The New Orleans Saints will host their NFC South division rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this Sunday afternoon. Kickoff is slated for 12 p.m. Central, and the game will be televised regionally by FOX. The game will also be broadcast locally on WVUE-TV FOX Channel 8.
Coming into this contest, the Saints have a 3-1 win-loss record, and will be seeking their third straight win as well as their fourth win out of their first five games of the 2019 NFL season.
All the more impressive: the Black and Gold have won back-to-back games as heavy underdogs in the past two weeks against NFC playoff contenders the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys, in spite of the absence of starting veteran QB Drew Brees. He is expected to remain out of the team’s starting lineup for at least another four games until the torn thumb ligament in his throwing hand fully heals from surgery.
Meanwhile, the (2-2) Buccaneers will be looking for their third win in the past four games after their embarrassing season-opening loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers. The Buccaneers are in the midst of a “turnaround” and have become much more competitive this season under first-year head coach and long-time NFL offensive “guru” Bruce Arians. Many observers and analysts are excited about Tampa Bay’s future moving forward.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding this Sunday’s contest, the Bucs shouldn’t be taken lightly; NFC South divisional games are ALWAYS hard-fought, and this game will be no exception.
With that in mind, here are Big Easy Magazine’s 5 bold predictions, for this Sunday’s contest.
#5. Saints Left Tackle Terron Armstead Struggles in Pass Protection Against Superstar Bucs Outside Linebacker (and NFL Sacks Leader) Shaquil Barrett
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 2, 2019
After he signed with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent a few months ago following five seasons with the Denver Broncos, the 26-year-old Barrett has had a “breakout” season in his first year for the Bucs thus far. He currently is the NFL leader in QB sacks (nine).
With that brilliant start to the season, Barrett has quickly emerged as an early favorite to win this year’s 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Given the fact that he has three more sacks than the next closest player (Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns), and actually has more sacks at the moment than 10 NFL teams, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Shaquil Barrett had three sacks in less than SEVEN minutes last night. 😱
— NFL (@NFL) September 13, 2019
Saints’ left tackle Terron Armstead should draw the assignment on most snaps against the talented and speedy Barrett coming off the of the left outside edge, and although Armstead has held his own previously against a handful of reputable pass-rushers in recent seasons, he will struggle in this contest against Barrett, who will notch 2 more sacks and get in several more QB “hits” on Saints back-up QB Teddy Bridgewater.
#4. Saints Defensive Tackle Sheldon Rankins Notches His First Sack Since Returning to the Line-Up From a Torn Achilles Tendon Injury
— ⚜NOLASaintsNewz⚜ (@NOLASaintsNewz) October 2, 2019
As most Saints fans are aware by now, 4th-year veteran defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins has made a near-miraculous and much earlier than expected recovery from Achilles tendon surgery. The incredibly-talented interior pass-rusher suffered a near-catastrophic injury in the 1st quarter of the team’s NFC Divisional Playoff Round win over the Philadelphia Eagles at the Superdome this past January. Rankins beat the recovery prognosis of the medical experts by several months after undergoing a period of intense and extensive rehab throughout the course of the recent off-season and made his season debut last week in the Black and Gold’s 12-10 win over the Cowboys. He played a total of 38 snaps (66%) and at times was able to generate some heat on Dallas QB Dak Prescott, but failed to notch any sacks.
Loved seeing #Saints DT Sheldon Rankins back on the field. There was a little rust, but whew, he looks strong.
NOLA runs a T->T stunt. Generally in this facilitator role the leading T gets caught in trash. Not Big Rank. Great hands, strength, to split and get a QB hit. pic.twitter.com/1j7nh3mSfF
— Deuce Windham (@RevDeuceWindham) October 1, 2019
But in Sunday’s contest against the Bucs, Rankins will finally be able to put the proverbial “final touch” on his entire recovery process, as he records his first sack of 2019 against Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston early in the 2nd Quarter.
#3. The Saints’ Secondary Has Mixed Results Against the Top-Rated Buccaneers’ Receiving Tandem of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin
How good have the Bucs receivers been this season? Both Chris Godwin (WR3) and Mike Evans (WR4) are top 5 WRs in fantasy football right now.
If that holds, they would be the first set of teammates to finish as top 5 WRs since Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in 2014 w/DEN. pic.twitter.com/h05gP8yj5c
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 1, 2019
Following an embarrassing loss in their season-opening loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers, the Buccaneers have bounced back and come into this contest with a (2-2) win-loss record, which includes their shocking 55-40 win last Sunday in Southern California against the heavily-favored (and previously undefeated) Los Angeles Rams.
The main reason for Tampa Bay’s most recent success is the implementation of the Bucs’ new offensive scheme under first-year head coach and long-time NFL offensive “guru” Bruce Arians. He has worked extensively with the much-maligned and often-criticized Winston on improving his passing techniques during the offseason. In the process, Arians now has the Buccaneers passing attack firing on all cylinders.
That passing attack is led by the dynamic new NFL receiving tandem of veteran Bucs WR’s Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, both of whom are considered “superstars” at the position. This essentially gives Tampa not one but two top-notch/starting-caliber pass catchers and playmakers together on the field at one time. That will provide yet another difficult challenge for the Saints’ defensive secondary who will have mixed results after yielding well over 100 yards receiving and a TD to each, but seemingly are able to prevent Tampa from doing any major damage (especially on the scoreboard) — at least up until the end of the game.
#2. Saints’ All-Pro RB Alvin Kamara Has Yet Another Great Performance Against Tampa Bay
— JuCo Football Forer (@JuCoFootballACE) January 1, 2018
Unmistakably, a main factor as to why the Saints have been able to continue winning games in recent weeks despite the loss of Drew Brees from the starting line-up, has been the outstanding play of third-year superstar All-Pro RB Alvin Kamara. In his four games this season, Kamara has carried the ball 59 times for 280 yards rushing and a TD, but has done the majority of his damage as a receiver out of the backfield (20 catches on 24 total targets, for 199 receiving yards and a TD).
Those numbers have been both an integral part and one of the main catalysts for the Black and Gold’s somewhat surprising back-to-back wins over the Seahawks and Cowboys in the past two games; and now Kamara gets to face the one NFL team (Tampa Bay) whom he’s enjoyed some very notable success against in the past, which dates all the way back to his rookie season in 2017.
This Sunday at the Superdome won’t be any different. Kamara’s speed and shiftiness are too difficult for the overly-aggressive Buccaneers defense to account for at times, and he rushes for 86 yards on 18 carries and adds another 78 receiving yards on five catches and a TD that gives New Orleans the lead midway through the 3rd Quarter.
#1. Late in the 4th Quarter, the Score is Tied at 17-17 When….
Both of these teams are deeply engaged in the heart of a typical, physically hard-fought NFC South Division battle; they play to a frenetic finish in front of a sold-out Superdome crowd with just over two minutes remaining, while giving fans a memory that will last a lifetime.
Tampa Bay gets the ball back at the 2:26 mark on the game clock following a Saints punt, when Winston is INTERCEPTED by red-hot Saints strong safety Vonn Bell, who continues his stellar play from recent weeks by taking the ball back 33 yards for a “Pick 6” TD and gives the Black and Gold a 24-17 lead.
But the Buccaneers still have just under two minutes remaining to try and tie the score and send the game into overtime, if the Saints’ pass defense lets their guard down after an otherwise solid performance throughout the majority of the contest.
As luck would have it (and unfortunately for New Orleans), that’s exactly what happens — when Saints #2 CB Eli Apple falls down while trying to run stride-for-stride with Godwin in pass coverage, and gives up a jaw-dropping and shocking 71-yard TD reception — which ties the score again at 24-24, as the two teams now head for overtime.
Tampa Bay wins the coin toss, but after gaining a pair of 1st downs that takes the ball to near their own 42-yard line, they are forced to punt. Buccaneers punter Bradley Pinion boots the ball high in the air, and it’s fielded cleanly by Saints rookie punt returner Deonte Harris, who at first appears would be better off calling for a “fair catch,” but decides to run with the ball anyway.
Pulling the football in with his hands at his own 11-yard line, the swift-moving Harris makes not one, not two, but THREE Buccaneers special teams defenders/punt “gunners” miss badly on tackle attempts, and runs all the way down the left sideline in front of an ecstatic Saints bench, as the team and fans both explode in unified exuberance watching Harris “take it to the house” for an unforgettable 89-yard punt return for the game-winning touchdown.
FINAL SCORE: SAINTS 30, BUCS 24 — OVERTIME
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. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius