Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6 SU, 9-5 ATS) vs. New Orleans Saints (6-8 SU, 9-5 ATS)
Week 16 NFL
Date/Time: Saturday, December 24, 2016 at 4:25PM EST
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: TB -3/NO +3
Over/Under Total: 52
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to the Superdome on Saturday to face the New Orleans Saints. It's a key NFC South matchup, with the Bucs still in the playoff and division hunt at 8-6. They lost a tough one on Sunday, fighting their way back into the game against Dallas after falling behind, only to see a late Dallas spurt cost them what would have been a huge win. Despite the loss, the Bucs have now covered six spreads in a row. For the Saints, the picture is not rosy at 6-8, but after losing 4 of their last 5, they marched into Arizona and scored a nice 48-41 win. And despite not being in winning form lately, the Saints showed they still have some fight in them.
These division rivals already tangled a short time ago on December 11. The Buccaneers took an ugly 11-6 win, with their improving defense giving the Saints a lot of issues. The Bucs picked off Drew Brees three times and they were the key to the game with the Bucs' offense struggling massively at home against a defense where one would have suspected more production. With Tampa laboring in the first game with this being in the Superdome with a more on-point Brees, things could be different.
Again, the loss was a tough pill to swallow on Sunday night for the Bucs and after playing Dallas late Sunday, they face a Saturday road game and need to find a way to deliver. A loss here could take the postseason out of the equation for the Buccaneers, who still need help, as Sunday's loss cost them with Atlanta winning. To their credit, however, the Bucs came back from a 17-3 deficit on the road to a good Cowboys team and took a 20-17 lead late in the third quarter. It didn't work out and the defeat cost them, but it's still a testament to the team that they were able to battle the way they did. When they started the season 1-3 and then 3-5, not a lot of people even thought they'd be in this position. With the growth of the defense over the course of the season, the maturity of Jameis Winston, and the handiwork of first-year head coach Dirk Koetter, the Bucs are still in it and a definite team to watch moving ahead to next season and beyond.
Winston didn't have his best day against Dallas on Sunday Night Football, throwing three picks on just 17-for-35 passing. He connected on TD throws to Adam Humphries and Cameron Brate. Running back Doug Martin hasn't really been able to show the form that saw him second in rushing last season. Since returning from a hamstring injury that cost him two months, he's been off his best form. Top Bucs receiver Mike Evans was quiet on Sunday. And the O-line didn't have its best performance, with Winston under a ton of pressure, especially late. And not that it's all their fault, but the line shares some of the blame in the lack of a consistently-applied Tampa ground-game.
The Tampa defense has made major strides over the second half of the season. Their ability to start realizing their potential in such a timely fashion has been a major key to the overall success of the Bucs. They have 26 turnovers on the season and three picks have been brought back for touchdowns. Tampa also has three TDs on returns this season. The middle is really tough with Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David. In their last 6 games, the Bucs have allowed just 90 points and that includes the 26 they gave up to Dallas on Sunday night. It's a group that has shown improvement.
One of those games was two weeks ago against this very Saints team. Tampa's 16-11 win came against a team that would put up 48 points the following week. The Bucs led the whole way in a nip-and-tuck game that was up in the air the whole way. The playmaking Tampa defense was key in the win, picking off three Drew Brees passes. Then again, with the Saints now at home, can a Tampa team that barely beat them with a lot of things going their way do it again?
The Saints have been quiet this season for most people. At 6-8, there's nothing to get terribly excited about, but their 48-41 road win over the Cardinals shows they haven't already mentally gone on vacation. Drew Brees can still air it out and leads the league in passing. Only one team has scored more points than the Saints this season. Alas, the other side of the ball continues to be a sticking point for this team. They are toward the bottom in most major categories on that side of the ball.
The Saints' offense is a powerful one, though there have been a series of duds sprinkled over the course of the season. Leading into the game against a beleaguered Cardinals' team, they had put up a combined 24 points in their last two games. That's a frighteningly-low total for the league's top-rated aerial offense. Brees has thrown for 34 TDs on 4559 yards, as he looks poised for another 5000-yard season. It's a stocked offense that has some balance with the performances of Tim Hightower and Mark Ingram on the ground. Ingram has also caught 38 balls. Tops in the receiving category is Brandin Cooks, who is over 1000 yards. Rookie Michael Thomas could get there and both he and Cooks have 8 TDs. Willie Snead is having a big year with 792 yards, while TE Coby Fleener continues to shine in this offense. They have a lot of weapons.
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The New Orleans defense has suffered for the most part this season. The 41 points the Cardinals put on them, however, was the first time a team had surpassed 28 points against the Saints in eight weeks. They can be exploited aerially to an alarming degree, ranked 31st in the league in that category. This defense was pretty strong two weeks ago against this very Tampa team and on the road to boot. Winston was held to 184 yards and the Tampa run-game was bottled up for the most part. There was pressure on Winston and this defense knows they can play well against this team.
One must be careful to not attribute too much importance to the urgency factor this time of the season. Two weeks ago represented an urgent time of the season, as well, and the Bucs still struggled at home. On the road against a New Orleans team that hasn't given up, this is far from a gimme. But I think this is where we'll see some of the hard-earned mettle of the Bucs, a team that has overcome a lot this season. I'm taking Tampa.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers minus 3 points. Did you know... that you could be wagering on the Tampa Bay vs. New Orleans game from home at discounted odds? There's a better than good chance that you're laying -110 odds (or more) with your book. Stop overpaying TODAY by making the switch to 5Dimes Sportsbook! You will be so glad that you did!