With training camp approaching quickly, we’re taking a look at each of the New Orleans Saints’ divisional rivals. Next up are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

While things are somewhat quiet these days for the New Orleans Saints and the rest of the NFL’s clubs, it’s as good as time as any to scout out each of the team’s NFC South rivals on an individual basis. From recent history between the clubs to a look ahead to this season, we got started with the division champion Atlanta Falcons. Now it’s time to look at the much-improved Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

2016 Results: The Saints and Buccaneers didn’t meet until Week 14 this past season and then clashed twice in a 14-day span. Dirk Koetter’s Bucs drew first blood with a 16-11 win at Tampa. Then two weeks later, the Saints held on for a 31-24 victory at the Superdome (Week 16).

2017 Meetings: The Buccaneers visit the Crescent City in Week 9, while Sean Payton’s squad will travel to Raymond James Stadium on the final Sunday of the regular season.

Analysis: Entering 2015, the Saints had slayed the Bucs seven straight times dating back to the rivals’ second encounter in 2011. Now the NFC South adversaries have split their two-game each of the past two years. This is a Tampa team that won six of its final eight contests in 2016. It’s also a team that must get better when it comes to protecting the football. The Buccaneers’ offensive unit scored a respectable 37 touchdowns this past season. But quarterback Jameis Winston committed 24 of the club’s 27 turnovers.

A little more consistency would help. Having Doug Martin at the top of his game would help. But the former Pro Bowler will begin the season suspended for the team’s first three games. Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers will take up the slack.

What will really be interesting to watch is when head coach/offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter employs some two tight-end sets. That means surprising Cameron Brate and 2017 first-round pick O.J. Howard (Alabama). With Mike Evans and now DeSean Jackson on the outside, this could be a fascinating offense to watch.

Can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can pick up where it left off last season in terms of opportunistic football? The team totaled 27 takeaways in its final 12 games. Hence, the New Orleans Saints and the remainder of the NFC South could be in for a very tricky 2017.

Russell S. Baxter covers the New Orleans Saints for Pro Football Spot. You can follow him on Twitter at @baxfootballguru. Looking for more Saints news and features? Like our Saints Facebook page HERE and also follow @spot_saints on Twitter.

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