WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL
Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman aims for a fourth division win in row and has won his past two starts against New Orleans, completing 44-of-67 of his passes (65.7 percent) for 558 yards with four touchdowns and a 111.4 rating over those games. In his career, the Bucs are 7-1 when Freeman starts and has a 100-plus rating. When Blount has 18 or more carries, the team is also 7-1, and in those eight games, he has rushed for 834 yards (104.3 per game) and five touchdowns. Wide receiver Mike Williams had a touchdown catch in Tampa’s win at New Orleans last season and aims for a third game in a row with six or more catches. Williams and tight end Kellen Winslow are tied for the team lead with 31 catches, while Winslow has a catch in 83 games in row. Wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe had a 24-yard touchdown in the Week 7 loss to Chicago.
For the Saints on defense, safety Roman Harper has 14 sacks since the start of 2006, the most by a defensive back during that period. End Will Smith has a sack in three of his last four games against Tampa Bay and linebacker Jonathan Vilma had a fumble return for a touchdown last week.
Statistically, Tampa Bay is 24th in the league in scoring offense (18.7 ppg), 15th in total yards (340.4 ypg), 12th in passing yards (240.3 ypg) and 23rd in rushing yards (100.1 ypg). New Orleans is 22nd in scoring defense (23.6 ppg), 15th in total yards allowed (346.0 ypg), 11th in pass defense (221.9 ypg) and 24th against the run (124.1 ypg).
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
Brees has 20 or more completions in an NFL-record 28 straight games and has thrown a touchdown pass in 35 consecutive contests, meaning he can tie Brett Favre for the second-longest streak in NFL history. Since the start of 2008, Brees is 22-7 at home including the playoffs, and has compiled a 70.1 completion percentage, 8,862 yards (305.6 per game), 77 touchdowns passes against 23 interceptions and a 109.5 rating. Running back Darren Sproles is the only player in the NFL this season with two rushing touchdowns, two receiving scores and a return touchdown.
Backfield mate Mark Ingram is second among NFL rookies with 329 rushing yards and had a rushing touchdown in these teams’ last meeting, but is questionable to play this week due to a bruised heel. Running back Pierre Thomas has nine touchdowns (five rushing, four receiving) in his past 11 games against division foes and would be in line for more work if Ingram doesn’t play.
Tight end Jimmy Graham leads all players at his position in receptions (49) and receiving yards (713) and had seven catches for 124 yards in last month’s loss to Tampa Bay. Wide receiver Marques Colston had seven catches for 118 yards and a touchdown in that contest, while counterpart Devery Henderson has five career receiving touchdowns against Tampa Bay and averages 50 yards per scoring catch. Wide receiver Robert Meachem has 20 career receiving touchdowns, 13 of which have gone for 25 or more yards, and has four touchdowns in his past five games against Tampa Bay.
For the Bucs, cornerback Ronde Barber has started 190 consecutive games, the most by a cornerback in NFL history. He is the only player in NFL annals with 25 or more sacks (27) and 40 or more interceptions (41) as well and has two games with a career-high three interceptions, both coming against New Orleans. Barber had a safety in Week 7. End Adrian Clayborn ranks second among NFC rookies with three sacks, while safety Tanard Jackson aims for a third game in a row with an interception. Middle linebacker Mason Foster has 32 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery in his rookie season.
By the numbers, New Orleans is second in scoring offense (32.5 ppg), second in total yards (444.1 ypg), first in passing yards (326.8 ypg) and 11th in rushing yards (117.4 ypg). The Bucs are 24th in scoring defense (24.1 ppg), 29th in total yards allowed (391.1 ypg), 26th in pass defense (267.7 ypg) and 23rd against the run (123.4 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
New Orleans has won 23 game in a row when it’s rushed for at least 125 yards, but the Saints are 0-3 when reaching less than 100 yards on the ground in 2011. Tampa Bay’s defense is allowing 123.4 rushing yards per game, but held the Saints to 70 in their Week 6 victory.
Young quarterback Freeman is 3-1 lifetime against the Saints, with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He threw for 303 yards against New Orleans last time around, but had four interceptions in the loss to the Bears. How he performs will go a long way in determining whether the Bucs are successful on Sunday.
Including the playoffs, the host Saints are 16-5 at home since 2009, but 0-2 against the Buccaneers over that same stretch. This year, they’re 3-0 at home with a 44.0 points-per-game average, and the Bucs won’t have a chance if their opponents comes close to that number.
Prediction – The Saints somehow found a way to lose to the Rams last week, and in stunning fashion as they fell behind 24-0 before getting a late garbage TD. Now they play a Bucs team fresh off the bye. The Saints are 3-0 at home, and that’s a big factor here, as they should be able to get back on track, though if they stumble like a week ago, they will find the Bucs will take advantage of it. New Orleans 20 Tampa Bay 16