First look at NFL divisional playoffs: Rams seek repeat against Tom Brady, Buccaneers

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady fumbles after getting hit by Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, bottom middle, on Sept. 26.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) fumbles after getting hit by Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, bottom middle, during L.A.’s 34-24 win Sept. 26 at SoFi Stadium.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

The NFL is a copycat league — and now the Rams are angling for an instant replay.

They’re looking to become the second consecutive team to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium.

A year ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made NFL history by doing that, and now the Rams have to get through them — and quarterback Tom Brady — to keep their hopes alive.


“It will be a big challenge for us,” Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “I think they’re a team that’s different than when we played them last and we are too with personnel and scheme a little bit.”

To advance to the NFC divisional round, the Rams throttled the Arizona Cardinals 34-11 in an NFC wild-card playoff game Monday night at SoFi Stadium. They will visit Tampa Bay on Sunday at noon Pacific time (NBC).

That provided the final puzzle piece of a second round that also features Cincinnati at Tennessee and San Francisco at Green Bay on Saturday and Buffalo at Kansas City on Sunday.

Matthew Stafford had more riding on the Rams’ success against the Cardinals than any other player on field, but can he beat Tom Brady and the Buccaneers next weekend?

Three of the games are rematches from the regular season, with the only matchup that isn’t a repeat being Bengals-Titans. The Rams, Packers and Bills were all victorious in the first meetings.

In each of the last two regular seasons, the Rams have beaten Brady and the Buccaneers, even though the former New England quarterback collected his seventh Super Bowl ring last February.

This time, the 44-year-old Brady is playing behind a bruised and battered offensive line that has the unenviable task of holding off a Rams defensive front that features Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd.

But Brady gets the ball out of his hands quickly, and if he has sufficient time he will look to take advantage of a Rams secondary with replacement safeties. Even if L.A. cornerback Jalen Ramsey can blanket Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, those safeties will have the difficult responsibility of covering a talented collection of Tampa Bay tight ends: Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard.


The Rams’ running game is on the rise, with Cam Akers joining forces with Sony Michel to give L.A. an impactful 1-2 punch. Then again, stopping the run is a Tampa Bay specialty.

So while Stafford is looking for the second playoff win of his career, Brady is in search of his 36th.

And after an opening weekend filled with blowouts, this game figures to be much closer than that.

The other divisional games:


AFC: No. 4 Cincinnati at No. 1 Tennessee

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) walks onto the field.
The return of star running back Derrick Henry (22) figures to give the Tennessee Titans a big boost.
(Zach Bolinger / Associated Press)

DIVISIONAL ROUND: Saturday, 1:30 p.m. PT, Channel 2

A key to this game will be the return of Titans running back Derrick Henry, who hasn’t played since Halloween because of a foot injury. He has looked good in practice, but it’s unknown how he’ll be at game speed. He isn’t a guy who has played in the preseason, so he’s accustomed to finding his groove quickly.

A.J. Brown is the best receiver for the top-seeded Titans and when healthy can change games. Fellow wideout Julio Jones has not been as consistent but can be spectacular when at his best.


The Bengals have a pair of tremendous wide receivers in Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, and second-year quarterback Joe Burrow is having an incredibly productive season. He completed 70.4% of his passes for 34 touchdowns with 14 interceptions in the regular season.

Cincinnati, which beat Las Vegas on Saturday, is coming off its first postseason victory in 31 years.

A challenge for the Bengals will be slowing Tennessee’s ground game, especially with Cincinnati banged up at defensive tackle in its last game. The Bengals lost defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi for the rest of the playoffs with a foot injury, and his backup, Mike Daniels, suffered a groin injury almost immediately upon entering the game. Another defensive tackle, Josh Tupou, is questionable because of a knee injury.

In an excerpt from his memoir Rams legend Eric Dickerson looks back on the racism he experienced and how the issues he endured still linger in the NFL.


NFC: No. 6 San Francisco at No. 1 Green Bay

Green Bay Packers' Davante Adams celebrates his touchdown reception with Aaron Rodgers.
The Green Bay Packers’ Davante Adams, left, and Aaron Rodgers have done a lot of celebrating this season.
(Matt Ludtke / Associated Press)


NFC DIVISIONAL ROUND: Saturday, 5:15 p.m. PT, Channel 11

The Packers have the No. 1 seed in the NFC and the likely NFL most valuable player in quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But they also lost the last two conference championship games, one of them at Lambeau Field, and Rodgers is 0-3 in the postseason against the 49ers.

That said, Rodgers did lead the Packers to a 30-28 victory at Levi’s Stadium in Week 3 when he and superb wide receiver Davante Adams played pitch and catch. Also in that game, the Packers established a blueprint for how to handle defensive lineman Nick Bosa by double-teaming him with a tight end, chipping him with a running back, quick passes and the like. That essentially neutralized him.

Bosa (concussion) and linebacker Fred Warner (ankle) were injured in Sunday’s win at Dallas, but there are indications both will be ready to return in this shorter-than-usual week.

Deebo Samuel has been tremendous for the 49ers and at 220 pounds is not only their biggest receiver but also their biggest running back. Even though he’s a wide receiver, Samuel can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles too.

The Packers have been spotty in their run defense, particularly with their outside linebackers. Good some weeks, poor in others. With the rise of rookie 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell and increased use of Samuel, stopping that ground game will be a challenge.

Von Miller might not be the player at 32 that he was when he helped the Broncos win Super Bowl 50, but he’s just hitting his stride with the Rams.



AFC: No. 3 Buffalo at No. 2 Kansas City

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen as Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor (97) pursues in October.
Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen runs as Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor pursues during an October game the Bills won handily.
(Ed Zurga / Associated Press)

DIVISIONAL ROUND: Sunday, 3:30 p.m. PT, Channel 2

Even though the Chiefs are widely regarded as the favorites in their conference, they lost this season to each of the remaining AFC teams: Buffalo, Tennessee and Cincinnati. Those losses to the Bills and Titans were when Patrick Mahomes was struggling with turnovers and the Chiefs had yet to get on track.

The Bills are coming off a 47-17 demolition of New England in the wild-card round in which quarterback Josh Allen was essentially unstoppable. It’s Buffalo’s top-ranked defense that led the way in the second half of the season, however.

One big difference between this Bills-Chiefs game and their first meeting — a 38-20 Buffalo road win — is the Bills don’t have star cornerback Tre’Davious White, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against New Orleans on Thanksgiving. That’s a big loss against Kansas City’s ultra-fast arsenal of receivers.


Gregory Eaton, Tom Henschel and Don Crisman have attended every Super Bowl and have had many close calls and interesting stories over the last 56 years.

As great as the Bills were on offense against the Patriots last weekend, including seven touchdowns on seven consecutive drives, kicker Tyler Bass saw two of his extra points get blocked and banked one in off the left upright. That kind of stuff could make a big difference in an all-or-nothing game at Arrowhead Stadium.

Considering Buffalo’s history with missed kicks in huge games — who can forget Scott Norwood’s wide-right kick in Super Bowl XXV — problems at that position have to trigger flashbacks.