The New Orleans Saints wrap up their 2017 regular season in Florida this afternoon with a rematch against one of their NFC South rivals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints (11-4) have clinched a spot in the playoffs, but need to win here, or a loss by the Carolina Panthers against Atlanta, to clinch the division title and a home game in the first round of the postseason. The Buccaneers (4-11) have lost five straight games, and 10 of their last 12, derailing a season where many thought they would contend for a playoff berth.
New Orleans dominated Tampa in their first game, a 30-10 week nine game played in New Orleans. The Saints rolled up 407 total yards, including 231 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns from pro bowl running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Let's have a look at how well the Saints 2nd ranked offense may do against Tampa Bay's 31st ranked defense.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE vs BUCCANEERS PASS DEFENSE
The New Orleans passing attack has not produced the numbers we've been accustomed to during the Drew Brees/Sean Payton era, but with a powerful running game and an improved defense they haven't had to be as prolific. The Saints still have the 5th ranked passing game in the league, averaging 264 yards per game. Brees has been efficient, completing 71.9% of his passes, the highest of his amazing career, for 4,089 yards and 22 touchdowns, with only 8 interceptions.
His top two receiving threats are second year wideout Michael Thomas and rookie sensation Kamara. Thomas has followed up an All-Rookie campaign with 98 receptions for 1,151 yards and five touchdowns, while Kamara is second on the team with 75 catches for 742 yards and 5 scores. Ted Ginn Jr. has had one of the best seasons in his career, with 50 receptions for 754 yards and four touchdowns, and running back Mark Ingram is a big threat in the team's screen game with 54 receptions. The other New Orleans receivers have provided very little threat in the passing game, contributing to a 36.8% 3rd down percentage to rank just 22nd in the NFL. The Saints offensive line has given their veteran quarterback outstanding protection, allowing only 18 sacks on the season. Left tackle Terron Armstead has been ruled out of this game with a thigh injury, which means that left guard Andrus Peat will slide into the tackle position while Senio Kelemete moves into the guard slot.
The Buccaneers rank dead last against the pass, giving up 263 yards per game. They have only 13 interceptions and 20 sacks on the year. Two of their best defensive backs, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and safety Justin Evans, are on injured reserve, leaving cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Robert McClain along with safety Chris Conte to try and contain Thomas, Ginn, and the Saints outside threats. Tampa linebacker Kwon Alexander is tied with Grimes and McClain for the team lead in interceptions with 3, and will be expected to keep pace with the talented Kamara, as New Orleans moves him around to exploit mismatches. Buccaneers linebackers Alexander, Lavonte David, and Kendell Beckwith are fast and talented, but could not keep up with Kamara in the teams first matchup. Tampa Bay's defensive tackles Gerald McCoy (6 sacks), voted to his sixth Pro Bowl, and Clinton McDonald (4 sacks) will be a handful for the New Orleans interior line, but the Bucs have been unable to generate a consistent outside pass rush.
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE vs. BUCCANEERS RUN DEFENSE
Part of the reason for the Saints' lofty record this season has been a dynamic rushing attack. New Orleans has averaged 132 yards per game on the ground, ranking 5th in the league, and their 22 rushing touchdowns are a league best. Mark Ingram has a career highs in rushing yards (1,089), and touchdowns (12) while rushing for five yards per carry. Alvin Kamara has proven to have the abilities of an every down NFL back, and has added 684 yards rushing and 7 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 6.2 yards per rush. The Saints offensive line continues to dominate opponents at the line of scrimmage, and also athletic enough to get into the second level of the defense to create big yardage opportunities.
Tampa Bay ranks 24th in stopping the run, allowing 119 yards per game, 4.3 yards per carry, and have allowed 16 rushing scores. Linebackers Alexander, David, and Beckwith are solid run defenders, as are safeties Conti and T.J. Ward, but the Buccaneers front line cannot win their matchups consistently enough to free up their athletic back end players.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Tampa Bay has been undisciplined and overmatched defensively all season, and it's likely to cost head coach Dirk Koetter his job. The Saints have averaged over 28 points per game, and have the most balanced offensive attack in the league. They don't have the wide array of weapons that we've seen at other times during the Payton era, but Thomas, Kamara, and Ingram are as productive as any trio in the NFL. The three have accounted for over 68% of the Saints offensive yardage, and a future Hall of Famer wearing No. 9 is still at the helm. New Orleans will look to put Tampa away early, seeking to secure their first division crown since 2011, as well as make a statement to the rest of the NFC as they head into the playoffs.
PREDICTION: Saints 31, Buccaneers 10
Will New Orleans win this rematch with the Bucs?
This poll is closed