The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a losing record, but they still lead the NFC South.
The New Orleans Saints have an even worse record, but are still in contention for the division title.
Two teams will try and strengthen their playoff chances when they meet Monday night in Tampa, Fla.
The Buccaneers (5-6) are the defending division champion and had won two consecutive games to get to .500 before losing at Cleveland 23-17 in overtime last Sunday.
“We’ve got to come ready for a dogfight,” Tampa Bay running back Rachaad White said. “That’s what this game is about, what this division is about regardless of records.”
The Bucs are two games ahead of the Saints (4-8), who have their bye next week, in the loss column. They also have a leg up in the head-to-head tie-breaker because they beat New Orleans 20-10 in Week 2, but the Saints can negate that with a win Monday night.
“At this point we understand every week is a big game,” Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles said. “Every game we play from here on out is going to be a big game for us.”
The Saints have lost two games in a row and have yet to win consecutive games this season.
“I think the important thing is that you’re still in the hunt,” Saints tackle James Hurst said. “We could be 10-1 or whatever and if the rest of your division is 9-2 you’re still in the same circumstance.”
A loss to the Bucs would leave the Saints with no margin for error with four games remaining. But a victory would keep them in the thick of the division race and they still have head-to-head opportunities against second-place Atlanta (5-7) and Carolina (4-8).
“We’re going to go out and compete our (butts) off and see what happens,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said. “I don’t think we can pay attention to the standings too much. We just need to focus on ourselves and improving our football team.”
New Orleans is coming off a 13-0 loss at San Francisco last Sunday, which ended a streak of 332 consecutive games in which the Saints had not been shut out.
Tampa Bay had a similar experience the last time it hosted the Saints. New Orleans won 9-0 last December, marking the first time Bucs quarterback Tom Brady had been shut out as a starter in 256 games.
Both teams have lengthy injury lists. The Saints had 15 players on their list Thursday, but they’re hopeful that two key starters — cornerback Marshon Lattimore and linebacker Pete Werner — might be able to play.
Lattimore (abdomen) has missed the last seven games and Werner (ankle) has missed the last three games, but both practiced on a limited basis.
Tampa Bay, which listed 10 players, knows that star tackle Tristan Wirfs is going to miss multiple weeks because of an ankle injury suffered last week.
Four other starters didn’t practice — safeties Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) and Mike Edwards (hamstring), nose tackle Vita Vea (foot) and tight end Cameron Brate (illness).
Running back Leonard Fournette (hip) participated fully after missing last week’s game. Two other starters that did not play last week — wide receiver Russell Gage (hamstring) and guard Luke Goedeke (foot) — were limited.
–Field Level Media
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