Friday, July 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers-New Orleans Saints: What to watch for

As the Bucs try to win their fifth game in a row and help their playoff chances at home today, here are five things to watch against the Saints:

1 Can the Bucs earn their second-biggest 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 33-14 in the Superdome for that elusive first win. The Bucs forced seven turnovers — trumped only once in team history (eight in a 1990 win against the Vikings). They attempted only 10 passes, 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, they have never held Brees without at least one.

In fairness, it's a rare occurrence. Brees had none in last week's home loss to the Lions, and that was just the second time in his last 63 games he'd failed to throw one.

Brees has 44 career touchdowns against the Bucs — the most by an opposing QB, edging Brett Favre's 37. If Brees can win today, he will match Favre with 15 wins against Tampa Bay, also the most for any opposing starting quarterback.

The Bucs are 5-3 when they hold Brees to one touchdown pass; 2-11 if he gets two or more.

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 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 in any season in his career. If he doesn't find himself soon, he'll lose carries to Jacquizz Rodgers, who is averaging 4.4 yards.

The team also gets 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 league's only two rookie kickers go head-to-head: Bucs second-rounder Roberto Aguayo and the Saints' Wil Lutz, who was undrafted out of Georgia State. Both have improved after rough starts. Lutz was 4-for-7 to start his season but 14-for-17 since. Aguayo opened 4-for-8 but 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; the Saints are 2-4.

5 How much does a win today help the Bucs' playoff chances? The New York Times' playoff simulator has the team with a 58 percent chance of making the playoffs. A win today raises those chances to 74 percent.

Even a loss next Sunday night at Dallas 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 today pushes the Bucs' odds into promising territory.

 
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