Surging Saints host Fighting Buccaneers

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SportsPulse: The USA TODAY Sports NFL club makes its picks for Week 9’s biggest matches. USA TODAY Sports


NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are both demonstrating expectations, albeit in different ways.

Their divergent paths cross at a critical NFC South Division matchup on Sunday, with all the Saints (5-2) aiming to consolidate their surprising grasp on first place, along with also the Bucs (2-5) desperate to stop their season by appearing lost in the halfway stage.

“We’ve been beating ourselves too frequently and somebody said quite a while past, more matches from the NFL have been more lost than won, so it begins without beating ourselves,” said Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter, whose group was widely expected to be a playoff contender after narrowly missing the postseason last season.

The Bucs have turned the ball over 12 days — tied for eighth most in the NFL. Tampa Bay has thrown eight interceptions — six by battered starting quarterback Jameis Winston — and has lost four fumbles.

“We have to win the turnover, and we have to out-execute our opponent,” Keotter stated. “We’ve played well in spurts, but we simply have not been consistent enough and also the groups that have been beating us have beat us because they performed better.”

Even though Saints quarterback Drew Brees had done lots of winning his 17-year profession, he’s riding his first five-game winning streak since 2013, which can be the previous time the Saints made the playoffs.

The previous six-game winning streak arrived in 2011, when the Saints fielded the league’s most potent offense.

This season’s Saints offense does not seem quite as dynamic as the ’11 variant, which set a NFL record with 7,474 yards.

It has looked more like the balanced strike New Orleans needed in 2009, that was fine enough to propel the Saints to their only Super Bowl. However, Brees asserts the Saints still have plenty of potential to fulfill.

“We are doing a great deal of great things, but guy just really scratching the surface in some areas,” Brees said. “I feel like a great deal of things could definitely bump us to another level I believe on either side of the ball and yet we’re still finding ways to win games and we’re doing enough things nicely.

“That is reassuring, but you realize the games are only getting tougher and more significant and more at stake and we’ve got to continue to fine tune and get much better.”

Containing Saints quarterback Drew Brees is a struggle anywhere, but Tampa Bay has experienced a particularly tough time penalizing him along with the Saints at the Superdome.

In his previous six home matches against the Bucs, Brees has thrown for 1,871 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions for a 102.6 passer rating.

Tampa Bay has the team’s 30th-ranked pass defense and is currently last in the NFL with seven sacks.

“Anytime you’re playing a really good quarterback and he’s able to remain in rhythm, then it’s going to be a rough outside,” said Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who had enough experience facing Brees since Atlanta’s head trainer.

“It’s going to be crucial that we try to get him flustered a bit, while it’s by altering the policy, while it’s by adding additional rushers. There are various methods that you can get it done.”