1:30 PM ET, December 17, 2005
Tampa Bay (9-4) at New England (8-5) Saturday 1:30 pm EST
FOXBORO, Massachusetts (Ticker) -- Bill Belichick has won three of the last four Super Bowls. Jon Gruden won the other in that span.
The coaches face each other on Saturday when the New England Patriots host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an interconference battle of first-place teams.
The two-time defending champion Patriots can clinch their third straight AFC East title and fourth in five years under Belichick with a win on Saturday or a loss by the Miami Dolphins, who host the New York Jets on Sunday.
The Buccaneers, who won the first Super Bowl title in franchise history in 2002 under Gruden, share first place in the NFC South with Carolina, but hold the tiebreaker advantage due to a better division record.
The Patriots are riding the arm of Tom Brady and the legs of Corey Dillon and Deion Branch. The Bucs are relying on quarterback Chris Simms, rookie running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and veteran Joey Galloway.
Brady threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a score in a 35-7 win at Buffalo last week. He has four 300-yard games this season.
However, Brady, who has a 65-19 record as a starter, including playoffs, has never faced the Buccaneers, who have allowed just 209 points in 13 games. Only Chicago and Indianapolis have yielded fewer points.
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber is stating quite a case for the Pro Bowl with four interceptions in his last two games. He is the only cornerback in NFL history to record more than 20 career interceptions and 20 sacks.
On Saturday, Barber will match up against Branch, the Super Bowl XXXIX Most Valuable Player who leads the Patriots with 70 catches for 883 yards.
Dillon, who has been bothered by injuries this season, rushed for 102 yards on 22 carries in the win at Buffalo.
But the Buccaneers stuffed Carolina's running game last week, holding DeShaun Foster to 46 yards on 14 carries in a 20-10 win.
Meanwhile, Williams rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns for Tampa Bay, raising his season total to 924 yards.
The Bucs have won four of their last five games with Simms as the starter. Simms' favorite target has been Galloway, who has 67 catches for 1,114 yards this season.
Matchup to watch: Buccaneers right end Simeon Rice, who has nine sacks, faces rookie left tackle Nick Kazcur.
Series: The Patriots lead, 3-2, but the Buccaneers won the last meeting, 21-16, here in September 2000.
Next week: Tampa Bay hosts Atlanta, December 24 New England visits NY Jets, December 26
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Simms must meet sizable challenge
Week 15 kicks off with this special Saturday presentation of the Buccaneers visiting the Patriots. Jon Gruden's warm-weathered team will bundle up and head north to take on the two-time defending champs in an inter-conference matchup that has huge playoff implications for both teams.
Bill Belichick's squad can clinch its third consecutive AFC East title with one more win or one more Dolphins loss. There is much less wiggle room for the Bucs, who are currently tied atop the ultra-competitive NFC South.
Tampa Bay WRs Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton will challenge the Patriots' injury-riddled secondary, while DE Simeon Rice and DT Anthony McFarland will do the same versus the Pats' patchwork offensive line. But if the Bucs are to pull off the road upset inside frozen Gillette Stadium, QB Chris Simms may need to outplay QB Tom Brady -- a daunting task to say the least.
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