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Bucs opponent preview: Saints, Week 16

FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2016, file photo, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees passes during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. At 37, Brees' skills do not appear diminished; he led the NFL in yards passing last season. He also is highly motivated because he is entering the final season of his contract. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File) NY192

FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2016, file photo, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees passes during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. At 37, Brees' skills do not appear diminished; he led the NFL in yards passing last season. He also is highly motivated because he is entering the final season of his contract. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File) NY192

When they play: Week 14 (Dec. 11) in Tampa, Week 16 (Dec. 24) in New Orleans

2015 record: 7-9

Last time vs. Bucs: The Bucs split two games with the Saints last year, winning 26-19 on the road in Week 2, then losing 24-17 in Tampa in Week 14.

2016 outlook: After a 4-8 start, New Orleans won three of its last four to keep the Bucs in last place, but Drew Brees wasn't enough to overcome a porous defense that gave up an NFL-worst 29.8 points per game. The offense could be better still, but it will need to be as the defense isn't likely to be substantially improved.

Player to watch: Brees opened his NFL career 6-6 against the Bucs, but he's 8-1 since then, with last year's Bucs win ending a seven-game win streak for him. He's already the all-time passing leader in touchdowns (44) and yards (5,934) against the Bucs, beating Brett Favre on both counts in two fewer games.

Rookie to watch: Second-round WR Michael Thomas is another tall receiver in the NFC South to test those 5-10 Bucs corners. Keyshawn Johnson's nephew is 6-foot-4 and had nine touchdowns last year at Ohio State. Adding him and TE Coby Fleener, Brees seems good for another 5,000-yard season.

Key matchup: Saints defense vs. NFL record books. In 2012, a bad Saints defense set the NFL record by allowing 7,042 yards of total offense, and last year's Saints set another dubious NFL mark by allowing 45 pass touchdowns, just under three a game.

Familiar face: Backup QB Luke McCown played for the Bucs in 2007-08 and has had an incredibly long career as a backup -- his last touchdown pass came ... in 2007 with the Bucs. None in eight seasons since.

Cool stat: The Saints were the best third-down offense in the NFL in 2015, converting 47.7 percent of their third downs into first downs. The Bucs third-down defense will be seriously tested this season, as the Bucs face seven of the top eight third-down offense from 2015, with a combined 10 games against them. The Bucs offense finished 10th on third downs last season.

Bucs opponent preview: Saints, Week 16 09/08/16 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2016 10:44pm]
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