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Bucs vs. Saints: Five things to watch

Posted Dec 28, 2013

The Saints play the Buccaneers with a playoff spot on the line

JUST WIN, BABY. The New Orleans Saints have a simple equation Sunday: Win, and they’re in, regardless of what happens in any other game. So they should be pretty single-minded entering their 3:25 p.m. kickoff, even though Carolina will play Atlanta in a noon game and New Orleans will know whether it has a chance to win the NFC South Division, and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, by the time it kicks off. If the Panthers lose in Atlanta, it’ll open the door for the Saints to win the division and 2 seed. But rather than concern themselves with that, the Saints will be more occupied with playing well and finishing the regular season with a victory. Because regardless of what happens in Atlanta, it’s imperative that New Orleans finish well and build some momentum entering the postseason, which it would with a victory.

STATUS QUO AT HOME. Everyone agrees that the Saints are an outstanding home team; they’re 7-0 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 3-5 on the road. More, they’ve won by an average score of 33-15 at home. If they simply do what they’ve been doing at home, all will be fine. New Orleans has scored at least 31 points in five home games, and hasn’t allowed more than 20 in the Dome. That formula should be enough. Tampa Bay might not go away quietly at first, but the Bucs are 4-11 and start a rookie quarterback (Mike Glennon) who has one road win in his NFL career. If the Saints jump them early, they may lose the will to continue the fight.

New Orleans Saints

EARNING HIS STRIPES. Rookie left tackle Terron Armstead will start his second NFL game for the Saints, and playing at home should help. Drew Brees was sacked a career-high tying six times against Carolina last Sunday, three by Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy. However, Coach Sean Payton and Brees said that Armstead played well (Brees said he was responsible for a couple of sacks, by holding on to the ball too long) and both said they were encouraged by what they saw. Armstead will look to continue sanding down the rough edges.

BELIEVE WHAT YOU SEE. Did you know the Saints are fourth in the NFL in total defense, allowing 306.7 yards per game, and fifth in scoring defense, allowing 19.1 points per game? Of course you did. But did you expect that? No way. The defense has earned every accolade it has received this season, having held 10 opponents to 18 points or less, rolled up 47 sacks and shut out two opponents on third down (Dallas and Carolina each went 0 for 9). Tampa Bay is last in the league in yards per game (276.1) and fourth-worst in scoring (18.1). The game isn’t played on paper, but it certainly looks good for the Saints' defense there.

THE BREES-O-METER. If it seems as if Brees is setting some kind of record every other week or so, it’s because he is. He’s 219 passing yards away from 5,000 this season, which would be the fourth time he would attain that total. Entering the season, he already had done so an NFL-record three times, so he’d just be extending his own mark. Despite having been sacked a career-high 36 times, he’s having one of his best statistical seasons. The Bucs only allow 229.1 passing yards per game and have 21 interceptions, third-most in the league, and Tampa Bay picked off Brees twice in the first meeting, in Tampa. But this season at the Superdome, Brees has thrown for 2,454 yards (351 per game) and 23 touchdowns, with three interceptions. He could reach the milestone with a good first half and after two straight road losses, he and the offense are looking for an explosive outing.

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