NFL

Bucs out to end Saints streak, Texans in danger of making franchise history

By Sports Desk October 29, 2021

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into Week 8 with a 6-1 record, though their form will be tested against the New Orleans Saints.

Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns and 211 yards in the Bucs' 38-3 thrashing of the Chicago Bears last week, though Tampa Bay's recent record against the Saints is poor.

The Los Angeles Rams are also 6-1, and are looking to extend their strong start when they take on the Houston Texans, who are out to avoid a franchise first.

Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, meanwhile, have been linking up to superb effect for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are at the New York Jets on Sunday. 

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1) @ New Orleans Saints (4-2)

Tampa Bay may have picked up from where they left off last season, but their recent run against New Orleans has not been at all profitable.

New Orleans have won five straight games against NFC South rivals Tampa Bay, which is the longest active losing streak for the Buccaneers against any single opponent.

However, the Bucs did set franchise records for points in a first quarter with 21, and points in a first half with 35, in their 38-3 win over the Bears. The 21 first-quarter and 35 first-half points are also the most scored by any NFL team this season.

Mike Evans caught three touchdowns against the Bears with all of them coming in the first half. He joined Marvin Harrison, Marvin Jones Jr, Jerry Rice, and Sterling Sharpe as the only players since the merger to have multiple games with three first-half touchdown catches.

The Saints beat the Seattle Seahawks in their last outing, and had 35 passing attempts in that win. Both teams have combined to win 76.9 per cent of their games this season, the highest combined winning percentage that the teams have ever had when facing each other.

Los Angeles Rams (6-1) @ Houston Texans (1-6)

This will be only the fifth all-time meeting between the Texans and the Rams, and just the second game since the latter moved back to Los Angeles.

The Rams have outscored the Texans by an aggregate of 71-20 over the last two meetings, and, at 6-1, Los Angeles are enjoying their equal second-best start to a season this century, behind the 7-0 run in 2018.

They are also looking to win each of their first four road games of a season for the fourth time since 2000, having also done this in 2001, 2017 and 2018.

Matthew Stafford has thrown for 2,172 yards this season, the most by any Rams player in the team's first seven games of the season since Kurt Warner threw for 2,445 yards in the first seven games of 2000.

Houston, meanwhile, have lost six straight, with each of the last two losses coming by over 25 points. The Texans have not lost three straight games by at least 25 points in franchise history – the only team to do so in a single season in the last 25 years were the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) @ New York Jets (1-5)

The Bengals have won each of the last three meetings between these teams, matching their longest-ever win streak over the Jets (1973-81). Cincinnati's 23-22 win in New York in 2016 snapped a nine-game losing streak when visiting the Jets.

Cincinnati only managed four wins in 2020, but they surpassed that figure with a brilliant 41-17 victory in Baltimore last week, with quarterback Burrow and wide receiver Chase turning in stellar performances.

Burrow passed for a career-high 416 yards and tied a previous career high with three touchdown passes. It was his seventh consecutive game with multiple TD passes, tying a franchise record set twice before by Carson Palmer (2004-05 and 2010).

Chase, meanwhile, had 201 receiving yards, the most all-time by a Bengals rookie and the most by any rookie since Mike Evans had 209 in 2014. Chase's 754 receiving yards in 2021 ranks are the most by any player through seven career games in NFL history.

The Jets' 54-13 loss to the Patriots last week was their largest defeat since a 45-3 loss in Week 13 of the 2010 season, which also happened in New England. The 54 points are the fourth-most that New York have allowed in a single game and the most since 1980.

Elsewhere...

The Detroit Lions are still winless, going 0-7 so far, but could snap the losing streak against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions have won three straight against Philadelphia, with each of the last two games being decided by three points or fewer. 

Strugglers the Miami Dolphins travel to Buffalo. With two receiving yards on Sunday, Stefon Diggs will reach 2,000 as a Bill in just his 23rd game with the team. That would be tied for the second fewest games needed by any player with any single team in the Super Bowl era (Odell Beckham Jr. – 21 with the Giants, Vincent Jackson – 23 with Tampa Bay, Brandon Marshall – 23 with Chicago).

Fresh from their win over the Jets, the Patriots will aim to maintain the momentum against the Los Angeles Chargers, against whom they have five straight wins and are 16-3 in the last 19 meetings.

An AFC North clash sees the Browns (4-3) host the 3-3 Steelers. Pittsburgh have not won in Cleveland since 2017, as the teams tied in 2018 before the Browns won in 2019 and 2020.

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    Stefano Pioli is paying no attention to his poor record against Massimiliano Allegri ahead of Milan's crunch clash with Juventus at San Siro on Sunday.

    Milan boss Pioli has lost 11 and drawn four of his 15 meetings with Allegri in Serie A – the longest winless run for one head coach against another in the three-points-per-win era 

    That includes a 1-1 draw in their most recent meeting four months ago when Ante Rebic cancelled out an early Alvaro Morata opener.

    The Rossoneri are seven points better off than Juve with 22 games played, however, and Pioli is looking to end his disappointing run against Allegri in this latest encounter.

    "I don't like to look back too much," he said at Saturday's pre-match news conference. "The past doesn't count, only tomorrow's game.

    "It's a negative fact, of course, and one to try to change immediately."

     

    Milan may be three places in front their opponents, but they suffered a shock 2-1 loss at home to Spezia last time out to miss out on the chance to move top of Serie A.

    Juve are unbeaten in their last eight league games, meanwhile, winning six and drawing two, which is their best run in the competition since 12 without defeat in December 2020.

    And Pioli is anticipating a far different test to earlier in the season when Juventus were still seeking their first win of Allegri's second spell in Turin.

    "Juve have grown since our last game and are in positive form, but we are also doing well," he said. "We'll have to fight ball by ball and inch by inch.

    "It's evident that Juventus are now in a great moment of form compared to the start of the season. We will have to put in a great performance.

    "It's an important game, but it won't be decisive. Juventus are showing their strength, so being able to win would be important for our spot in the table."

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic is available to face Juve and is seeking a third league goal against his former side, with those previous two strikes coming at San Siro in 2010 and 2020.

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    The Sweden international has not scored a home goal since September, but he remains an important player under Pioli.

    "He's had his chances but he hasn't taken advantage of them," Pioli said. "With Juventus we won't have 10 goals but there will be situations where he can be decisive for us."

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    Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka accepts he needs to "improve" his disciplinary record, but he does not think he can change his approach.

    Xhaka attracted widespread criticism after he was sent off in Arsenal's EFL Cup semi-final first leg draw with Liverpool.

    The Switzerland international made a wild lunge on Diogo Jota in the first half, with the Liverpool man looking to bring down a lofted pass before he received a high kick from Xhaka.

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    But he does not think changing his game is possible, pointing out that it is not as if he is doing it on purpose.

    "It's not like I'm planning this," he told Sky Sports prior to Liverpool's 2-0 win in Thursday's semi-final second leg. "It's not like I'm doing this on purpose, but sometimes I am in a position where I have to take a 50:50.

    "It's risky, of course. Now people will say, 'Yeah, but why do you always [take] risks?' This is who I am. I can't change myself from today to tomorrow.

    "Of course, I need to improve and I know I need to improve, but in this moment, if Jota takes the ball and he scores, they will say again, 'Why didn't you stop him?' Now, I stop him, they say, 'Why do you get the red card?'

    "In the end, after the game, everyone is smarter than in the moment – myself as well. Of course, when I see it back now and say, 'Do I need to go into the duel or not?' No.

    "But it is a moment, a second, where I have to make a decision and this time I made the wrong one and I feel sorry for the team, I feel sorry for the supporters, but thank God they did an amazing job after that."

    Concerns over Xhaka's decision-making has not been limited to just red cards, though, as he also has a poor record when it comes to conceding penalties.

    He has committed six offences that led to spot-kicks during his Arsenal career, with only David Luiz, Fernandinho (both seven) and Wilfred Ndidi conceding more over the same period.

    The most recent of Xhaka's six came against Manchester City on New Year's Day, with the Arsenal man penalise for a coming together with Bernardo Silva – while there was contact, the Portugal star appeared to throw himself to the floor in a theatrical manner.

    Referee Stuart Attwell did not immediately award the penalty, only doing so after a VAR check, and Xhaka voiced his frustration with situations like these.

    "If you if you look in slow motion, every duel, every foul looks too much," he added. "[Against City], he [Attwell] had decided already it wasn't a penalty.

    "But after, they go to VAR and check and check and check. The thing is, they are checking two pictures, three pictures, and they are not seeing all the action.

    "I hope that in the future the referees can make their own decisions. Don't let the people from outside look in slow motion and stuff like this because I believe in a slow motion, everything looks harder than it is.

    "In the end, they are human beings as well. They make mistakes as well. This is part of the job. Everyone makes mistakes. We have to accept decisions and look forward."

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