NFL champs face ex-Bucs QB Winston in key Saints clash

Washington (AFP) – Reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay, off to a club-record 6-1 start, will face a crucial NFL clash on Sunday at New Orleans against former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston.


The Bucs made Winston the top pick of the 2015 NFL Draft but he struggled with turnovers over five seasons before being dropped last year after Tampa Bay signed Tom Brady, who guided the team to an NFL title.

Winston spent last year learning under retired New Orleans star Drew Brees and now guides the Saints' attack into a matchup against defenders he faced every day in practice for five years.

"I can't wait to play Jameis," said Bucs linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul. "It's going to be fun. I'm actually going to text him and tell him to get ready."

The Saints (4-2) have beaten Tampa Bay five consecutive times in the regular season and are trying to overtake the Bucs for a fifth consecutive NFC South division title.

"There definitely is a heightened sense of urgency," Tampa Bay tight end Cam Brate said. "We know how big of a game it is."

Winston, who struggled with turnovers during his tenure with Tampa Bay, has thrown for 13 touchdowns with only three interceptions and a lost fumble so far this season.

"He's playing very well at the position. He's playing at a very high level," Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said.

"He's probably throwing it 15 times less a game. They are playing with a lead and we didn't have very many leads back then."

The Saints' defensive unit ranks third in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing only 16.8 points a game.

"The defense stands out," Arians said. "This is by far the best 11 we've faced this year."

The Saints have been pleased at how well Winston has stepped into the role owned for years by Brees.

"Jameis has done a great job," Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead said. "He's picking up the offense extremely well. That's not easy to do at all, to be able to read and adjust on the fly.

"I'm not sure what personal goals he has set against his former team. We have to play our best game. I don't see any special performances. I don't see anything getting altered for this week."

Ingram likely to play

The Saints are expected to have running back Mark Ingram available after a trade from Houston to partner with Alvin Kamara in the backfield.

"Absolutely," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "That's like a high chance."

Other top clubs will look to stretch their status on Sunday, with the Los Angeles Rams (6-1) at Houston (1-6) and the Los Angeles Chargers (4-2) playing host to New England (3-4).

NFC East division leader Dallas (5-1) will visit Minnesota (3-3) while AFC East leader Buffalo (4-2) entertains Miami (1-6).

AFC North leader Cincinnati (5-2) visits the New York Jets (1-5) while AFC South pace-setter Tennessee (5-2) travels to Indianapolis (3-4).

Sunday's other contests find Pittsburgh at Cleveland, Carolina at Atlanta, san Francisco at Chicago, Washington at Denver, Jacksonville at Seattle and Philadelphia at winless Detroit. The New York Giants will play at Kansas City on Monday.