The New Orleans Saints despite being 1-4 can still control their own destiny in that the team has five more divisional games to play, including two against Atlanta. Add the three teams remaining in the NFC East (Philly, New York and Dallas, which are all teams that could be battling for playoff positions, and wins against them would give the Saints the tie breaker. 

“Fact of the matter is with the situation we’re in, the only thing that matters is one game at a time,” says Saints quarterback Drew Brees. “So it doesn’t matter who you’re playing they all count the same. I’d say the divisional games maybe a little extra. On the road, maybe even a little extra beyond that so that’s what makes this game the most important game anyway.”

The road to what would surmount to a magical trip into the postseason (the Saints must likely win 9 of the final 11 games) begins in Tampa Bay on Sunday. Tampa and New Orleans split the season series last season with each team winning on its home field.

“It’s going to be a lot like these games usually are with them,” says Saints right tackle Zach Strief.  “When you know a team as well as we know them, and they know us and you see a guy twice a year it kind of creates, cultivates a little bit extra. It’s going to be a battle. I have no doubt both teams are in positions that they would rather not be in so there’s a lot of fighting to be done to get out of our holes.”

The Buccaneers are 2-3 with those three losses being very close. At New York, the Bucs had a 24-13 lead at halftime before Eli Manning threw for over 500 yards on them to come back and win. Tampa lost to Dallas 16-10 and to Washington on a last second field goal after failing to hold on to the lead in the final minute and a half.

One reason Tampa has been in every game this season is their defense, in particular the Bucs defensive line. “They play with a lot of energy. A lot of I’d say swagger and attitude,” Brees says of the Bus defensive line. “Their defense against the run is quite impressive. That’s kind of a mindset so they’ve been very good there. They’ve been really good at rushing the passer with their blitz packages and then really with just their front four at times too. All of those things we have to be ready to combat.”

“They’re a very aggressive group, very explosive group,” says Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod. “Up front, they play hard they play with great pad level, good hands. Honestly we’re going to have to be firing on all cylinders to have success in the run and passing game.” The Bucs offensive line isn’t bad either.

Tampa Bay last week rushed for 145 yards and passed it for 318 in their 38-10 win against the Chiefs. Stats the Saints secondary were referring to this week when reporters kept bringing up the fact that Tampa Bay is primarily a running team. “They came out threw the ball down the field and connected on a lot of those and caused some big plays,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins says of last week’s Bucs aerial attack. “It’s going to be a challenge keeping the ball in front of us. When they get those big plays down the field it often turns into points for them and it often leads to a win for them.”

Josh Freeman is only completing 55.2 percent of his passes and has eight touchdowns to go with five interceptions.  Still the Saints secondary is regarding him with respect, “He can throw the deep ball. He has a powerful arm and he has real good touch on that deep ball and he extends plays,” says of Tampa Quarterback Josh Freeman."

Tampa still will try and run the football though make no mistake. “They do a good job of running the football,” says Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer. “They try to grind out plays and move the ball down the field on a consistent basis as opposed to a ton of big plays.”

Big plays are what have killed the Saints defense so far this season but there is signs of hope. The defense held Green Bay to just one touchdown in the second half of that game. Against Kansas City, the defenses only allowed a touchdown for the game and against the Chargers they sacked quarterback Phillip Rivers five times and created turnovers.

“That second half against San Diego that’s how we have to play the entire game,” middle linebacker Curtis Lofton says. “Each week we’ve gotten better and better and you know it’s exciting. Guys are finally understanding what to do and how to get after quarterbacks and the secondary has been playing great. We just got to keep grinding and doing everything in practice and carry it over to the game.”


Expect a hardnosed tough football game to start out. The Saints know the mountain they have to climb and the Bucs are looking to establish a new identity under Schiano. Tampa no doubt has been told that the Saints and Falcons are the top dogs of the division so it’s time to let them know what is up.  So for starters the Saints better come into the game with a physical mindset.

The Saints run game hasn’t been good this season and this might not be the game you see it take off as the Tampa defense ranks fourth against the run but 31st against the pass. Saints quarterback Drew Brees could take advantage of that especially if he plays like he has the last two games. Brees has passed for 816 yards throwing seven touchdowns to just one interception in the last two. So it’ll be the Saints air attack against the Bucs defensive line.

Tampa offensively will start with the run and see where they go from there. The Saints have allowed big days to running backs this season so the key there will be if the Saints can stop the run. The Saints defensive line really won’t be worried about pass rushing rather run stopping. Will linebacker Jonathan Vilma have an impact if he plays? If he does I do believe he could provide some energy and perhaps leadership on the defense. That said he hasn’t played a minute of football in a game since January.

Bottom line is I think the Saints barring crazy turnovers like last year’s game in Tampa Bay can handle the start of the game. The Bucs will be fired up, looking to make big hits to fire up the crowd and set the tone offensively as well. Brees and the Saints offense have had big games against Tampa in the past especially receiver Marques Colston. I look for Brees to throw between 350-400 yards and about three touchdowns in a 27-20 win.

**Pregame starts at 10am on 97.3 The Dawg. Kick-off set for noon with your calls and comments after the game.