Could the Tampa Bay Buccaneers actually be a playoff team? Almost surely not if they don't beat the visiting New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Check our free NFL pick inside.
Still Payton's Place?
You hear more and more rumors that this will be the final season in New Orleans for Saints coach Sean Payton as the team is 4-8 and thus essentially almost a lock to finish with a losing record for a second straight year and out of the playoffs again. The Saints reportedly won't fire Payton but would consider trading him -- the Miami Dolphins are thought to covet Payton, who has two years left after this one on his contract. The Titans, Colts and Browns could be in the market for his services as well. That Indianapolis job would be very enticing with Andrew Luck already in place. Coaching trades are rare in the NFL but they have happened; Bill Parcells was traded twice!
New Orleans looked like it had turned things around with a three-game winning streak starting in Week 6 but that was fool's gold as it has since lost four in a row. The team fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan following an embarrassing effort on that side of the ball in a 47-14 loss at Washington on Nov. 15. That unit played better under new coordinator Dennis Allen (the former Raiders head coach) in a Week 12 24-6 loss in Houston. But it was terrible again this past Sunday in a 41-38 home defeat to Carolina. The Panthers had 497 yards and 33 first downs, with Cam Newton throwing five TD passes and he could have had seven if not for two drops by Cats receiver Ted Ginn Jr. The Saints are last in total defense (425.2 yards allowed per game) and scoring defense (31.7 ppg). They have allowed 35 touchdown passes, on pace to shatter the NFL record of 40 set by Denver in 1963.
Drew Brees threw for 282 yards, three scores and a pick in the Carolina loss. He now has 110 career touchdown passes in the month of December, tying Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the third-most career in that month. Up next is Brett Favre with 116 and then perhaps next season Peyton Manning (134).
The Saints are 5-6-1 against the spread on NFL odds and 7-4-1 'over/under.'
Winston Proving Worthy Of No. 1 Pick
Of course the Bucs were a wretched 2-14 last season but that earned them the No. 1 overall pick and the chance to take Florida State quarterback at that spot. The Bucs are thrilled with Winston so far and at 6-6 they are still in the wild-card race. Tampa is currently No. 7 in the NFC standings. After this game, the team visits St. Louis, hosts Chicago and then travels to unbeaten Carolina in Week 17 -- maybe the Panthers have nothing to play for by then.
Tampa won for a third time in its past four games this past Sunday,beating the sliding Falcons 23-19 to complete the season sweep (that could be relevant in the wild-card race). Winston hit Mike Evans for the game-winning six-yard touchdown pass with 1:39 left. It was the third game-winning drive of Winston's career and he's back squarely in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race. Winston has seven TD passes and just two picks in his past three games.
The Bucs learned that rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander's regular season is over on Monday as he is beginning to serve his four-game suspension for PED use. He was a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate with 93 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and nine passes defensed. The Bucs are hoping to get back Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy for this game. He missed the Falcons win with a hand injury.
Tampa Bay is 6-6 ATS on NFL picks and 6-6 O/U.
In Week 2 in New Orleans, the Bucs were 9.5-point underdogs (total of 47 point) off their ugly Week 1 home loss to Tennessee, but Tampa Bay upset the Saints 26-19 to crush Survivor Pools all across the nation -- the Saints were down 23-7 entering the fourth quarter but could only get as close as 23-19. Winston was 14-for-21 for 207 yards and a touchdown while not being picked off. Doug Martin rushed 21 times for 78 yards. Brees completed 24-for-38 for 255 yards, a touchdown and a pick. He admitted afterward that his throwing shoulder was bothering him after an early hit in the game and Brees would miss Week 3 due to that injury. The Saints were held to 323 yards and turned it over three times while committing 10 penalties for 115 yards.
Give the points, go 'under.' The Saints are 2-5 ATS in their past seven road games. The Bucs are 4-0 ATS in their past four vs. teams with a losing record. The 'under' is 6-1 in the Bucs' past seven vs. the NFC South. The 'under' is 11-3 in the past 14 meetings.
NFL Picks: Tampa Bay -3.5 & Under 50.5 at 5Dimes