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Game 2: Saints @ Bucs

Saints (-3.5) @ Bucs: 1 PM EST, Raymond James Stadium

Week 1 Stats
Off. YPG (Rank) Off. PPG (Rank) Def. YPG (Rank) Def. PPG (Rank)
Saints 293 (16) 10 (26) 452 (30) 41 (31)
Bucs 284 (17) 6 (29) 343 (21) 20 (19)

It is an exaggeration to call today's game a "must win" for the Saints. After all, the season is in its second week; the Saints could overcome a two-game losing streak to begin the season. Still, today's game represents a "should win" for the Saints, a game in which they seem to have the advantage on offense, defense and special teams. While the Saints haven't moved the ball tremendously well against Tampa 2 defenses in recent history, their greatest successes against the scheme have come at the expense of the Bucs. Last season, the Saints defeated Tampa 24-21 in a week 5 home game, and 31-14 during a week 9 road game. The Week 9 game is impressive because it was sandwiched by three losses to AFC North teams, with an average margin of defeat of 11.6 points. In fact, under Sean Payton, the Saints are 1-4 against the AFC, losing by an average of 16.5 points.

Today's game also features the past two winners of the NFC South. In 2005, what many Saints fans consider a "lost season," the Bucs went 11-5 and lost to the Washington Redskins in the NFC Wildcard Round. That season, the Bucs' defense -- the team's calling card during their run of success -- finished 8th in the league with 274 points allowed. Last season, the Bucs' defense seemed to deteriorate, finishing 21st in the league with 353 points allowed. Part of this was attributable to an injury to Simeon Rice and the trade of Anthony McFarland, two of the finest players in Bucs' team history. Part of this degeneration was attributable to the aging of the team's other defensive stars, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber. This season, the Bucs' defense seems trapped between youth and elderliness: while Rice and McFarland have since departed, Brooks and Barber join Greg Spires, Kevin Carter and Jeremiah Trotter to form a veritably geriatric core (in football ages, anyways). Meanwhile, Gaines Adams, Barrett Ruud, Tanard Jackson and Sabby Piscitelli form what should soon be a formidable young defensive core.

For now, however, the Bucs' defense appears vulnerable. The Tampa defense allowed 139 yards to the Seahawks in week 1, including 105 to Shaun Alexander. Alexander is still a fine player, but the Saints possess a running attack that is capable of gaining large chunks of yardage, keeping the Bucs' offense off the field. Expect them to spend most of the game in their two-deep zone coverage to limit the Saints' deep passing attack. A consistent running game today would force the safeties to creep up, opening up the play action pass, and the big play.

Not that the Tampa offense strikes fear into the Saints players and coaches. After running back Cadillac Williams, the Tampa offense lacks consistent threats. Joey Galloway is capable, but is aging; LSU alum Michael Clayton has yet to duplicate the totals from his rookie season. In week 1, Tampa Quarterback Jeff Garcia looked more like the guy who flamed out in Detroit than the player who took the Eagles to the playoffs last season.

Thus today's matchup with the Bucs should provide the Saints with an opportunity to get back into the winning habit.

Get your Saints Soothsayer Gameday Challenge picks in before kickoff. What's the Saints Soothsayer Gameday Challenge? Scroll to the bottom of this post to find out.