Tampa Bay Buccaneers are tied for first place in the NFC South, a position few figured they would occupy even as recently as a month ago. The Buccaneers can take another step toward earning a playoff berth if they can defeat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday (1:25 p.m. PT/4:25 p.m. ET, FOX, DirecTV).
Who: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
When: Sunday, December 11, 2016
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
What: New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When: Sunday, Dec. 11, 1:25 p.m PT/4:25 p.m ET
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
TV: FOX, DirecTV
TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints are rare division rivals to have still not played each other this season.
As they face off twice in three weeks, there’s much on the line, especially for the streaking Buccaneers, who have won four straight to move into playoff contention.
“This is a big game for both teams because of the way the scheduling falls, where New Orleans plays us twice and Atlanta once in the last three weeks,” Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said Wednesday. “We have three division games in the last four weeks, so that makes this game — the way our division is so tight right now, these division games are huge.
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“Us and Atlanta sitting there at 7-5, New Orleans at 5-7, just do the math for New Orleans and we’re not too far ahead. So it’s going to be huge.”
The Saints (5-7) lost 28-13 at home to Detroit on Sunday, which put them two games behind the Buccaneers, who are tied with Atlanta for the NFC South lead.
Not only does New Orleans play Tampa Bay twice, but it also plays at Atlanta, so there’s a sense of controlling its fate, even if the odds are unlikely at this point.
“We’ve just got to play this one,” Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday. “But I think we’re going to play Tampa twice here in three weeks, we’re going to play Atlanta and we’re going to play at Arizona. We are going to have to play well on the road because three of the four are on the road.
“I think when the schedule comes out, sometimes you get, it’s unique to be playing a team in your division or not have played them when you hit December and that’s the case with our two teams.”
The Buccaneers have turned their season around since falling to 3-5 with lopsided home losses to the Oakland Raiders and Falcons. In four straight wins since, they’ve held opponents to 13 points per game and have led the league in takeaways. On Sunday in a win over San Diego, linebacker Lavonte David returned one interception for a touchdown and safety Keith Tandy picked off another in the end zone to seal a 28-21 road win.
The Saints are another challenge entirely, leading the NFL in total offense and passing offense, ranking second in scoring offense and first in third-down conversions.