FIve things to watch for in Bucs-Saints on Sunday
As the Bucs try to win their fifth game in a row and help their playoff chances at home on Sunday, here are five things to watch against the Saints:
1. Can the Bucs earn their second-biggest ever Dec. 11 win against the Saints? This one would be big, of course, but how about ending a 26-game losing streak for the franchise's first-ever win?
On this day in 1977, an 0-12 Bucs team beat the Saints in the Superdome, 33-14, for that elusive first win. The Bucs forced seven turnovers that day -- trumped only once in team history, by eight in a 1990 win against the Vikings. They also attempted only 10 passes the entire game, still matching the fewest in any Bucs game.
2. Can Tampa Bay hold Drew Brees without a TD pass? Seriously, can the Bucs do that? In 21 career meetings, the Bucs have never held Brees without at least one touchdown pass.
In fairness, it's a fairly rare occurrence. Brees had none in last week's loss to the Texans, and that was just the second time in his last 63 games he'd failed to throw at least one.
Brees has 44 career touchdowns against the Bucs -- the most in NFL history, edging Brett Favre's 37. If Brees can win Sunday, he'll match Favre with 15 wins against Tampa Bay, also the most for any quarterback as starter.
If the Bucs could even hold Brees to one touchdown pass, they're 5-3 when they do that, but if he gets two or more, they're 2-11 all-time.
And the 44 scores against one team isn't the most of any active QB against any team. Not even close. Tom Brady has 66 for his career against Buffalo, and 49 against Miami. Eli Manning has 47 against Dallas and 44 against Philadelphia.
3. Can Doug Martin get back on track? Martin missed half the Bucs' 12 games with a hamstring injury, but his production has struggled -- he's averaging just 2.98 yards per carry, the lowest among the 40 NFL running backs with 75 or more carries.
Martin has never averaged less than 3.6 yards per carry in any season in his career, but if he doesn't find himself soon, he'll lose carries to Jacquizz Rodgers, who is averaging 4.4 yards behind the same offensive line.
The Bucs also get Charles Sims back after 10 weeks out with a knee injury, but his best contribution is as a pass-catcher -- he had six catches for 64 in his last game against the Saints, and scored his first career touchdown against New Orleans in 2014.
4. Who wins the battle of the rookie kickers? The NFL's only two rookie kickers go head-to-head in Bucs second-rounder Roberto Aguayo and Saints undrafted rookie Wil Lutz, from Georgia State.
Aguayo obviously came in with higher expectations, but both kickers have improved from rough starts. Lutz was 4-for-7 to start his season, but is 14-for-17 since, while Aguayo opened 4-for-8 but is now 11-for-14 since.
If it's a game that comes down to one kick, the Bucs are 2-0 this season in games decided by three points or less, while the Saints are 2-4.
5. How much does a win Sunday help the Bucs' playoff chances? The New York Times' "Playoff Simulator" has the Bucs with a 58 percent chance of making the playoffs entering Sunday's games, and a win against New Orleans would raise those chances to 74 percent.
Even a loss in the following week at Dallas -- largely expected, at least by oddsmakers -- would only drop the Bucs' chances to 71 percent. And from there, even if they split their final two games, the Bucs' playoff chances hover around 68 percent, so a home win Sunday pushes the Bucs' odds into promising territory.