We’re already on to Week 2 of the NFL regular season, and things will quickly come to a head between the New Orleans (1-0) Saints and the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0). The only two NFC South teams to win their season-opening matchups will get an inside track on the division title race with another win on Sunday, helping to further distance themselves from their defeated opponent as well as the lowly Atlanta Falcons (0-1) and Carolina Panthers (0-1).
So let’s get to the preview. Here are six things you need to know going into this game:
When: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 12:00 p.m. CT
Where: Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, La.
Broadcast map, via 506sports.com:
Last meeting: Saints 9, Buccaneers 0 (Dec. 19, 2021)
Everything suggested the Buccaneers would win this game without breaking a sweat. Sean Payton was working from home due to COVID-19 protocols, making then-defensive coordinator Dennis Allen the de facto head coach in his absence. Taysom Hill had been recently named the starting quarterback after a series of blowout losses under Trevor Siemian, and he would be playing without Terron Armstead or Ryan Ramczyk bookending the offensive line. Tampa Bay declared a first-ever “redout” for its sellout crowd in anticipation of winning the NFC South that Sunday night. 99% of experts picked against the Saints, who were double-digit underdogs on the road.
What followed was one of the finest defensive game plans you’ll ever see. Tom Brady was sacked four times in prime-time, a season-high for him, while throwing an interception and losing a fumble. His offense posted its second-lowest first down conversions (17) and total yards (302) on the year. It was just the third time in Brady’s career that his team was shut out from scoring, something that hadn’t happened since 2006. The Saints pass rush overwhelmed his protection up front and the secondary clamped his receivers in irons. By the end of the night Brady was cursing Allen and the entire New Orleans sideline in frustration.
Buccaneers QB: Tom Brady
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
He may be the greatest quarterback of all time, but Brady hasn’t played like it against the Saints. New Orleans has frustrated him better than any other team, posting the best points differential (+66) of all of his past opponents. They’ve sacked him more than any team besides the AFC East rivals he saw for a few decades (28 times) while taking away the fifth-most interceptions (11) and fumbles (6) in Brady’s pro career. They aren’t afraid of him, trusting their pass rush to get home and their secondary to shut down his receivers. It’s a formula that has worked well so far. Whenever the Saints avoid turning over the ball themselves, they send Brady out with a loss.
Buccaneers players to watch
AP Photo/Jason Behnken
RB Leonard Fournette: He led the NFC South in rushing yards (127) through Week 1, and the Saints just got gashed by Cordarrelle Patterson. They need to tighten up in run defense with Fournette up next.
CB Carlton Davis: He played a ton of snaps in coverage (50) and was targeted 8 times in Week 1, but Davis yielded just 2 receptions for 25 yards with a single first down conversion. Davis was the last corner to face Michael Thomas at full health, so this has the makings of a serious grudge match.
WR Mike Evans: The battles between Evans and Marshon Lattimore are the stuff of legend, and we’ll see the next chapter here. With Chris Godwin and Russell Gage on the mend, Evans should receive plenty of targets even with a rejuvenated Julio Jones in the mix.
LB Lavonte David: A forever-underrated player, David has been one of the best linebackers of his generation and he’ll be someone for New Orleans to account for again on Sunday. He’s still a stellar run defender with the chops to punish passers that overlook him in coverage.
LT Josh Wells: Donovan Smith may not be able to play after suffering a Week 1 elbow injury, in which case his backup, Wells, gets the start at left tackle. And that’s a problem. He quickly gave up a sack after stepping in against the Cowboys. This is a matchup Marcus Davenport could exploit rushing off the right side of the Saints defensive line.
DL Akiem Hicks: Things won’t get easier for Cesar Ruiz and the Saints interior line with Hicks and nose tackle Vita Vea coming to town. They’re a dangerous tandem lining up inside of the formation, having each created multiple pressures in Week 1.
Three Saints players were inactive in Week 1 due to injuries: cornerback Paulson Adebo (ankle), running back Dwayne Washington (hamstring), and wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith (shoulder). We’ll be looking for updates on their status, as well as the condition of star running back Alvin Kamara (rib). The first Week 2 injury report drops Wednesday afternoon.
For Tampa Bay, they’re waiting on progress from left tackle Donovan Smith (elbow) and wide receiver Chris Godwin (hamstring). Rookie cornerback Zyon McCollum (hamstring) was inactive due to injury last week.
Caesars Superdome's home opener
Here's the Know Before You Go information the Saints are sending to season-ticket holders to help them on Sunday… pic.twitter.com/UVLbvHIWTt
— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) September 14, 2022
It’s going to be a blast to see fans packing the seats again in New Orleans’ home opener, though we’ll have to see how well traffic is managed against the extensive and ongoing renovations. If you’re going to the game, plan to get there earlier than in the past, be prepared for long lines, and most importantly, remember to get loud when Tampa Bay has the ball. This is a huge opportunity for Jameis Winston to claim a win over the team that gave up on him after they knocked him out of last year’s meeting with an injury.