After Week 11, the 5-5 Saints and the 6-4 Buccaneers were both in the middle of the playoff hunt with six games remaining in the season. Since then both teams have lost three consecutive games and are all but eliminated from the competitive NFC wild card race. Particularly bad during the three-week stretch for both teams has been defense, an area that both have struggled with all season.
While the Buccaneers and Saints rank fifth and sixth in points scored, respectively, they are each in the bottom four of the NFL in yardage allowed. The combination is a formula for a game that many believe will be one of the highest scoring in Week 15, similar to the 35-28, come-from-behind victory that the Saints had over the Buccaneers in Week 7.
Meet the Saints
As has been the case since his arrival in New Orleans, the Saints offense revolves around the play of quarterback Drew Brees. In his seventh season with the team, Brees is averaging more than 300 yards per game and has a 90.8 quarterback rating. However, he has been sacked 23 times and is on-pace to be dropped more times than any season since he's joined the Saints.
During the two teams' matchup earlier in the season, defensive end Cameron Jordan recorded a sack and a forced fumble of Josh Freeman. Safety Roman Harper did the same thing during the Buccaneers' last visit to the Louisiana Superdome. Harper is one of three players on the Saints defense, along with Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Jenkins, that has recored more than 90 tackles.
Meet the Buccaneers
Quarterback Josh Freeman had a quarterback rating of more than 100 for five consecutive games, but has been inconsistent otherwise. He hasn't been inconsistent against the Saints though, as he has been very good against the divisional rival in the last four matchup between the two teams. In those four games, Freeman completed 95-of-146 passes for 1,259 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
Against an offensive line that has struggled to protect Drew Brees, the Buccaneers could certainly use a pass rushing performance like the one that the team received in Week 14. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Michael Bennett each recorded a pair of sacks against the Eagles as the team finished with six sacks.
Local Takes: Saints
Travis Dauro from Canal Street Chronicles says that pride is the only thing for the Saints to play for now that they've been eliminated from the playoffs:
To me, the only issue that seems apparent is a sense of pride. By the fourth quarter of the game against the Giants, everybody looked depressed and lifeless. At least when Gregg Williams was here, they were allowing big yardage while being lunatics. The fire just isn't there anymore.
Local Takes: Buccaneers
Sander Philipse from Bucs Nation says that safety Mark Barron has hit a rookie wall after a strong start to the season:
The same thing happened to Eric Berry and Earl Thomas in their rookie seasons, so this is hardly irregular, but it is a problem right now. Barron hasn't exactly blown many coverages, but he hasn't made the impact he made earlier in the season. He was drafted by the Bucs not just because he was a force against the run, where he hasn't been excelling either in recent games, but he was also drafted because he could play man coverage against versatile tight ends.
Follow the Fun
Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Canal Street Chonicles and Bucs Nation, for more analysis and highlights from the game.
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
I think tomorrow I'll use the written word to rip Roger Goodell a new asshole.— Canal St. Chronicles (@CSCtweet) December 12, 2012
Ding ding ding RT @pewterreport Sullivan said Freeman's season has been a roller coaster all year. Still a work in progress.— Sander Philipse (@Bucs_Nation) December 12, 2012
Saints beat writer, @LarryHolder
Goodell when asked if he owed the #Saints players an apology, he said, "No."— Larry Holder (@LarryHolder) December 12, 2012
Buccaneers beat writer, @HolderStephen
The pick: 31-28, Saints
The Saints are 3.5-point favorites in most books, but are favored by as much as four in others, according to OddsShark.