Both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams were dominant in their respective playoff games last week. They'll go at it on Sunday at 3 PM ET at Raymond James Stadium. The winner advances to face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game.
The Rams destroyed Arizona last week, holding them to 0-for-9 on third down in a 34-11 win. The Bucs got off to a 31-0 lead against Philadelphia and cruised home for a 31-15 victory.
There was a meeting between these clubs in late September. The Rams got four touchdown passes out of Matthew Stafford en route to a 34-24 triumph. Tom Brady threw 55 passes in defeat.
And he'll be throwing passes without the protection of right tackle Tristan Wirfs, a Pro Bowl performer who will have to sit this one out with a high ankle sprain.
At BetOnline, the Bucs are the favorites in the NFC Divisional Round playoff odds:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -3 (+100)
Los Angeles Rams +3 (-120)
Over 48 points -110
Under 48 points -110
The absence of Wirfs presumably makes it easier for the L.A. pass rush, which chalked up 50 sacks this season. Wirfs and center Ryan Jensen both had to sit out some time in last week's game against the Eagles, and Brady got sacked four times. During the regular season, he was sacked just 22 times. And here comes the triumvirate of Von Miller, Leonard Floyd and Aaron Donald. They'll keep Brady honest, unless someone like Leonard Fournette comes back from his injury and makes a huge impact.
The Rams also have an offensive line problem in the respect that left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who's been a rock, is out of this game with multiple injuries. Matthew Stafford, who has made the L.A.offense more dangerous after his arrival from Detroit, has thrown for 41 touchdown passes, but he has also thrown 17 interceptions, including four of the "pick-six" variety. That;s what happens when you are somehow pressured into bad decisions.
Cooper Kupp (145 catches) is likely to do some business, as is Mike Evans (14 TD receptions). But neither quarterback, despite gaudy statistics, figures to have free reign. The Bucs' secondary, which has had its share of injuries, has the second highest pass coverage grade according to Pro Football Focus. And the Rams have the shutdown corner in Jalen Ramsey. He can take somebody out of the action. Who that somebody is going to be is yet to be determined.
Both of these teams are among the best in the NFL when it comes to defending in the red zone, allowing the opponent to score a TD only about 53% of the time. So no one will have a cakewalk down there. The Bucs, however, are actually the NFL's best when it comes to a touchdown rate inside the opponent's 20-yard line (65.8%).
Tampa Bay has been going through an awful lot of drama as of late, and that includes the $50,000 fine Bruce Arians drew from the NFL for slapping the helmet of one of his players (which he is appealing). But they might be the slightly better team in the red zone, and Brady is less likely to make the critical mistake than Stafford. That might give the Bucs an edge when it comes to the "side," but the O-line issues have us thinking "under" more than anything else.
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