WHEN: Noon Sunday
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
RADIO: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge
RECORDS: New Orleans 4-8; Tampa Bay 6-6
COACHES: Saints, Sean Payton, 10th season (84-56); Buccaneers, Lovie Smith, 2nd season (8-20 in Tampa Bay, 89-83 overall)
LAST WEEK: Tampa Bay won a hard-fought game against Atlanta on a late game-winning touchdown drive extended by Jameis Winston’s legs and won on a 6-yard toss from Winston to Mike Evans, then sealed it when Lavonte David picked off Matt Ryan on the Falcons’ last chance.
OFFENSE: Winston, who has beaten the Saints already once this year, is having an admirable rookie season, completing 58.6 percent of his passes for 2,877 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The big rookie isn’t the same kind of runner as Cam Newton, but he times his scrambles well, picking up first downs and five touchdowns among his 38 carries. With two big receivers in Evans and Vincent Jackson to throw to, Winston has done an admirable job under the pressure of being the No. 1 pick.
And he’s got the kind of running game that can really hurt a New Orleans defense that has struggled against the run. Doug Martin is having a renaissance season, ranking second in the NFL in rushing with 1,133 yards, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and doing plenty of damage. Backup Charles Sims also averages 4.7 yards per carry and has 409 yards on the year for one of the league’s most effective running games.
DEFENSE: The Bucs overwhelmed the New Orleans offensive line in the first meeting between the two teams. Jacquies Smith sacked Drew Brees three times, injuring Brees’ shoulder on one hit, and he’s developed into a solid running mate for All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has seven sacks. Beyond the pass rush, the Bucs also take away a lot of quick throws simply by having the presence of Lavonte David, who might be the NFL’s best coverage linebacker. David, who has three interceptions, is capable of making plays both in the short passing game and taking away the seam route up the field.
Tampa Bay’s secondary has been solid, but it’s nothing like Carolina’s. Cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and undrafted rookie Jude Adjei-Barima man the outside, and the safeties are merely solid, but the front seven takes off a lot of pressure. One player the Saints won’t have to face? LSU product Kwon Alexander, who must begin serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Connor Barth has taken back his job by making 18-of-21 field goals, and Bobby Rainey is very dangerous as both a kickoff and punt return man. Punter Jake Schum has been pedestrian, but the Bucs’ coverage units have been stellar, allowing just 5.6 yards per punt and 23.8 yards per kick.