In other years, a game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be nothing more than a laugher. The Saints would march into the Superdome, Drew Brees would toss the football around like it was sandlot football and the home team would walk away with a win.
This year, things are different – a whole lot different.
The Buccaneers are playoff contenders at 6-6 and currently in the seventh seed in the postseason hunt. The Saints are not mathematically eliminated, but at 4-8 need a miracle or act from a higher being to be playing in the big dance. The Saints lost last week to the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay took care of Atlanta. One team is rising, the other is falling.
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And you wouldn't bet against the surging Buccaneers, but stranger things have happened. This is still an NFC South divisional game and anything could and may happen.
In their last meeting earlier this year, the Buccaneers snapped a seven-game losing streak against New Orleans by holding on for a 26-19 triumph at the Superdome in week two. Jameis Winston ran for one TD and threw a 15-yard pass to Vincent Jackson for another score in posting his first victory as a pro.
Kyle Brindza added four field goals for Tampa Bay and a swarming defense registered three takeaways and four sacks as the Bucs rebounded from a lopsided loss against Tennessee in the season opener.
Winston continues to improve each week while the Saints defense is ranked last in the NFL in points allowed. This is a game that could be close, then again, it could be a statement game for the neophytes in red and pewter.
The Saints need the win to keep their postseason hopes alive. Tampa Bay needs the win to further strengthen its improbable season. Something has to give. Should they lose, it will be the first time since 2007 the Saints were swept by their rivals to the east.
A loss will also further warm the seat in head coach Sean Payton’s office. A game like this and a reversal of roles proves just how cyclical the NFL is year after year.