards (36). But he also had a costly fumble, New Orleans' only turnover of the game. For the season, Trautman has totaled nine catches (on 13 targets) for 100 yards with no touchdowns. Callaway has been the Saints' top pass catcher not named Kamara so far with 16 receptions (on 28 targets) for 254 yards and three touchdowns. He's also produced 11 first downs.

Overall, the Saints are second to last in the NFL in passing offense at 176.2 yards per game. It's a far cry from the heydays of the Drew Brees era, but everyone understood that Winston had some extremely big shoes to fill. Winston's transition hasn't been helped by injuries to Michael Thomas (has yet to play a game this season) and Tre'Quan Smith (made his season debut on Monday night), among others. But if New Orleans wants to threaten Tampa Bay for the division title and be considered a legitimate playoff contender, it has to get offensive production from someone other than Kamara. 

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2. How will the Bucs treat their former quarterback?
This game will be Winston's first against the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2015. In five seasons, he went 28-42 as the Buccaneers' starter in a tenure that will always be remembered for his infamous 30-30 2019 campaign in which he threw 33 touchdown passes to go along with 30 interceptions.

Tampa's defense is obviously well aware of Winston's tendency to make mistakes. Will the Bucs be able to capitalize on this and goad him into some errant tosses on Sunday? They are tied for second in the NFL with 10 picks so far. They also should be able to get some pressure on him with 16 sacks in seven games. One key will be to make him uncomfortable in the pocket.

But Winston has not resembled the same quarterback that he was from his Tampa days. For example, six games into his 2019 season, he had already thrown 10 interceptions and been sacked 25 times. In his first six starts with New Orleans, he has been picked off only three times while getting sacked 10 times. Obviously, head coach Sean Payton has been very deliberate with his game plans and play-calling, but credit to Winston for not trying to do too much, especially when the protection breaks down. That's one of the reasons why the Saints are 4-2 despite ranking 29th in total offense (296.7 ypg).

3. Will the Saints be able to pressure Brady?
Offense has not been a problem for the defending Super Bowl champs, and it starts with their quarterback. Tom Brady continues to defy Father Time as he's leading the league in passing yards (2,275) and touchdowns (21), among other categories. He's only thrown three interceptions despite attempting more passes than anyone (303), and even though he's never been known for his mobility, he's only been sacked nine times. His sack rate is 2.9 percent, second lowest in the league, and that's a credit to both Brady's pocket awareness and the play of his offensive line.

On Monday night, New Orleans harrassed Geno Smith all game long, sacking him five times and hitting him 11 in total. Outside of an 84-yard touchdown pass to DK Metcalf in the first quarter, Smith was 11-for-21 for 83 yards. Even though they didn't intercept him, the Saints' pass rush more than did its job against Smith. But having the same level of success against the future Hall of Famer and G.O.A.T. is an entirely different challenge.

Prior to the win over Seattle, New Orleans' defense struggled to put much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Over the first five games, the Saints had recorded eight sacks and 18 quarterback hurries. They can't revert back to that type of performance if they want to have any chance of winning this game. Not even Tom Terrific can complete passes when he is lying on the turf.

Final Analysis

Tampa Bay enters this game riding a four-game winning streak. A victory in New Orleans would increase its lead in the NFC South to 2.5 games, while a loss would put an end to any speculation that the Buccaneers will simply run away with the divisional title.

The Saints have already dropped a divisional game (Week 2 at Carolina), so a second loss would greatly hamper their hopes of winning a fifth straight NFC South crown.

The subplot of Winston facing his former team only adds to the intrigue for this matchup. And New Orleans knows full well what it takes to beat Tampa Bay. Expect another tightly contested game, but the Bucs have more continuity on their roster as well as the clear edge when it comes to the most important position on the field.

Prediction: Buccaneers 27, Saints 24

— 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 gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.