Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers matchups, start time and how to watch
Breaking down how the Rams (13-5) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4) match up heading into their NFC divisional-round playoff game at noon PST on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The game will be shown on NBC (Channel 4 in the L.A. area).
When Rams have the ball: Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford was a model of efficiency in an NFC wild-card victory over the Arizona Cardinals, and his team probably will need a similar performance to defeat the Buccaneers. Stafford completed 13 of 17 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. He did not commit a turnover for the first time in five games. Stafford will be operating behind a line that will include left tackle Joe Noteboom starting in place of Andrew Whitworth, who suffered knee and ankle injuries against the Cardinals. After getting limited opportunities in the season-finale against the San Francisco 49ers, running back Cam Akers rushed for 55 yards in a team-high 17 carries against the Cardinals. Akers will rotate with Sony Michel, who keyed the Rams’ five-game winning streak late in the season. Receiver Cooper Kupp is Stafford’s top target, but Odell Beckham Jr. has consistently made plays. Against the Cardinals, Beckham caught a touchdown pass and also completed a long pass to Akers. Receiver Van Jefferson and tight end Tyler Higbee also are threats. Tackles Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh, and linebackers Shaquil Barrett, Devin White, Lavonte David, and Jason Pierre-Paul lead the Buccaneers defense.
The Rams want to replicate the Buccaneers’ feat of playing a Super Bowl at home. To do that, Matthew Stafford likely needs to outduel Tom Brady.
When Buccaneers have the ball: Seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady leads an offense that finished the season ranked first in passing and second in scoring. Brady passed for 43 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. In last Sunday’s 31-15 wild-card victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Brady completed 29 of 37 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. The Buccaneers’ receiver corps was depleted late in the season when Chris Godwin suffered a season-ending knee injury and Antonio Brown was released. Star receiver Mike Evans caught nine receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles. Brady also utilizes tight ends Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Running back Leonard Fournette could provide a boost if he is able to return from a late-season hamstring injury. But Brady and the offense are dealing with an injury-depleted offensive line that will try to hold off a Rams front that includes lineman Aaron Donald and outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Von Miller. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey could match up against Evans and the tight ends, but Brady will try to exploit a secondary that includes safeties Nick Scott, Terrell Burgess and Eric Weddle, whose role could increase after playing 19 snaps against the Cardinals.
When they kick: Rams punter Johnny Hekker seemed to recapture his All-Pro form when he pinned the Cardinals inside the 10-yard line several times. Matt Gay has made 32 of 34 field-goal attempts. Ryan Succop, who replaced Gay with the Buccaneers in 2020, has made 25 of 30 field-goal attempts. Bradley Pinion averages 38.9 net yards per punt.
Gary Klein’s prediction: It’s tough to beat Brady at home in the playoffs, but the Rams are riding a wave of confidence. The defensive front will overpower the Buccaneers’ line to help the Rams advance to the NFC championship game.
RAMS 30, BUCCANEERS 27
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