The New Orleans Saints begin their 53rd NFL season this afternoon with a divisional meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This will be the 53rd meeting between these two franchises, with the Saints holding a 32-20 series lead. That includes an 18-11 record in games played at the Superdome, site of this contest. The Buccaneers entered the NFL in 1976, but these two teams were not paired in the same division until 2002, with the formation of the NFC South division. Since then New Orleans has a 19-13 record against the Bucs, and 9-7 against Tampa in home divisional games, although the Saints have won six of the last seven between the two in New Orleans.
Drew Brees is 15-10 against the Buccaneers since arriving with New Orleans in 2006, but has won 10 of the last 13 games against the division rival. That includes the longest winning streak from either team in the series, with the Saints winning seven straight games from 2011-14. New Orleans also dominated the series between 1983-98, winning 11 of the 13 matchups between the two. There have been three overtime games played in this series, New Orleans winning two of them, the last one a 37-31 shootout at home on Oct. 5, 2014. Games between these two are often down to the wire, with 32 of the 52 contests being decided by a touchdown or less. The Saints own the most lopsided victory in the series, a 41-0 victory on Dec. 16, 2012, also the only shutout recorded by either squad. Tampa Bay's 48-21 home win over the Saints on Dec. 23, 2001 marked the most points either team has scored in a single game against the other.
The most memorable game in this series is most likely the very first one played between the two, on December 11, 1977 in New Orleans. The Buccaneers were in their second year as a franchise, but they had yet to win a game, coming into the next to last game of the '77 season with an 0-26 overall record. Tampa Bay forced 7 New Orleans turnovers, scoring an incredible 3 defensive touchdowns on their way to a 33-14 upset win. Fanbases of both teams have had similar struggles while following their respective teams. Both the Saints and Buccaneers were often overwhelmed by the traditional powers in the conference, such as the 49ers, Giants, Bears, Redskins, Cowboys, and later the Packers. It took the Saints twenty years as a franchise before their first winning season and playoff berth in 1987. Tampa Bay had some winning success a bit sooner, actually reaching the NFC championship game in the 1979 season. New Orleans however, established themselves as a legitimate contender through the late '80's and early 1990's behind a dominant defense led by their "Dome Patrol" linebacking corps, while the Buccaneers often toiled near the bottom of the conference standings. Tampa Bay was the first to taste the ultimate championship success though, beating the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII after the 2002 season. Saints fans would have to wait another seven years to taste that same success, when their team beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV.
These two teams split their meetings last season, with the Saints handing out a 30-10 thrashing at home in week nine, then falling to the Bucs in Tampa on the season's final week, 31-24 in the game's final moments. Many believe that the Saints have one of the league's most talented rosters, and they are among the NFC's favorites for the Super Bowl. Both teams will be missing an offensive star due to league suspension; the Saints Mark Ingram (4 games), and Tampa quarterback Jameis Winston (3 games). New Orleans still has tons of firepower around quarterback Drew Brees even without Ingram, and they take on a suspect Buccaneers defense. The Bucs, on the other hand, will be dealing with an improved New Orleans defense that could wind up being among the best in the conference. And will be doing so will unlikely able to give their backup quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick) stellar pass protection or a consistent running game. Although most games in this series have been close, this has the markings of being a potential blowout, as the Saints look to make an early season statement.
Saints 31, Buccaneers 13