The New Orleans Saints will be seeking their 6th straight win in a row this Sunday, when they host their NFC South division rivals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Kickoff is slated for 12 noon Central time, and the game will be televised regionally by FOX.
It will be yet another key game for the Saints as far as possible Playoff implications later on at the end of the season, not only for their standing within the division, but towards their conference standing as well.
The Saints are (5-2) overall, but have a (5-1) conference record; with their only NFC loss coming at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings back during their season opener.
IF the season were to end today: the Saints — the current division leaders in the NFC South — would be the #3 seed in the conference and would host a Wild Card game at the Superdome.
Coming into this game, the Bucs (2-5 overall this season) have lost their last 4 games in a row; but nevertheless they should not be taken lightly as NFC South divisional games are ALWAYS hard-fought, no matter what the circumstances are coming into the game.
With all of that in mind, here are 5 "bold' predictions, for this Sunday's contest.
And we'll start at #5, and work our way down to #1 — beginning with this one.............
5. AFTER NEARLY COSTING THE SAINTS A WIN LAST WEEK WITH 2 FOURTH QUARTER FUMBLES, THE BUCCANEERS GET THE UNFORTUNATE PLEASURE OF HAVING TO FACE "ANGRY" MARK INGRAM
If you're a Saints fan, then you already are well aware that Saints 7th year veteran and lead RB Mark Ingram had some issues with fumbling the football last week during the team's 20-12 victory over the Chicago Bears; in which he coughed up the ball twice in back-to-back Saints possessions and was even benched (but not before he got his ass chewed out) by head coach Sean Payton.
Now a week removed from that game and the unpleasant memory of last week's events still fresh on his mind, Saints fans already know what's coming: the return of "Angry" Ingram, who is a completely different player when he plays with a chip on his shoulder and a has a point that he wants to prove.
When "Angry" Ingram shows up, that's bad news for whatever defense has to face him — as he will absolutely BULLDOZE anything in his path.
And that's exactly the player that the Buccaneers defense will have the misfortune of facing in this contest, as "Angry" Ingram shows up and runs over the Bucs defensive Front 7 to the tune of 147 yards on 22 carries and 2 TD's (1 rushing, and one on a screen pass from Brees) and more importantly to him: zero fumbles.
4. AFTER STRUGGLING SOMEWHAT TO STOP THE RUN IN RECENT WEEKS, THE SAINTS RUN DEFENSE HAS THEIR BEST PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON THUS FAR
It's been well documented that the Saints run defense hasn't been the best aspect of the unit's otherwise outstanding play of the past 5 games, in which they've gotten gashed at times in successive games against Green Bay and Chicago in back-to-back weeks.
However, it is important to note that they've been able to bounce back strongly in the 2nd half of each of those games; in which it seems they are able to make the proper adjustments at half-time and are able to "shut down" the opponent's running game for the remainder of the contest.
This week the Saints run defense gets a bit of a breather, as they will face a Buccaneers running game — thought to be a team-strength — that has completely grinded to a halt. The tandem of talented Tampa Bay RB's Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers have combined to lead the way for a running game that is only the 29th ranked run offense in the NFL, a far cry below expectations.
That will be to the Saints defense's advantage; as the run defense has a season-best performance and limits the Buccaneers to 60 total rushing yards on 25 carries, a paltry 2.1 yards per carry average. That will go a long way in helping to determine the final outcome, since the defense will have problems with this next prediction on our list.
3. ALTHOUGH HE'S "PLAYING HURT", AN INJURED AND BANGED-UP JAMEIS WINSTON MAKES THE SAINTS DEFENSE LOOK NOT SO FAMOUS IN THE 1st HALF
Buccaneers 3rd year QB "Famous" Jameis Winston suffered a sprained AC joint 2 and a half weeks ago in a loss at Arizona, and hasn't been the same ever since. He took yet another hit to the shoulder again the following week at Buffalo; and although he's questionable for this Sunday's game, should still get the start.
Assuming he plays (which he most likely will), Winston will no doubt look to lead the NFL's 2nd best passing offense (295.4 yards per game) that features WR's Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson along with the "double duo" tight end threat of Cameron Brate (the NFL's #1 TE in receiving yards with 405) and rookie TE O.J. Howard; to a big performance.
And true to form: in the 1st half — Winston shocks the Saints defense by helping to put 20 Tampa points up on the scoreboard. But the Buccaneers' 'Achilles Heel', which has been a combination of poorly-timed interceptions thrown by Winston combined with their virtually non-existent running game this season, will become an issue.
Those factors will combine to allow the Saints defense to "tighten up" just enough to keep the score close for a majority of the 2nd half, which eventually will help lead up to an unforgettable finish for the ages (more on that coming right up) of this now 41-year rivalry (since Tampa entered the League in 1976).
2. BECAUSE THE BUCCANEERS PASS RUSH CAN'T GENERATE MUCH PRESSURE ON AN OPPOSING QUARTERBACK ONCE AGAIN, DREW BREES HAS A BIG DAY NUMBERS-WISE FOR THE SAINTS
The Tampa Bay defense has struggled against the pass (30th overall) this season; which no doubt has been a combination of several factors that have seemingly conspired to work against them.
2nd-year defensive end / edge pass rusher extraordinaire Noah Spence was placed on injured reserve after the Bills game due to a shoulder injury; and because of the less-than-expected output (2 sacks) and unhappiness of 5-time Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy, the Buccaneers rank dead-last in the NFL with only 7 sacks and just 32 QB "hits".
As evidenced of how bad the pass rush has been: last week in their 17-3 home loss to Carolina, the Buccaneers defense failed to record a single sack OR even a QB "hit" on Panthers QB Cam Newton.
What's even worse is that Tampa Bay has struggled in the secondary; and with their best player on the back-end in veteran CB Brent Grimes likely missing this game with a shoulder injury, it potentially will leave the Buccaneers short-handed and exposed.
None of those factors are going to help the Buccaneers defense against Drew Brees, who will top the 400-yard passing mark for the first time this season, to go along with 3 TD passes for the Saints passing attack.
1. BECAUSE OF THE OUTSTANDING PLAY OF BOTH QUARTERBACKS, THE GAME UNEXPECTEDLY BECOMES A "SHOOT-OUT" — SETTING UP THIS UNBELIEVABLE FINISH.....
As we mentioned above in the previous predictions: both quarterbacks are able to have big days throwing the football, and as a result the game enters into the 4th quarter with the Saints ahead by a single point (28-27) in a typically hard-fought NFC South contest.
The Buccaneers are then able to go on a long, time-consuming drive to begin the quarter that eats up nearly 6 minutes worth of game clock, but on a 3rd down-and-7 at the Saints 32-yard line and the Buccaneers threatening to take the lead, Winston is intercepted on a pass intended for slot WR Chris Godwin, by Saints CB Ken Crawley.
The Saints then mount a drive of their own but it stalls out near the Bucs 30-yard line; and Saints kicker Wil Lutz's 47-yard field goal adds 3 more points on the board, for a 31-27 New Orleans lead with just over 2 minutes remaining.
On the ensuing kickoff, Lutz's kickoff falls short of the goal line, and it's taken in by Bernard Reedy; who then breaks not one but two tackle attempts and takes off and sprints into the clear, as he returns the kick the length of the field for a 99-yard TD and STUNS the sold-out Superdome crowd to give Tampa a late 34-31 lead with 1:45 left.
That leaves the Saints with the ball and the length of the field to go, after they return the kick back to their own 20-yard line. After an incomplete pass sets up a 2nd down-and-10, Brees completes a pass to WR Michael Thomas; who is hit and the ball is jarred loose and recovered by the Buccaneers, who appear headed for an upset.
But the call is overturned by the officials after instant replay shows that Thomas did in fact have a knee down on the turf before the ball came loose, and the Saints get the ball back with a 3rd down-and-10 play up next.
Brees then throws a quick screen to his left to WR Willie Snead behind the line of scrimmage; and the 3rd year star who has been notably quiet this year after missing the first 3 games due to a suspension, suddenly pulls up with his arm "cocked and ready".
On the far side of the field, the Bucs have no one covering running back Alvin Kamara.
Snead then lets loose with a beautiful, tight spiral pass down the right sideline and into the waiting hands of Kamara — who then finishes the play off for the 80-yard TD catch-and-run off of the bit of trickery, for a 38-34 Saints lead.
That still leaves Winston with a little over a minute remaining to come up with a drive of his own; but on a 3rd down-and-long near mid-field, "Famous" Jameis is PICKED OFF again, this time by (who else?) Marshon Lattimore; who comes up big for a 2nd straight week with a game-preserving interception.