New Orleans Saints (9-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX (Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan)
PREDICTION: Saints 30-24
SERIES HISTORY: 35th regular-season meeting. Saints lead the series, 20-14. The teams have split 14 games since they became NFC South rivals in 2002.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Saints have a plus-6 turnover margin, but the Bucs must find a way to tap into QB Drew Brees' recent run of interceptions - seven the past four games. With a lack of dangerous pass rushers and a secondary that has given up 10 completions of 40-plus yards, that's about the only chance Tampa Bay stands. The Bucs will also attempt to shorten the game by pounding away at a New Orleans run defense that has allowed an average of 161.3 yards on 5.3 yards per carry the past three games. Rookie QB Josh Freeman could also have a needed big-play threat back in the fold in WR Antonio Bryant (knee).
NEED TO KNOW: The Saints are 9-0 for the first time in franchise history. ... Bucs S Tanard Jackson has three interceptions the past four games.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
-Saints S Darren Sharper vs. Bucs QB Josh Freeman. The Bucs rookie is off to a terrific start but life could get worse if Sharper is able to play. Freeman will have to hold him with his eyes or Sharper will pick his pocket Sunday.
-Bucs RB Cadillac Williams vs. Saints LB Jonathan Vilma. The Bucs tried to sign Vilma as a free agent because he is a tackling machine. Williams will try to avoid him at all costs.
-Saints DE Charles Grant vs. Bucs RT Jeremy Trueblood. Grant is one of the NFL's elite pass rushers and Bucs QB Josh Freeman was sacked twice and fumbled four times against the Dolphins.
GAME PLAN: The Bucs feel confident with the football in the hands of rookie QB Josh Freeman, who has rallied his team from double-digit deficits in his only two starts. With WR Antonio Bryant expected back, Freeman could have a big day. But he will need some help in the running game to keep QB Drew Brees and the Saints' potent offense off the field.
"(Coach) Sean (Payton) hasn't changed," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "Mr. Payton, he's going to do what he does best. He has Pierre Thomas running the ball and has found some creative ways to run the ball. It is a copycat league and Sean is one of the best at stealing plays, and people steal plays from him as well. I've seen him go out there and do a bunch of different things. He has a bunch of different ways to get to the plays he likes. He has a lot of window dressings to make you think it's a bunch of different things and stuff. It's the same stuff for his guys but it just looks different for you on defense and how you have to play it and prepare it.
"You have to get your guys prepared. He is one of the best out there. There is no secret about that. He has been since he's been in this league. He is one of the most respected coaches that I've ever been associated with. I'm sure he'll smile at me at the 50-yard line and try to gut me during the game. It will be great, I can't wait to see him."
The Bucs have had success against Brees. It all starts with defense for them on Sunday. They have to tackle better and get after the quarterback.
--WR Antonio Bryant practiced for the third straight day Friday after missing the last two games with a knee injury. Bryant is day-to-day but it looks as though he will play against the Saints.
--TE Kellen Winslow (knee) returned to practice Thursday and had full participation on Friday as well. He is expected to play Sunday.
--RB Carnell Williams (knee) returned to practice Thursday and had full participation on Friday as well. He will start against the Saints.
--CB Aqib Talib, who was limited Wednesday with a hamstring injury, had full participation in practice Thursday and Friday. He is expected to play against the Saints.
--QB Byron Leftwich (elbow) still is unable to throw and was limited in practice on Thursday and Friday. He will be the Bucs' inactive third QB against the Saints.
--CB Elbert Mack (ankle) sdid not participate on Friday. He will be questionable for Sunday’s game against the Saints.
--RCB Tracy Porter will likely be sidelined for several weeks as he rehabs a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, which he sustained in Sunday's game with the St. Louis Rams.
--LCB Jabari Greer, who missed last week's game with a left groin injury, did not practice Thursday and Friday. He has been listed as out for Sunday's game at Tampa Bay.
--RB Reggie Bush, who experienced swelling and soreness in his left knee after last Sunday's game, didn't practice Thursday and Friday. He is not expected to play on Sunday.
--WR Lance Moore was held out of practice again Thursday and Friday because of his sprained left ankle and will likely miss his third straight game Sunday.
--C Jonathan Goodwin, who did not practice Wednesday with ankle soreness, worked on a limited basis Thursday. He did not participate on Friday but should play against the Bucs.
--DT Sedrick Ellis, who has missed the last three games with a sprained right knee, worked limited again Thursday and Friday. He is not expected to play on Sunday.
--FS Darren Sharper was limited in Thursday's practice for the second straight day but fully participated in Friday’s practice. He is listed as probable for Sunday’s game.
--TE David Thomas worked fully Thursday and Friday after sitting out Wednesday's practice to rest a sore knee.