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Saints visit Bucs in big time NFC South contest

With the Falcons idle this weekend, attention in the NFC South will be firmly focused on the divisional contest between New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Both teams need a win, something that could be hard to come by on a warm Sunday afternoon in Western Florida.

Speaking of needing a win, Carolina entertains Dallas in a clash of underachievers, a bout that both needs to win just to stay in the hunt.

New Orleans Saints (1-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3)

Sunday 1 PM ET

Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints will look to build on Week 5's win over San Diego as they travel to Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Last week, Tampa Bay (2-3, 2-1 home) took advantage of a bye week and put a beating on Kansas City. This week, New Orleans (1-4, 0-2 road) looks to do the same to the Buccaneers.

New Orleans will be buoyed by a Week 5 win – its first of the season – over the San Diego Chargers, as well as a strong outing the previous week against Green Bay. Optimists will tell you that this is a Saints team on the up.

New Orleans has the No. 1 passing offense in the league this season, averaging 326.8 yards per game. The Buccaneers meanwhile are 31st against the pass, giving up 312.2 YPG. The Saints’ passing game has diverted attention away from an anemic running game that has averaged just 75.2 YPG (31st). With the Bucs owning the third best rush defense in the league, you can expect Drew Brees to take this one on his shoulders.

Tampa Bay’s offense meanwhile has little to write home about. 25th in passing (211.6 YPG) and 17th in rushing (101.8 YPG), there is little to wonder why the Gulf Coast side has struggled this season. That being said, last week’s win over the Chiefs came on the back of a solid offensive performance, but was that just down to improvement or an inferior opponent? Either way, New Orleans’ defense has proved ripe for the taking this season, ranking 26st against the pass and 31st against the run. There are certainly yards to be had on Sunday afternoon.

Historically, Tampa Bay and New Orleans have always played each other tough. The all-time series weighs in at 23-17 in favor of the Saints, but the last 12 games – coinciding with Drew Brees’ arrival in the Big Easy – have resulted in a 6-6 tie.

New Orleans won last time out (November 6, 2011) but the Buccaneers have not lost two straight to the Saints since October/November 2006.

New Orleans enters the game as three-point favorites but bettors should beware: the Saints are 2-3 against the spread this season while Tampa Bay is 4-1 ATS, despite a losing record.

The over/under is set at 49, and smart bettors should take the over. The total has gone over in nine of the last 10 Saints games and five of the last seven Buccaneers games.

Dallas Cowboys (2-3) at Carolina Panthers (1-4)

Sunday, 1 PM ET

Steve Smith will look to spur the Carolina Panthers onto a much-needed win on Sunday as the Dallas Cowboys visit Charlotte.

With both teams in dire need of a victory, Carolina (1-4, 1-2 home) hosts Dallas (2-3, 1-2 road) on Sunday afternoon.

Both teams have underachieved up until this point, and both will see this matchup as a good way to get back on the right track, particularly as both have had two weeks to prepare.

For Carolina, the focus will be on fitting quarterback Cam Newton into the offense better, something that has been problematic early in the season. From there it will be a case of trying to balance the passing game with running the football. In fact, with the Cowboys owning the second best pass defense in the league, it might be better for Carolina to unleash the running game, including orchestrating plays for Newton himself, it it’s to get the better of Dallas this weekend.

Dallas’ running game has been all but absent this season, but 227 yards on the ground against Baltimore last week suggested the Cowboys may be about ready to clock up some mileage. That being said, DeMarco Murray is expected to miss Sunday’s game in Charlotte, which could mean the running game takes another step back, unless Felix Jones is ready to shoulder the burden.

Dallas may have been stalling this season, but its passing game has been relatively stable. Ranked sixth in the league with 287.8 yards per game, Romo and the Cowboys have managed to get the ball up the field, although the dying seconds of last week’s game suggested that getting the ball up the field at the right times might still be a little tricky. Oh, and then there’s Romo’s nine interceptions.

Historically, this series has been owned by Dallas, who has an 8-3 all-time record against the Panthers. The Cowboys have won the last four, as well as eight of the last nine, and three of the last four on the road. Carolina’s last win over the Cowboys came on January 3, 2004 in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

The Cowboys open as 2½-point favorites, but a recent record of 3-9 against the spread will give Carolina fans hope. That being said, the Panthers are 2-4 ATS over the last six. Both teams are 2-3 ATS this season.

The over/under is set at 45½. The total has gone under in six of the last eight Cowboys games, but has gone over in eight of the last 12 Panthers games. Something has to give this week at Bank of America Stadium.

Falcons Take A Break

Meanwhile, the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons (6-0) will look to recharge the batteries in time for next weekend’s clash with in Pennsylvania against the Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday October 28th).

The Falcons have surprised many this season but in order to prove that they’re for real, they will need to take what could be a tough game from a reeling Eagles side. This week’s bye may not be enough to make a difference as the Eagles are also enjoying a week off.

Still, the Falcons will be confident, particularly in the wake of Super Bowl odds dropping to 7/1 (bettered only by Houston, New England and San Francisco).

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