SERIES HISTORY: 54th regular-season meeting. Saints lead series, 32-21, including a 14-9 mark in Tampa. The Buccaneers have won the last two meetings, prevailing 48-40 in the season opener in the Superdome and 31-24 in the regular-season finale in Tampa last New Year's Eve. Tampa's first NFL victory was a 33-14 triumph in the first meeting in 1977 in the Superdome. The Bucs had lost their first 26 NFL game before that.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Saints winning the turnover battle would go a long way toward their next win and rebounding from last Thursday's 13-10 loss to Dallas. The Saints are plus-9 and the Bucs are minus-18. But during their two-game winning streak, the Buccaneers have six takeaways and have given the ball away just once and in the first meeting the Bucs had two takeaways and the Saints none. Tampa Bay will need to have an advantage in turnovers to win again.
The Saints will try to get wide receiver Michael Thomas back on track after three relatively quiet games and feed the Bucs a steady dose of Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara. They have 16 sacks in the last four games and hope to continue that kind of pressure to force Jameis Winston into mistakes.
Winston is capable, but he is placing a premium on protecting the football and has not had a turnover since returning as the starter, both victories. Controlling the football and putting more of an emphasis on being balanced has helped protect the Bucs defense.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
--OUT: T Terron Armstead (pectoral)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
--OUT: S Justin Evans (toe), WR DeSean Jackson (thumb), S Isaiah Johnson (concussion)
--DOUBTFUL: CB Carlton Davos (knee)
--QUESTIONABLE: T Demar Dotson (hamstring), CB Brent Grimes (knee), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee), CB M.J. Stewart (foot)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Saints RB Alvin Kamara vs. Bucs LB Lavonte David. Kamara is third in the NFL with 11 rushing touchdowns. David (knee) returned last Sunday from missing two games and had 12 tackles, a sack and tipped a pass that was intercepted.
--Saints CB Marshon Lattimore vs. Bucs WR Mike Evans. These two have had some passionate battles in three meetings since Lattimore entered the league last season. Evans shoved Lattimore in the back during the first meeting last season when he had just one catch (on six targets) for 13 yards. In the rematch, Evans had five catches (on 13 targets) for 55 yards. But in the first meeting this season, Evans had a catch on all seven targets for 147 yards and a touchdown. Evans is a key to the Bucs' getting their No. 1 pass offense going while Lattimore is the Saints' No. 1 weapon in their pass coverage.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Saints QB Drew Brees is coming off his worst game of the season, having completed 18-of-28 passes for 127 yards with one touchdown and one interception, just his third of the season. The Saints' 176 total yards are the fewest since Brees and head coach Sean Payton arrived in 2006. Neither Brees nor the offense performs poorly very often, but when either happens, Brees usually plays very well the following game and Tampa Bay is 28th in pass defense (274.4 yards per game).
FAST FACTS: SAINTS QB DREW BREES leads NFL in comp. pct. (75.5 pct.) & rating (123.2) & ranks 3rd in pass TDs (30). Completed 37 of 45 (82.2 pct.) for 439 yards with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 129.5 rating in last meeting. Aims for his 5th in row vs. TB with 100+ rating. In 3 games vs. division in 2018, has 1,006 pass yards (335.3 per game) with 10 TDs vs. 1 INT for 127.9 rating. ... RB ALVIN KAMARA has 421 scrimmage yards (140.3 per game) & 6 TDs (4 rush, 2 rec.) in 3 career meetings. Aims for his 4th in row vs. TB with 100+ scrimmage yards & TD. ... RB MARK INGRAM II has 100+ rush yards in 2 of his past 4. ... WR MICHAEL THOMAS is 1 of 2 in NFL (ADAM THIELEN) with 90+ receptions (91) & 8+ TD catches (8). Had career-high 16 receptions for 180 yards & TD in last meeting. ... Rookie WR KEITH KIRKWOOD aims for 3rd in row with TD catch. ... DE CAMERON JORDAN had 7 tackles, 2 sacks, FF & FR last week. Aims for his 3rd in row with 2+ sacks. ... DT DAVID ONYEMATA set career-highs in tackles (7) & sacks (3) & had 1st-career FF last week. ... CB MARSHON LATTIMORE had career-high 10 tackles, FF & FR in Week 13. Aims for his 3rd in row with FF. ... BUCCANEERS QB JAMEIS WINSTON passed for 249 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 114.4 rating last week. Aims for his 4th in row with 2+ TD passes & 110+ rating. In his past 3, has completed 61 of 84 (72.6 pct.) with 6 TDs vs. 1 INT for 119.1 rating. ... RB PEYTON BARBER had rush TD in Week 13. Aims for his 4th in row with rush TD. ... WR MIKE EVANS ranks 3rd in NFL with 1,121 rec. yards in 2018. Has 16 receptions for 284 yards (94.7 per game) & TD in his past 3. ... WR CHRIS GODWIN had 5 receptions for 101 yards & TD in Week 13, his 2nd career 100-yard game. ... WR ADAM HUMPHRIES has 5 rec. TDs in his past 5. ... DE JASON PIERRE-PAUL ties for 4th in NFL with 11.5 sacks. Aims for his 4th in row & 3rd in row at home with sack. ... S ANDREW ADAMS tied franchise record with career-high 3 INTs in Week 13. Is 5th NFL player since 2010 with 3+ INTs in single game. ... LB LAVONTE DAVID led team with 12 tackles & had sack last week.
PREDICTION: New Orleans had 10 days of rest and is smarting from a disappointing loss to Dallas and will be motivated by the loss along with the chance of catching the Rams for home-field in the NFC. The Saints are one game back of the Rams and own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
OUR PICK: Saints, 38-17