BY IRA KAUFMAN
Dan Orlovsky was a member of the Bucs during one of the most tumultuous seasons in franchise history.
You remember 2013, right? Between the 0-8 start, the MRSA scare and Josh Freeman’s meltdown, Greg Schiano’s final year on the sidelines was an absolute disaster.
Schiano was canned, but Orlovsky’s pro career survived as he moved into a second stint as a backup quarterback with the Lions. Give the man credit – he lasted 12 years in the NFL despite leaving just 12 games.
He is now an analyst for ESPN, offering opinions on 32 teams and league issues. He’s intentionally provocative, which is why ESPN executives keep him on the air, and his opinions are regularly off the charts.
For example, he once posted the following tweet about former Buc teammate Mike Glennon: “He’s an all day NFL starting QB.” The days must get terribly short around here.
The other day, Orlovsky weighed in on the state of the NFC South. Before you dismiss his point, admit that the man is making a decent point.
“Tampa Bay is a very good football team, but no one respects or pays enough attention to the New Orleans Saints,” he said. “That defensive line that dominated Buc’s offensive line for the past few years is still intact and Buc’s offensive line is worse than it was last year.”
The Bucs and Saints begin a new season with new head coaches. Todd Bowles and Dennis Allen are determined to prove they’ll be much better the second time around.
In 2021, Tampa Bay finished four games ahead of the Saints, ending a 4-year stranglehold by New Orleans at the top of the division. In what looks like Tom Brady’s final season in Tampa, there are indications the Saints have closed the gap.
Even dipping to 9-8, the Saints swept the Bucs last season, including that shocking 9-0 win at Raymond James Stadium. That made it seven straight regular season wins over Tampa Bay, dating back to the end of Dirk Koetter’s senior year. In those seven games, the Saints have a plus-11 turnover differential.
To back up Orlovsky’s point about the trench battle, the Bucs posted just seven sacks in those matchups, compared to 25 by the Saints.
Amid the one-sided nature of this rivalry, the Bucs beat New Orleans 30-20 in a Divisional Round playoff en route to a championship as Drew Brees was picked three times.
For some reason, the Saints get along very well with the Bucs.
Allen says he expects Jameis Winston to recover well enough from his torn ACL to start Week 1 and Winston’s arms have improved significantly.
First-round pick Chris Olave is a smooth road runner, and the Saints just signed five-time Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry this week. But the biggest news is the potential return of Michael Thomas.
The NFL’s leader in receptions in 2018 and 2019, Thomas suffered an ankle injury in the 2020 opener against the Bucs and hasn’t been the same since.
He didn’t play at all last season and the Buc secondary is in no rush to see the 2019 Offensive Player of the Year. In nine career games against Tampa Bay, Thomas has averaged eight receptions and 100 yards upon receipt.
Alvin Kamara is coming off a bad season, missing seven games with a knee injury. Kamara’s comeback could be derailed by a felony assault charge against the 5-time Pro Bowl guard.
The Saints have wisely invested heavily in their offensive line since 2015 – signing Andrus Peat, Ryan Ramczyk and Cesar Ruiz in the first round and Erik McCoy in the second round. All four are starters and first-round pick Trevor Penning is expected to compete at left tackle after stalwart Terron Armstead’s departure as a free agent.
Cameron Jordan, one of the few opponents to get the better of Tristan Wirfs on occasion, leads the defensive front and Demario Davis is an elite inside linebacker. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore returns to play leading games against Mike Evans while the Saints added safety Tyrann Mathieu after the departure of safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams.
The Saints even get last year’s first-round pick after a serious shoulder injury, defensive tackle Payton Turner, who many compare to the Bucs’ pick from Logan Hall.
Special teams could get a boost if Pro Bowl kicker Will Lutz fully recovers from core muscle surgery.
“The New Orleans Saints are going to be really good this year,” insisted Orlovsky.
For once, the man might just be onto something.