Two teams who overcame tough starts, rallied into playoff position, and then promptly dropped out of the race meet today in New Orleans. Tampa Bay visits the Saints with both teams having lost three straight. While neither team has been eliminated from playoff contention it would be a miracle if either team ended up in the postseason. Quarterback play has put both squads in precarious situations.
When the Buccaneers look back at 2012 they will wonder what could have been. After starting the year 1-3 Tampa was primed for a playoff push after winning five of six. At 6-4 the Bucs were in good shape to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2007. Three loses by a total of 11 points the last three weeks have doomed the Bucs.
As for New Orleans, it seemed like the Saints might be able to overcome an 0-4 start when they won five times in six games getting to 5-5. However, the schedule toughened, and New Orleans fell to three division leaders the last three weeks.
When the Bucs were going good, Josh Freeman played well. The fourth year QB has had a good season ranking in the top 10 in QB Rating and touchdown tosses. However his 54.7 completion percentage is among the worst in the league. The last two weeks he has completed only 44-percent of his passes.
In Tampa Bay victories Freeman has completed 59-percent of his passes while tossing 14 touchdowns and being picked off only three times. In loses Freeman completes a shade under 52-percent of passes throwing for 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Interestingly, consistency has been also been a problem for the Saints.
Whether it is because coach Sean Payton has been suspended or not, New Orleans QB Drew Brees has had a down season. Like Freeman, Brees has posted excellent numbers leading the league in yardage and touchdown passes. However, his 18 interceptions are the most in the league and not surprisingly those INT's have coincided with loses.
During back-to-back setbacks against Washington and Carolina to begin the season Brees was picked off four times. When the Saints won five times in six games Brees threw 18 touchdowns and was intercepted on four occasions. During the ongoing three game losing streak Brees has thrown nine picks including two returned for scores in a 31-21 home loss against San Francisco.
Both signal callers should have an opportunity to succeed this afternoon. Tampa's pass defense is worst in the NFL while New Orleans ranks only slightly better. When the Saints beat the Bucs 35-28 October 21 the two teams combined for 971 yards of offense including 788 passing yards. The QB who limits his mistakes will be in great shape to snap their team's losing streak.