Opinion: Saints, just 2-2 in Drew Brees starts this season, can’t overlook Bucs after ugly loss last weekend

Jarrett Bell


Published 1: 30 PM EST Nov 16, 2019

A quick rundown on items of interest as Week 11 rolls on in the NFL …

Stomach for an upset: Saints at Bucs. Sean Payton’s team hasn’t swept this particular NFC South rival in five years, and since then the Bucs (3-6) finished 5-11, 5-11, 9-7 and 6-10. In other words, throw out the records. There’s nothing automatic about these divisional clashes. At least New Orleans (7-2) has a fresh reminder of that after laying an egg in losing at home to Atlanta (2-7) last weekend.

Also odd-but-true: The Saints are just 2-2 in games Drew Brees has started this season. They beat the Bucs 31-24 in Week 5 with Teddy Bridgewater. It’s not paramount that Brees counter-attack the big question and prove that he’s still able to attack downfield. But much could hinge on the timing and rhythm to move the chains with the short and intermediate passing attack (hello, Michael Thomas) if New Orleans, favored by 5 ½ points, is unable to gash away against the NFL’s top-ranked run defense.

Another X-factor looms with the absence of top-flight corner Marshon Lattimore, nursing a hamstring injury. Tough timing, with Tampa Bay’s monster set of receivers, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, already just the fourth tandem in league history to each post 900 receiving yards. Then again, the Bucs can’t be trusted. Not with Jameis Winston leading the NFL with 14 picks.

Key matchup: Lamar Jackson vs. Deshaun Watson. Of course, Jackson won’t defend Watson and Watson won’t be enlisted to stop Jackson. But as the faces of their franchises, the impact of one dynamic, multi-dimensional quarterback will pressure the other one to keep up in the showdown at The Big ATM.

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Jackson and Watson are the first two quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 15 touchdowns and rush for five TDs through nine games, and the matchup is the second time two quarterbacks under age 25, with passer ratings over 100, face off. But enough of the stats. In the bigger picture, the Ravens and Texans currently rank 2-3 in AFC playoff seeding. And this is the first NFL matchup between two of the stars poised to potentially bolster The Shield for years.

Pressure’s on: Sean McVay. It’s not all on Jared Goff, the struggling Rams quarterback. McVay, L.A.’s young, whiz-kid coach, is pressed to get his groove back as his once-prolific offense has sputtered. Can you believe the Rams (5-4) have scored 30 points just three times this season? That’s six games without scoring 30. And six games without rushing for 100 yards, too. The idea of reducing the workload on running back Todd Gurley has backfired, although the bigger issue could be the injury-influenced breakdown of the offensive line.

And without a rock-solid O-line, other elements of the scheme that were so effective are out of whack. Like the jet sweeps that helped open lanes for Gurley by the mere threat and the play-action passes for Goff. And now comes a Bears defense on Sunday night that is still stocked with playmakers. If McVay doesn’t get the offense clicking consistently soon, it will be a long January for the defending NFC champs, watching the playoffs from home.

Who’s hot: Dalvin Cook. The emerging Vikings star leads the NFL in rushing with 991 yards and nearly five yards per carry. But he heads into Sunday’s matchup against Denver with a season-long streak of three games without running for 100. Yet he leads the league with 1,415 yards from scrimmage. What gives? Cook, who blistered Dallas for 86 yards on seven receptions, is becoming increasingly lethal in the passing game with 40 catches on the season. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has been on fire himself (18 TDs, three INTs) has to love this blossoming option, especially while his favorite target, Adam Thielen, remains out with a hamstring injury.

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He’s back: Nick Foles. Returning from the fractured collarbone that knocked him out for two months, the former Philly Super Bowl hero steps back into the lineup for a last-place team. But last place in the AFC South at this point only means you’re potentially two or three weeks from first place. In other words, if Jacksonville (4-5) is going to make a move toward a playoff rally, Foles is positioned to make a huge difference. The Jaguars did well to stay in range with Minshew Magic, but this is why they signed Foles to an $88 million free-agent deal. Ironic that in his first game back, Frank Reich – his O-coordinator for the Super Bowl run in Philly – will be on the Indianapolis sideline.

If the playoffs were today… The Chiefs (6-4) would be the AFC’s fourth seed. After hosting the AFC title game last season as the No. 1 seed, Kansas City’s path to the Super Bowl berth that many projected will be much tougher this time around. Especially when they’re bringing the NFL’s 31st-ranked run defense.

Sure, there’s a lot of regular-season football left, and they have Patrick Mahomes (18 TDs, one INT) triggering what is still the league’s most explosive passing game. But first things first: Monday night’s tilt in Mexico against the Chargers and a Week 13 home date against Oakland are must-win matchups to get separation needed to claim the A-West crown. If they stumble here, all bets about getting back to January are off.

Rookie watch: Miles Sanders. To upset the Patriots in the rematch of Super Bowl LII at The Linc, the Eagles will likely need a huge game from the second-round product from Penn State. Jordan Howard is iffy while trying to recover from a stinger, which puts a wrench in the thunder-and-lightning back combo that Doug Pederson has been developing. Sanders, with more impact as a passing-game target, hasn’t logged more than 13 rushes in a game. Can he handle a heavier load in toting the rock if Howard is severely limited? Against the NFL’s No. 1 defense?

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