Back in week three, the Buccaneers traveled to SoFi Stadium to take on the new look Los Angeles Rams with Matthew Stafford at the helm. Unfortunately for the Bucs, they lost the game 34-24 and in the process lost Jamel Dean, Rob Gronkowski, and Gio Bernard to add to the already missing Antonio Brown, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Jason Pierre-Paul.
A lot has changed since then. The Bucs no longer have Brown, Chris Godwin is out for the year, and they added Le’Veon Bell, Breshad Perriman, and John Brown. As for the Rams, DeSean Jackson - who had a big role in week three - isn’t with the team but they’ve added Odell Beckham Jr., Von Miller, and have Cam Akers back.
Since Tom Brady came to Tampa, the Buccaneers have lost just nine games. However, six of those nine have come at the hands of the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. The way the Rams are built defensively matches up perfectly against the Bucs, causing regular season issues for Tampa Bay in the last two years. This will ring even more true if Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen are unable to go. Wirfs suffered an ankle injury against the Eagles while Jensen suffered an ankle injury of his own in the same game. Now going against Aaron Donald and Von Miller will prove nearly impossible if the Bucs have to turn to Josh Wells and Robert Hainsey on Sunday.
The thing about the game earlier in the year was the Buccaneers consistently shooting themselves in the foot. Tampa had six more penalties for 37 more penalty yards while not being able to generate any sort of pass rush on Matthew Stafford. Stafford was sacked just one time, late in the game, while going 27/38 for 343 yards and four touchdowns. And while the Rams won five of their last seven, they went 1-2 against playoff teams in that stretch while Stafford had a rough final month.
Over the last four regular season games - vs Seattle and San Francisco, at Minnesota and Baltimore - Stafford had nine touchdowns, nine interceptions, was sacked ten times, and had two fumbles. Meanwhile, the Bucs defense under Todd Bowles in postseason games have twelve takeaways, twelve sacks, and are allowing just 18.6 points per game. A big part of that is the pressure a player like Jason Pierre-Paul can generate on the edge, which isn’t something the Rams faced the first time around.
Now, the Rams looked incredibly convincing in their Wild Card win over the Arizona Cardinals, but the Cardinals aren’t exactly the world beaters they started off as this season. Arizona lost four of their last six including to the Detroit Lions. Now, the Bucs didn’t exactly beat the crème de la crème of opponents last week either, but appeared to be more in line with the consistency they’ve shown over the last month. Many think the home field advantage and early start time for the Rams plays into the Bucs favor, but it may not.
Since 2017, the Rams are 8-2 on the east coast with 1:00 p.m. start times - 10:00 a.m. on the west coast. This game starting at 3:00 p.m. is simply noon on the west coast and shouldn’t play much of a factor. The home field, however, very well could. The Rams on a short week now have the longest travel distance of any visiting team playing this weekend.
While everyone was excited for the renewal of the Bucs and Eagles playoff rivalry to be reborn last week, this week provides an opportunity for the Bucs to do something they’ve never done - beat the Rams in the playoffs. They’ve only faced twice in the postseason - the 1979 and 1999 NFC Championships. The Rams won in 1979 9-0 then won again in 1999 11-6 in the infamous “Bert Emmanuel game.” The Bucs defense held The Greatest Show On Turf to eleven points and with the Bucs in position to score late in the game, Bert Emmanuel caught a pass from Shaun King, but the nose of the football touched the ground. After review, it was ruled an incomplete pass and the Rams would go on to the Super Bowl and face the Tennessee Titans - and no one in the NFL has known what a catch was ever since.
Getting another shot at the Rams in the postseason and overcoming those demons will send the Bucs to the NFC Championship for a second consecutive season while giving Tom Brady his third win over the Rams as a starting quarterback in a postseason game. Brady’s Patriots defeated the Rams in their first Super Bowl victory in 2001, then defeated the McVay Rams again in the Super Bowl in 2018.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Buccaneers are entering this one as three point favorites over the visiting Rams with an over/under of 48.5. The Rams are on a five game win streak against the Buccaneers when coming in as underdogs.
If Leonard Fournette were to return this week, he would look to extend his streak of six consecutive playoff games with a touchdown while Mike Evans has been the go-to guy for Brady, scoring in seven of the Bucs’ last eight home games.
No question this will be a tough test for the Buccaneers as they look to continue their run of overcoming injuries throughout the season, but against the Rams that’s far easier said than done. The Rams are built to stop the Bucs, but when it comes to the playoffs it’s tough to bet against Brady.