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Saints vs. Bucs Part II: Can the Saints Play Spoilers?

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There's not much to salvage but pride from the 2015 season for the New Orleans Saints as they are about to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Tampa Bay on the other hand still has a chance at the playoffs. We spoke with Sander Philipse of Bucs Nation to learn a bit more about the Bucs.

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Without further ado...

1) Canal Street Chronicles: At 6-6, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are right in the mix for a potential Wild Card playoffs berth this season. Did you expect the team to rebound this quickly from the 2-14 debacle that was last season? Could you summarize what has spurred this turnaround?

Sander Philipse: Jameis Winston, offensive line, luck and improved defense. In that order. The Bucs were bad last season, but they weren't quite as bad as 2-14: nine of the fourteen losses came by one score or less. It's really difficult to consistently lose close games, so to some extent a rebound would have been in the cards even if the Bucs had done nothing to improve themselves.

But then, the things they did to improve themselves have done a lot for the team's prospects as well. Jameis Winston is clearly an improvement over Josh McCown, and he looks like a future franchise quarterback who's getting better throughout the season. The offensive line isn't dominant, but it is now competent rather than a massive liability. And the defense is playing better football, especially over the past month. While they lack talent at multiple positions and can allow teams to consistently drive down the field with short gains, they've done a terrific job of stopping explosive plays. They're playing with discipline, even if they get beat individually.

All of that's combined to make the Bucs a consistently competitive team, an outside playoff contender, and the hope that they're on the verge of turning things around.

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2) CSC: Coming out of Florida State, Jameis Winston was a very controversial figure before he got drafted. Now however, he seems to be winning people around the NFL over, mostly because of how aptly he has led Tampa Bay to several key wins this season. How would you assess Winston's rookie season through 12 games?

SP: Winston's played well, and he's consistently getting better, which is of course very promising. His first introduction to the NFL was as ugly as it gets, as he looked completely lost in week one - but it seems that was just him adjusting to the speed of the NFL, and outside of one four-interception game in week four, he's played very well. The best thing I can say about him is that he's making his teammates look better: he knows how to create space for himself in the pocket, he's getting rid of the ball on time within the structure of the offense, and he's generally giving his receivers a chance to catch the ball. His accuracy can still be a little inconsistent at times, but he makes a number of big-time NFL throws in every game as well. All in all, he looks like he'll be a top-notch quarterback and the future of this franchise, given some time.

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3) CSC: As an LSU fan, I was sad to see junior linebacker Kwon Alexander leave school early, because not only did I know that he was a really good player, I thought he could become great with one more year in college. However, it's more than apparent now that Alexander made the right decision for himself, winning the starting middle linebacker gig in Tampa and playing very well. Now that he is gone for the last four games of the regular season (and potentially the playoffs) what will the Bucs do to compensate for his absence?

SP: Alexander has probably been the biggest surprise this season. He stepped into the starting role in preseason, and hasn't looked back since. He was inconsistent early on, but has been very good since then - which means the Bucs are definitely going to miss him. But not necessarily too much: they'll move Danny Lansanah to the middle, which was effectively the role he filled admirably last year on passing downs, and will have Bruce Carter on the strong side. They'll miss Alexander's knack for playmaking, but I don't expect there to be a massive drop-off in terms of disciplined play.

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All in all, he looks like he'll be a top-notch quarterback and the future of this franchise, given some time. -Sander Philipse (on Jameis Winston)

4) CSC: Could you tell us about one player for the Bucs on offense and on defense that we may not have heard of, but who is likely to have a big impact on the game Sunday?

SP: On defense, it's definitely Jude Adjei-Barimah. The Bucs spent half a season shifting around their cornerbacks before finally giving the undrafted rookie a chance and he's impressed since then - unlike veterans Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins, who will finish the season on the bench. His play isn't perfect, but he's tenacious, physical and competitive - and like Winston, he's getting better and better as well. There's a chance the Bucs have actually found a long-term starter.

On offense that's a lot more difficult as the Bucs have a lot of well-known players, but I'm going to go with Cameron Brate. Given the Saints' problems with tight ends, and Brate's status as a safety blanket for Jameis Winston, the tight end could have a pretty decent game - but only if Austin Seferian-Jenkins doesn't just take all his reps now that he's finally fully healthy.

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5) CSC: Please complete these two sentences for me:

a) The Saints will win the game on Sunday if...

SP: ...they can turn this game into a shootout and get some explosive plays on a disciplined Bucs defense, without turning over the ball.

b) The Buccaneers will win the game on Sunday if...

SP: ...they can turn their red zone possessions into touchdowns, and get a couple of turnovers on defense.

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Many thanks to Sander for taking the time to answer our questions. For more Saints-Bucs coverage from a Pirates angle, check out Bucs Nation.