NFC South Rivals Meet
Tampa, FL - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have used three straight wins to climb into a first-place tie in the NFC South, and are set to begin a stretch of games against division rivals that could make or break their season.
The New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, are also back in the playoff picture after winning their second straight and are also gearing up for an important series of division games.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Buccaneers –3.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 54% of bets for this game have been placed on Saints +3.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
The Buccaneers look to continue their pursuit of a second straight division title on Sunday when they host the surging Saints, who are trying to make a late-season push for a playoff berth.
Tampa Bay (8-3) moved into a tie with Carolina atop the NFC South after Sunday's 38-20 win over Detroit, coupled with the Panthers' 45-28 loss to third-place Atlanta.
The Bucs now have the opportunity to separate themselves from the rest of the division, as they travel to Carolina and Atlanta in the next two weeks.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden likes the Bucs' playoff chances, but they aren't taking anything for granted.
"It's going to be a really difficult game Sunday. We won't look any further than that," Gruden said. "We've got a long way to go yet, but I'm really proud of our team for hanging in there."
The Saints (6-5), meanwhile, were struggling earlier this season, but appear to have hit their stride.
New Orleans is coming off an impressive 51-29 win over Green Bay on Monday to move above .500 for the first time since opening the season with a 24-20 home win over Tampa Bay.
The Saints are in last place in the NFC South - two games out of first - but with remaining games against all three division opponents, a postseason run is definitely achievable. New Orleans hosts Atlanta next Sunday and concludes the regular season at the Superdome against Carolina.
"We're kind of in the middle of pack, just like a lot of other teams," quarterback Drew Brees. "This is the time where a few of those teams start to separate themselves and we want to be one of those teams."
The Saints lead the NFL in total offense (411.9 yards per game) and are fourth in scoring (28.8 points per game), and should have the explosive Reggie Bush back after he missed the last four games since arthroscopic knee surgery.
"I'm definitely a go this week," Bush said after Wednesday's practice, even though he did not participate fully. "I know I said that last week, but it's definitely a go this week. ... I felt great. It's the best it's felt."
Bush had 51 rushing yards and 112 receiving yards in the season opener against the Bucs.
Brees had another outstanding game on Monday, as he was 20-of-26 for 323 yards, four touchdowns and a career-high 157.5 quarterback rating. He has 3,574 yards passing, and is on pace to break Dan Marino's 1984 record of 5,084 yards passing in a season.
Brees picked apart a Packers secondary that came in ranked third in the NFL (176.3 ypg), and faces a Bucs team that is second in the league in pass defense (174.6 ypg) and has allowed an average of just 117.2 passing yards in its last five games.
This was not a problem for Brees in the season opener, though, as he completed 23-of-32 passes for 343 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Since signing with the Saints in 2006, Brees has thrown for 1,267 yards, 10 touchdowns and two picks in six games versus Tampa Bay.
Brees has had trouble finding his rhythm on the road, though, as he has thrown five touchdown passes and seven interceptions in five road games compared to 17 TD passes and four picks in five home games.
The Saints have also struggled on the road, as they opened the season with four straight road losses before a 30-20 win at Kansas City on Nov. 16.
The Bucs have had no trouble defending their home field, going 5-0 at Raymond James Stadium for the first time in franchise history.
Tampa Bay is led by a defense that is third in the league in scoring (16.4 ppg) and fourth in total defense (288.9 ypg). The Bucs have allowed 417 total yards in their last two games, and forced three turnovers in last Sunday's comeback win over the Lions.
Tampa Bay trailed Detroit 17-0 after the first quarter, before rallying for five unanswered touchdowns.
"We don't seem to make it easy on ourself and it's not always pretty," said Jeff Garcia, who passed for 165 yards and two TDs. "But we find ways to do it."
Garcia has been another reason for the Bucs' success, as the team is 5-1 since he regained the starting job he lost after a poor performance in the season opener. At the Superdome on Sept. 7, Garcia led just one scoring drive, and finished 24-of-41 for 221 yards, one touchdown and one interception. In seven career games against the Saints, Garcia has thrown for 1,821 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions.
The Bucs swept the season series in 2007 and 2005 after losing both meetings in 2006.
Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
TAMPA BAY is 10-8 against the spread versus NEW ORLEANS since 1992
NEW ORLEANS is 10-9 straight up against TAMPA BAY since 1992
11 of 19 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
TAMPA BAY is 3-2 against the spread versus NEW ORLEANS over the last 3 seasons
NEW ORLEANS is 3-2 straight up against TAMPA BAY over the last 3 seasons
5 of 5 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at TAMPA BAY since 1992
NEW ORLEANS is 5-3 against the spread versus TAMPA BAY since 1992
NEW ORLEANS is 5-4 straight up against TAMPA BAY since 1992
5 of 9 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at TAMPA BAY over the last 3 seasons.
TAMPA BAY is 1-1 against the spread versus NEW ORLEANS over the last 3 seasons
TAMPA BAY is 1-1 straight up against NEW ORLEANS over the last 3 seasons
2 of 2 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
[CB] Tracy Porter IR - Wrist - 10/07/08
[PK] Martin Gramatica IR - Groin - 10/08/08
[LB] Mark Simoneau IR - Back - 09/12/08
[FB] Mike Karney expected to miss 2 - 4 weeks - Knee - 11/10/08
[DE] Charles Grant IR - Tricep - 11/03/08
[DT] Brian Young IR - Knee - 11/16/08
[DT] Montavious Stanley IR - Bicep - 10/20/08
[TE] Mark Campbell injured last game, %27?%27 - Knee - 11/16/08
[C] Jonathan Goodwin missed last game, "?" - Knee - 11/14/08
(!) [RB] Reggie Bush missed last game, "?" - Knee - 11/16/08
[DB] Aaron Glenn missed last game, "?" - Ankle - 11/16/08
[CB] Mike McKenzie IR - Knee - 11/09/08
[RB] Aaron Stecker IR - Hamstring - 11/19/08
[S] Jermaine Phillips is out indefinitely - Arm - 10/28/08
[RB] Earnest Graham expected to miss rest of season - Knee - 11/17/08
[TE] Alex Smith missed last game, "?" - Ankle - 11/16/08
[WR] Maurice Stovall IR - Hamstring - 11/12/08
[FB] Byron Storer IR - Knee - 10/13/08
[RB] Carnell Williams is "?" - Knee - 11/16/08
[LB] Geno Hayes injured last game, doubtful - Knee - 11/17/08
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Posted: 11/26/08 10:33PM ET