1. Does Jonathan Vilma play, and if so, does he make a difference?
The Saints, according to Larry Holder, have till 3pm today to activate Vilma off the PUP if they want to play him this week. My understanding was that it could wait till one hour before kickoff. So we'll see. If the Saints do activate Vilma, they'll have to cut someone. I think the guys at biggest risk are Greg Camarillo, Ramon Humber and maybe Tyrunn Walker/Elbert Mack. If Vilma does play, the next question of is whether he can actually play well. Vilma would presumably be out of position at weakside linebacker (no way the Saints move Lofton from MLB), extremely rusty, and playing with a worn down and very vulnerable knee. We should prepare ourselves for the possibility that he will look completely awful while out there. Hopefully that won't be the case, but I know he's in a rush to play and try to help his team so that probably clouds the reasonable theory that he won't be good right away. That said, nothing would give me more pleasure than to see him go in there and play awesome from the first snap. I just don't know how realistic that is. One thing is for sure, he can't really do much to make this defense any worse, since they are the worst defense in NFL history through 5 games. Based on that, trying anything new has merit, so I'm in full support of trotting Vilma out there to see what happens.
2. The Bucs are 27th on offense, the Saints are 32nd on defense - what gives?
You have two units here that are both inept. In theory the Saints' defense is worse and the Bucs should be able to move the ball and score points. The Bucs offense has been very bad this year though. They haven't run the ball particularly well, they have no one to throw to outside of their two starting receivers, and Josh Freeman has had major issues with his completion percentage. In theory, the Saints should be able to slow this offense down more than other teams they've faced. But once again, no pass rush would give Freeman the time to get comfortable and find an open receiver. Any NFL quarterback looks good with time. So getting in his face on obvious passing downs is still hugely necessary. But as bad as the Saints' defense is right now, this is one of the few matchups in the league they go in with a chance against. Let's see if they can win that battle.
3. Does Drew Brees play similar to the last 2 games?
Brees is only 7-6 against the Bucs and he's had numerous turnovers against them. Of all the teams he's played he's struggled the most against this defense for some reason. Ronde Barber is definitely one of the guys that has killed the Saints over the years and he can't retire soon enough. So will we get the Drew Brees from the first three weeks of the season, or the Drew Brees from the last two weeks? Brees can't turn the football over and that has been happening this season due to him trying to do too much. If he can go the entire game without a turnover I think the Saints win this game.
4. Can the Saints slow down Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams?
That's the main matchup here. Two good receivers against Jabari Greer, presumably feeling better, and Patrick Robinson. If the Saints' starting corners can slow those two guys down, the Bucs have literally no one else to throw to. We know the Saints' pass rush isn't very good, so whether the Saints blitz or not, those two corners will have their hands full. Good games from those two players (Greer and Robinson) in particular will go a long way towards helping the Saints.
5. How does Carl Nicks fare against his old team?
I'm a little nervous watching Carl Nicks against the Saints' defense line. He would probably maul them anyway, but he's also got the added incentive of playing pissed off. Nicks remains one of the very best in the league and he is just a scary physical specimen that can destroy you at the line of scrimmage. Sedrick Ellis and Brodrick Bunkley will have their work cut out for them in the trenches. I'm looking forward to keeping an eye on him and see how he plays. Conversely, I'm also looking forward to watching Ben Grubbs on the other side to see how much the Saints do in fact miss Nicks, if at all.