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Friday, 31 December 2010 11:41
New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Bucs Game Important For Playoffs Hopes
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Ed Staton, Louisiana SportsThe Saints are almost certainly going on the road for the playoffs this season, but they will close out the regular season against Tampa Bay at noon in the Superdome.

The Saints (11-4) might be playing the best football in the NFC entering the playoffs, but the Buccaneers (9-6) are going to take this game very, very seriously. This game could be meaningless to both teams, but if the Giants and the Packers lose and the Bucs beat the Saints, they're in the playoffs. If the Falcons lose and the Saints win, New Orleans is in the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

The Saints defense looked good in the win over the Falcons on Monday night and will be a tough test for the young Bucs offense. The Saints defense is significantly better than it looks on paper.

The Saints beat the Bucs 31-6 in October at Tampa to improve to 4-2. The Saints offense rolled to 475 yards of total offense, 298 in the first half, while holding the Bucs to 277. The Saints churned out 212 yards rushing. The Saints running game will get a boost this week with the return of their leading rusher, rookie Chris Ivory, who  sat out two games with a sore hamstring.

Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman threw five touchdown passes last Sunday in a win over Seattle and has improved since the October meeting when he was held to 18 completions for 219 yards.

The Bucs must stop Drew Brees to win. Brees is the third-most accurate passer in NFL history and has thrown 15 of his 32 touchdown passes this season on third down.

"Tampa Bay is playing for a playoff spot," said Brees. "They're young and as the season's gone they're knocking on the door of the playoffs with a chance, albeit needing some help from other teams. They're saying if we take care of business, not only do we have a chance at the playoffs, but at 10 wins. That's a big deal in the league.That's hard to do, especially with a young team.  Josh Freeman's playing extremely well.  They are going to give us their best shot."

The Saints placed kick returner Courtney Roby (concussion) on injured reserve and brought in receiver Adrian Arrington from the practice squad.  Wide receiver Marques Colston suffered an injured knee in the Atlanta game, had his knee scoped on Tuesday, and could play on Sunday.

Saints coach Sean Payton said six or seven players are alternates on the Pro Bowl squad. First alternates are Roman Harper and Jon Vilma; second alternate is Colston; third alternates are Sedrick Ellis and Ivory.

Brees threw a six-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Jimmy Graham for the winning touchdown against the Falcons. Even though Graham is a tight end, he has wide receiver qualities. "As far as his ability to catch the ball, he has really soft hands," said Brees. "He can cover ground and is deceivingly fast, and a huge target. He's a freak of nature. He's a hybrid, but he's a big strong guy, He's 260 pounds, so he's got some weight behind him. Put him at tight end, he'll block and do everything a tight end needs to do and yet you can split him out and he looks like a big receiver."

Prediction: The Saints are coming off a short week, and will meet the winner of the St. Louis-Seattle game next Saturday in the playoffs.

The Saints will cover the 7 1/2.

Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography.  


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