Brady, Brees duel as Bucs and Saints battle for division

Los Angeles (AFP) –


The latest instalment of a four-decade quarterback rivalry takes center stage in the NFL on Sunday as Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

The seventh professional meeting of the fortysomething future Hall of Fame quarterbacks could end up shaping the playoff picture, with Tampa Bay (6-2) looking to tighten their grip on the NFC South against the Saints (5-2).

The Bucs head into Sunday's game at the Raymond James Stadium with a score to settle after being well-beaten 34-23 by the Saints in September, when Brady was still adjusting to his new surroundings after two decades in New England.

Since that defeat, however, Brady and the Bucs offense have looked a more cohesive unit, and the addition this week of receiver Antonio Brown gives them another potent attacking weapon.

The Saints arrive in Florida on the back of four straight wins, the most recent being a gritty 26-23 overtime victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field last Sunday.

An intriguing sub-plot to this weekend's battle for divisional supremacy is the see-saw duel between Brady and Brees in the all-time passing touchdown rankings.

- 'It's pretty cool' -

Brady, 43, and Brees, 41, have both occupied top spot at different points of the season, with Brady edging clear on Monday by passing for his 560th and 561st touchdowns in the Bucs win over the Giants. Brees is second with 560 touchdowns.

"It's pretty cool," Brees said of the back-and-forth record pursuit. "When in history has that ever happened?"

Brees, however, says the pursuit of personal records is an afterthought compared to the task in hand.

"I'm just laser-focused on the job that is right in front of me. Winning the football game is the most important thing," Brees said.

"We both play on very good teams for very good organizations for great coaches and great systems, great players around us. I'm just grateful for the opportunity to compete, that we're in a situation where we're battling here in the division."

Sunday's game is the seventh meeting between Brady and Brees in the NFL, a rivalry that dates back to September 2002, when Brees's San Diego Chargers defeated Brady and the Patriots 21-14.

The two quarterbacks' paths had also crossed three years earlier at college level in 1999. On that occasion, Brady led Michigan to a 38-12 rout of Brees's Purdue.

Overall, Brees leads the rivalry 4-3.

"We've both been around for quite a while," Brady said of Brees. "He's a great quarterback. He's been so productive over a lot of years. He's been a hell of a player."

- Cowboys crisis -

Elsewhere on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers take the league's last unbeaten record on the road when they visit the crisis-hit Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys (2-6) will turn to their fourth quarterback in five weeks after a lacklustre outing from rookie Ben DiNucci during last week's 23-9 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles. Both of Dallas' first-choice quarterbacks, Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton, are injured.

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said either Cooper Rush or Garrett Gilbert will start against the Steelers, who improved to 7-0 last weekend with a hardfought defeat of the Baltimore Ravens.

"With the opponent we are playing, we need more experience," McCarthy said of the decision to bench DiNucci.

In other key match-ups on Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks (6-1) head East looking to shore up their leaky defense against a resurgent Buffalo Bills (6-2).

While the Seahawks offense led by quarterback Russell Wilson has scored at will this season, Seattle's defense is the worst in the NFL, giving up 460.9 yards per outing and shipping an average 28.4 points per game.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen aims to keep the Seahawks defense occupied in order to limit opposite number Wilson's time on the field.

"We've got to make sure we're doing our part and try to keep them off the field as much as possible," Allen said. "It's going to be a four-quarter dog fight. We understand that."