The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6) will travel to New Orleans to face the Saints (6-8) as they look to keep their playoff aspirations alive. New Orleans, on the other hand, are simply looking to finish the season out on a strong note as they have less than a 1% chance of making the playoffs. 

Five Things to Watch For

1) The return of Max Unger

Drew Brees was under consistent pressure when the Saints played the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. A large reason for the pressure was the absence of center Max Unger. Since arriving in New Orleans courtesy of the Jimmy Graham trade, Unger has been the anchor of the Saints’ offensive line. He will be especially important against the Buccaneers as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has 7 sacks on the season. The offensive line’s success (or lack thereof) will be key to determining the outcome of the game.

2) Buccaneers’ Linebackers

Middle linebacker Kwon Alexander and weak-side linebacker Lavonte David have come together to form one of the better linebacker duos in the league. The two are extremely athletic and have the ability to compete in pass coverage. Both Alexander and David have an interception and four passes defended. Drew Brees will have to be aware of the two when he looks to attack the Buccaneers’ defense in the middle of the field.

3) Michael Thomas

Rookie receiver Michael Thomas didn’t play against the Buccaneers because of an injury in Week 14. It is likely that Brees will look to Thomas early and often to avoid pressure. Additionally, Thomas is only 117 yards away from 1,000 receiving yards. Look for Thomas to shine in his first matchup with the Buccaneers.

4) The way Vonn Bell rebounds from a rough week

It would be an understatement to say rookie safety Vonn Bell struggled against the Cardinals. He was called for an offsides penalty twice, and he struggled in coverage throughout the game. Bell has had a relatively strong rookie campaign as he has been physical near the line of scrimmage and has been solid in coverage. The Saints are going to need all of the help they can get on defense, and Bell could be of even greater importance against the Buccaneers. Tight end Cameron Brate is second on the Buccaneers in receiving yards with 648, and Bell will likely be assigned to Brate in man coverage throughout parts of the game.

5) How Dennis Allen combats Mike Evans

The Buccaneers’ Mike Evans has emerged as one of the better receivers in the league. His 6’5″ frame has allowed him to be an “accuracy eraser”, and many cornerbacks have struggled to match his physicality. Cornerback Delvin Breaux appears unlikely to play on Saturday, so the Dennis Allen and the Saints will be forced to rely on a number of other corners. Sterling Moore has been the best of the Saints’ in-season pickups, but Moore finds himself standing at 5’10”. The Saints may need to provide safety help to whichever corner Evans finds himself matched up with.

Predictions

  1. The Saints play spoiler as they come out with a 30-27 win.
  2. Michael Thomas catches for at least 117 yards as he reaches the 1,000 receiving yards mark.
  3. Kwon Alexander intercepts Brees once.