TIME FOR ROUND TWO!
For the first time since 1979, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hosting back-to-back playoff games at home. That year, it was the Eagles in the divisional round, then the Rams in the NFC Championship where the Bucs suffered a 9-0 defeat. This time it was the Eagles again, but in the wildcard round, and now it’s the Rams again, but in the divisional round. Let’s just hope the results are different.
This will be the second time this season that the two teams have met. They played each other in L.A. in Week 3, with the Bucs giving up a season-high in points allowed and the Rams pulling out a 34-24 win. However, neither of them is the same team. The Bucs played that game WITHOUT Jason Pierre-Paul, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and essentially, Jamel Dean and Rob Gronkowski (both left the game early with injuries). They will have all four for this game. And the Rams, at that time, had DeSean Jackson and Robert Woods alongside Cooper Kupp. Now, they have Odell Beckham Jr. instead of Jackson, Woods is on IR, and they’ve added Von Miller on defense. A lot has changed.
The Rams are 18-9 versus the Bucs all-time and have won seven of the last eight meetings, including their last two meetings by a combined 13 points. They’ve only faced off in the playoffs twice, with both being NFC Championship games, and the Bucs lost both. It’s about time for some revenge. So I’m here to give you everything you need to know about the Rams before the toe hits the leather on Sunday.
The Rams finished the regular season ranked 9th in total offense averaging 372 yards and 27 points (8th) per game, including 273 passing (5th) and 99 rushing (11th). This offense is a bit different from the one the Bucs faced in Week 3. DeSean Jackson was released and replaced by Odell Beckham. Robert Woods is on IR. Cam Akers is back and has joined Sony Michel in the backfield. And Matthew Stafford has had eleven more games to practice with his new team. The unit that put up 407 total yards and 34 points (most allowed by the Bucs this season) is now even better than they were in Week 3. The good news is, so is the Buccaneers’ defense.
This unit had a strong showing in their wildcard game against the Cardinals, holding Arizona to just 183 total yards and 11 points. They finished the regular season ranked 17th, allowing 345 total yards and 22 points (15th) per game, including 242 passing (11th) and 103 rushing (6th). In Week 3, the Bucs were able to put up 446 total yards against them but only scored 24 points which was a touchdown below their season average. This group was good before, and now they added the veteran pass rusher, Von Miller, in November just before the trade deadline. They have a strong pass rush with their front four, but their secondary is hurting with BOTH starting safeties battling injuries.
WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT
Well, thankfully, this situation is FINALLY getting better. The Buccaneers have been hit hard by the injury bug this season, but it seems to be going away at just the right time. The only two players that have been ruled “out” for this game are Ronald Jones (ankle) and Breshad Perriman (hip/abdomen). However, they have five players listed as “questionable” including Cyril Grayson (hamstring), Ryan Jensen (ankle), Tristan Wirfs (ankle), Sean Murphy-Bunting (hamstring), and Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder). The good news is that all five were practicing on Friday. The better news is that the Bucs are activating Leonard Fournette off of IR, which means there’s a good chance he’ll play against the Rams. To clear a roster spot for him, they have waived Leveon Bell. They’re also bringing up recently signed receiver John Brown from the practice squad to the 53-man roster to add some experience and depth in place of Perriman.
L.A. also has two players officially ruled “out” for this game in left tackle Andrew Whitworth and free safety Taylor Rapp. With starting strong safety Jordan Fuller recently added to IR, which means that BOTH of the Rams’ starting safeties are “out“. Backup running back Buddy Howell is the only other player on their injury report, and he’s listed as “doubtful“. The Rams also just designated running back Darrell Henderson to return from IR.
The Rams are coming off of a BIG win against the Cardinals in the wildcard round. They’re feeling pretty good about themselves, and they should be. The offense was clicking, and the defense was relentless. They just destroyed an 11-6 Cards team 34-11 without batting an eye. Stafford is playing lights out. They’ve got Sony Michel and Cam Akers in the backfield. They have one of the best WR duos in the league in Cooper Kupp and OBJ. They have Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and Jalen Ramsey on defense. They’re good. We’ll see if they’re good enough on Sunday.
- Todd Bowles vs. Cooper Kupp
I say this because Kupp has torched the Buccaneers’ defense in the 3 games that he’s played them to the tune of 29 catches for 362 yards and 3 touchdowns. Bowles has to figure out a way to limit his contributions as he did with the Chiefs Tyreek Hill last year.
- Ali Marpet vs. Aaron Donald
This is a clash of titans. One of the best players in the league versus one of the best guards in the league. Something has to give here. Hopefully, Marpet can hold down the fort enough that Donald isn’t a factor in this game.
- Mike Evans vs. Jalen Ramsey
In Week 3, Ramsey was only matched up with Evans for about a third of his snaps. Evans was targeted twice, catching one for 14 yards. The Rams like to move Ramsey around, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s on Evans a little more in this game — given the Bucs depleted receiving corps.
- Tristan Wirfs vs. Von Miller
If he plays, it will likely be at less than 100%. Luckily, his 80% is still better than most right tackles in the league. If he was healthy, I’d give the edge to the young fella. However, given that he’s going to be hobbled if he does play in this game, this could be an interesting battle to keep an eye on.
- Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Joe Noteboom
With their veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth out, the Rams will have youngster Joe Noteboom starting in his place. However, this isn’t his first rodeo. He started nine games in 2020, including their Week 11 matchup with the Bucs. JPP finished the game with 6 tackles and a sack. I think he’ll be even more disruptive this go around.
- Vita Vea vs. Brian Allen
We all know how much of a destructive force Vea is up the middle. Well, Allen gave up a league-high 5 sacks from his center position and ranked 26th out of 32 centers in pass-blocking efficiency. That spells trouble for Matthew Stafford and the Rams offense.
The first time these two teams met back in Week 3, the Bucs weren’t at full strength. This time, they’re as full strength as they’ve been in quite a while. In fact, this will be the first game this season that the entire starting defense from the Super Bowl is on the field; at the same time. They have their “swag” back. With the exception of that flukey 9-0 loss to the Saints, the Bucs are 8-0 at home, this season, having scored 30+ points in every game. They’re 10-0 at home over the last two seasons when wearing their white jerseys. They got 31 MORE hours of rest and prep time than the Rams, who are flying across the country on a short week. The Rams are shorthanded, missing their left tackle and BOTH starting safeties. And now, with the 49ers beating the Packers, the Bucs know they have the opportunity to play the NFC Championship at home next week IF they win this game. That should be a little added motivation there. I don’t think either team walks away with this one. It’s going to be a back and forth game with multiple lead changes that ended with the go-ahead score in the final two minutes.
Bucs 27 Rams 20
Make no mistake about it; this is a revenge game. The 1979 NFC Championship game. The 1999 NFC Championship game. Week 11 last season. Week 3 this season. Tom Brady HATES losing. Maybe even more than he loves winning. He’s lost nine games since joining the Buccaneers. Four of those have been against the Saints. Two of the remaining five have been against these Rams. It’s payback time for Tom. For Bert Emmanuel and Shaun King. For all us fans that have hated the Rams ever since that ’99 title game. This is the game where Buc Nation gets its sweet revenge.
So now that you know all you need to know about the Bucs matchup with the Rams all that’s left to say is,