You don’t have to be a weatherman at a local TV station or a passenger on Noah’s ark to know that it’s going to be raining in Tampa Bay, Florida during the match-up between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a little over 48 hours.
As a matter of fact: Saints head coach Sean Payton says that you should absolutely expect that it will.
“It doesn’t look like it’s going to rain,” Payton said to New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill yesterday. “It’s going to rain, 95 percent chance of rain.”
As a result, the team has been making preparations to play in weather conditions that the forecast says could reach perhaps even biblical-like proportions. The Saints had the team doing wet-ball drills at yesterday’s practice and made sure that every player on the roster will have the type of cleats required for wet field conditions.
Payton and other team officials even know the direction and wind speed in which the rain will come at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.
“There will be some wind, 10-12 miles per hour,” Payton said. “It will head from their locker room to the pirate ship.”
Nevertheless, the Saints have dealt with this issue in the past, and feel confident that they’ll be alright once the game gets underway in this rematch from their previous meeting (a 48-40 Buccaneers victory and one of only two Saints losses on the season) at the Superdome back in Week #1.
“We’ve been there before where we were sent in at halftime to go eat oranges for a half hour and stretch and come back out and play,” Payton said referencing a previous game from the 2013 season. “It’s South Florida.”
As it turns out, the wet field conditions could potentially hurt both teams; which means that even though both love to throw the ball (and have done so with notable success this season), the team with the better running attack should be the team that’s slightly favored.
However, the field conditions seemingly would work in favor for New Orleans, since the Black and Gold have a very distinct advantage over Tampa in the running game.
The Saints are currently ranked 9th overall in rushing (127.4 yards per game), while Tampa — who leads the NFL in total yards and passing yards — are only ranked 26th overall at (98.2) yards per contest.
Translation: you can expect to see a heavy dose of the Saints’ 1-2 punch at running back featuring star RB’s Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
Ingram didn’t play against Tampa in that previous Week #1 contest at the Superdome, as he was serving a 4-game suspension, But he’s rushed for 100-plus yards in two of the past four games against the Buccaneers.
But in three career games against Tampa, Kamara has averaged 140.3 yards from scrimmage; has scored four TD’s (two rushing and two receiving), and his elusive running style looks to be problematic for a Buccaneers defense that is ranked 21st overall (giving up 121.0 yards per game) at stopping the run.
Conversely: the Saints have the NFL’s #1 ranked run defense, yielding only 75.3 yards per game.
Just yesterday, Kamara was announced as the next recipient of the Sports Illustrated 2018 Breakout of the Year award, which will be presented to him at the magazine’s Sportsperson of the Year Awards Show next Tuesday night at the Beverly Hills Hilton in California. The program will be broadcast next Thursday on NBCSN at 8 p.m.
Here is the official statement given by Sports Illustrated on Kamara’s selection:
“One of the joys of being a sports fan is witnessing a performance that someday we’ll look back on as the moment that a star was born. SI’s Breakout of the Year – recent honorees have been All-Stars Joel Embiid (NBA) and Francisco Lindor (MLB) – recognizes that spirit of achievement and arrival”.
“This year the honor goes to New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who has followed up on a strong performance as a rookie in 2017 with a dominant one in 2018. Kamara is among the league leaders in touchdowns and rushing yards and is a key force in one of the league’s most explosive offenses.”
As a rookie last season, the 23-year old superstar totaled 1,554 scrimmage yards, 14 total touchdowns, and averaged 6.1 yards per carry, and 10.2 yards per reception. For those accomplishments, he was named the 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year.
This season, the 2nd-year pro has rushed for 742 yards and 11 TDs on the ground, while hauling in 65 pass receptions for another 555 yards and 4 TDs on the receiving end, for a total of 1,297 yards from scrimmage (106.1 yards per contest), which ranks him 7th overall in the NFL.
And without question: you can expect him to add to those numbers and the accolades mentioned above, on the wet field this Sunday at rainy Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay.
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. You can view the rest of his Saints coverage and several feature articles here.