Monday Night Football Preview: Bucs hoping to extend lead atop NFC South over visiting Saints

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tyler Kaufman/AP/Shutterstock (13414753hf) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play against the New Orleans Saints during an NFL football game, in New Orleans Buccaneers Saints Football, New Orleans, United States – 18 Sep 2022

Monday Night Football Preview: Bucs hoping to extend lead atop NFC South over visiting Saints

New Orleans Saints (4-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6)

Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. CT/ESPN

The New Orleans Saints have been a thorn in Tom Brady’s side since he arrived in Tampa Bay, winning four of five regular season matchups. The notable exception happened in Week 2 this season when the Buccaneers’ 10-point win at the Caesars Superdome flipped the script. Tampa improved to 2-0 at the time but has gone 3-6 since without ever looking noticeably dominant. Now 5-6, it’s hard to feel as if the Bucs have met expectations. In an NFC South division without a team over .500, it may not matter.

New Orleans has wandered through the abyss all season, undone by poor play on both sides of the ball, depending on the game. Last week may have been a new low for the Saints, a 13-0 loss at San Francisco in which New Orleans averaged 2.9 yards per rush and fumbled the football away twice. Still, the Saints only trail the Buccaneers in the NFC South by a game and a half. With a win Monday night, New Orleans would find itself just a Bucs’ loss in San Francisco away from tying for the division lead. New Orleans’ schedule is friendly down the stretch, too. Outside of Week 16’s trip to Philadelphia, the Saints do not play another team with a winning record the rest of the season – and with their bye still to come next week, they will be plenty rested heading into the home stretch.

If the Saints are to turn around the 2022 season and make a run at a playoff berth, they’ll need to make it happen on defense. New Orleans has talented players at their disposal on all three levels on that side of the ball, and it showed in their first matchup with the Buccaneers. Tom Brady leads the NFC in passing yards this season but only finished with 190 yards in New Orleans on 18-for-34 passing. New Orleans turned the ball over five times that day and has turned the football over more than any team in the NFL so far this season.

On the other side of the spectrum, Tampa Bay has only turned the football over only nine times all season. Given quarterback Tom Brady’s gaudy yardage numbers and the Bucs’ apparent ability to take care of the football, it is surprising in a vacuum that the Tampa Bay offense only averages 18.2 points per game. One of the league’s worst rushing attacks (averaging just 3.3 yards per carry) is at least partially responsible for the Buccaneers’ malaise. Another issue has been an inability to convert yardage gained into touchdowns when Tampa Bay gets into the end zone.

Given the upcoming schedule for the Buccaneers, Monday’s game is of the utmost importance. Week 14’s matchup at San Francisco will be a stiff challenge, as will Week 15’s visit from the reigning AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals.

Tampa Bay and New Orleans are each flawed football teams, but neither entered the season with lofty expectations by accident. Monday night’s game is a golden opportunity for both to prove that those expectations were deserved.

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