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Bucs-Saints picks: Will Marshon Lattimore’s absence free Mike Evans?

Tampa Bay-New Orleans predictions: Here’s the Tampa Bay Times staff picks.
Bucs receiver Mike Evans (left) has averaged only 3.4 catches and 30.1 yards in five games against Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (right). Evans was held without a catch when last they met in New Orleans on Oct. 6, but Lattimore is out for the Saints' 1 p.m. game against the Bucs Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Bucs receiver Mike Evans (left) has averaged only 3.4 catches and 30.1 yards in five games against Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (right). Evans was held without a catch when last they met in New Orleans on Oct. 6, but Lattimore is out for the Saints' 1 p.m. game against the Bucs Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Nov. 16

Fact: NFC South foes Tampa Bay and New Orleans have split their annual series every season since Jameis Winston entered the NFL.

Fact: Evans was held without a catch in the last meeting, a 31-24 Saints victory Oct. 6 in New Orleans.

Opinion: The season-split trend since 2015 and the absence of Evans’ New Orleans nemesis Sunday should be a good sign for the Bucs entering their 1 p.m. game against New Orleans at Raymond James Stadium.

Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore will miss Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. Lattimore’s success has certainly been part of Evans’ struggles against New Orleans. The Bucs’ all-time receptions leader has been kept out of the end zone in four of his last five games versus the Saints.

But will it be enough to overcome Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ advantage against a young Bucs secondary? Here’s the Tampa Bay Times’ Bucs coverage team predictions for Bucs-Saints and their explanations:

What could keep it close

Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer, @NFLStroud: The Saints are coming off a devastating loss at home to a 1-7 Falcons team that held them to a season-low nine points. You can bet coach Sean Payton has the attention of his team, which doesn’t want to fall any further back in the NFC behind San Francisco or Seattle for home-field advantage in the playoffs. To complicate matters for the Bucs, their only healthy defensive backs who will be counted on are mostly rookies. Vernon Hargreaves has been claimed off waivers by Houston, who they will see in a few weeks. Carlton Davis has a hip injury. M.J. Stewart is likely out as well. That leaves rookies Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting to try and stay with the NFL’s leading receiver in Michael Thomas. Oh, and future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees will be throwing to him. The only thing that may keep this game is Lattimore’s absence. Saints 31-27.

Don’t count on another clunker from Brees

John Romano, columnist, @romano_tbtimes: The Bucs are actually outscoring the Saints this season. That hasn’t happened over a full season since 2005 which, not coincidentally, was the year before Brees arrived in New Orleans. Brees missed a chunk of this season with an injury but is back now, and that doesn’t bode well for Tampa Bay. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Tampa Bay’s offense flirt with 30 points today, but it also wouldn’t be shocking to see the Saints flirt with 40 points. Atlanta shocked New Orleans last week with six sacks, but it’s hard to see that happening two weeks in a row. Saints 35-27.

Brees and Thomas will be too much

Thomas Bassinger, sports data reporter, @tometrics: The Saints are coming off a clunker against the Falcons, but don’t put too much stock into that. They’re the better team on both sides of the ball, and by a wide margin. On defense, however, they’ll be without Lattimore, who has allowed a team-best 55.9 completion percentage on passes into his coverage this season. The Bucs preach establishing the run, but that’s not the way to beat the Saints. The way to beat them is by attacking them through the air and grabbing an early lead, as they did in Week 1 last season (they led by 14 points during the second quarter and went on to win 48-40). New Orleans, though, rarely loses two straight games, especially when its next game after a loss is against Tampa Bay. It has won eight of its past 10 such games. Saints 26-23

What if Jameis doesn’t throw a pick?

Mike Sherman, deputy editor | sports, @mikesherman: Looks like we’re all projecting the Saints offense will get back on track after an awful Falcons defense held New Orleans without a touchdown last week. Everybody has seen Drew Brees throw too many touchdown passes against Tampa Bay (52 in 27 games). The education of the Bucs young secondary continues. Here’s what won’t: The Saints holding Mike Evans without a catch as they did in New Orleans on Oct. 6. Jameis Winston didn’t throw an interception in that game. He’s 24-39 in 63 career NFL starts, but 12-12 when he doesn’t throw a pick. Do it Sunday, and the Bucs will pull off the upset. Saints 35-31.

The Saints are angry

Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs beat/pro sports enterprise writer, @eddieintheyard: The Bucs will be facing an angry Saints team. After losing to Teddy Bridgewater in the last meeting with New Orleans, Tampa Bay will get Drew Brees this time. Brees completed 80 percent of his passes and averaged 320 yards in two meetings last season, so it will be on the Bucs young secondary to make plays. That all starts with neutralizing receiver Michael Thomas, who had 152 yards in last week’s loss to the Falcons. Saints 31-24.

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Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Previewing Bucs-Saints

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