Overview: Many people think this may be a preview of the NFC title game. It's early to be making that kind of prediction, and indeed, there are many other good teams in the NFC, including the entire NFC West. Still, this is a headline game. The Los Angeles Rams were the last team to hang a loss on Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a 27-24 victory in Florida last season. The oddsmakers earlier this week were picking the Rams by 1.5 points. That betting line has now mostly moved in the other direction, with the Bucs being slightly favored by about the same margin.
Rams Defense vs. Bucs Offense: Let's be honest here, the Rams defense needs to play better than they did last week in a road win over the Colts. They were terrible, but Carson Wentz is not Tom Brady, and this offense is at least a couple of notches above that of the Colts.
On the other hand, if the Rams defense plays up to its ability, it's far better than that of either the Cowboys or Falcons, the two teams Tampa Bay has victimized so far this season.
Tom Brady has thrown nine touchdowns already versus only two picks this season. He historically is not as good under pressure. Ask the 2007 Giants who upset him in the Super Bowl. It's still true today.
The Bucs did well in last year's loss to the Rams by containing Aaron Donald, who didn't have a sack in that game. Asking for a repeat performance is asking a lot, but AD will likely see his usual double or triple-team blocking. That means guys like Leonard Floyd, Justin Hollins, and Sebastian Joseph Day need to step up their games. Terrel Lewis, the former third-round pick out of Alabama, has had a quiet career as an outside linebacker so far. If he's ever going to change that narrative, Sunday would be a great time to start. One way or another, the Rams have to make Tom Brady uncomfortable, even if it means dialing up some exotic blitzes. Los Angeles Rams Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris saw Brady and the Bucs twice last season when he was the Head Coach with the Falcons. It will be interesting to see what he creates.
The Bucs number three receiver Antonio Brown has been ruled out today, but it may not matter with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Tight End Rob Gronkowski on the field. Rams corners Jalen Ramsey and Darius Williams have been outstanding this season, and Morris has been deploying Ramsey all over the secondary as sort of a roving cornerback, including in the slot and even against tight ends. It will be interesting to see how Morris uses him this week.
We're guessing he will mostly face Evans this week, but who knows? If so, it will be an exciting battle.
Rams Offense vs. Bucs Defense: Last year, Rams running back Cam Akers had a breakout game against Tampa Bay. He's out for the year and obviously won't play in this game. Darrel Henderson, who been the Rams feature back in his absence, is nursing a rib injury and may or may not play. That likely means Sony Michel, the former first-round pick from Georgia whom the Rams got from New England a few weeks ago, may have to carry the load. Tampa Bay's run defense has been excellent so far, essentially shutting down Ezekiel Elliot, among others. The Bucs appear to have the edge here, given Michel's somewhat underwhelming NFL career to date. Jake Funk may see some action for the Rams, but let's be honest, he doesn't scare anybody. It could be tough sledding on the ground for LA in this game. Hopefully, they can mount some semblance of a running game to play-action pass, always a big part of a Sean McVay offense can click.
The prospects through the air could be a bit brighter. Tampa Bay's secondary is likely the weak link in an excellent defense. The Rams Cooper Kupp has been outstanding so far this year. With 271 receiving yards and three touchdowns through two games. He had nine catches for 193 yards last week, and he seems to have a special rapport with quarterback Matt Stafford. He's probably seen many Bucs corner Carlton Davis, and that is a matchup that favors the Rams. If the Bucs double up on Kupp, which may happen, Robert Woods and Van Jefferson need to win their matchups. McVay also talked this week about getting DeSean Jackson more involved in the offense. The speedster (and former Buc) could be an ex-factor in this game.
This season, Rams Center Brian Allen has been a pleasant surprise, but he'll face a big test on Sunday versus Vita Vea, one of the game's best nose tackles.
Like the rest of this game, this battle is a hard one to forecast. We'll check the box for the Rams, but it's very, very close. They probably need to complete a couple of long passes, and Stafford needs to have a big game.
Edge: Rams (slight)
Special Teams: This area almost cost the Rams a win over Indy last week when they essentially botched their punt with a player being out of position, resulting in a Indianapolis Colts touchdown. That can't happen again. Outside of placekicker Matt Gay, the Rams special teams have not been perfect. It's a problem.
Coaching: Some consider Bucs Head Coach Bruce Arians a potential Hall of Famer if he can win another ring or two. He always gave the Rams a fight when he coached the division-rival Cardinals, despite having a less talented team.
But when it comes to innovation and offensive wizardry, few can match Sean McVay. We don't know yet just how good Raheem Morris is as the Rams defensive coordinator. He's well-respected (he once was the head man in Tampa Bay), but there have been some bumps in the road early in Los Angeles. It may be a case of the players learning a new defense. We've already aired our concerns with the Rams special teams. As with the Rams defense, the jury is still out on new special teams coach Joe DeCamillis.
There are too many unknowns here, so we'll call this a toss-up for now.
Final Prediction: For anyone thinking of betting in this game, our advice would be "don't." This week, former Rams great Kurt Warner said on the NFL Network that he thinks Tampa Bay is simply playing on a different level than the rest of the league right now. He may be right.
We're Rams fans. Maybe the honest prediction here would be "who knows." But we'll say
Rams 30 Bucs 29
Rams vs. Colts Preview
Overview: Interesting matchup of a couple of potential playoff teams. The Rams are coming off of a resounding win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night. As is often the case with Rams victories, the game was close for a half before the Rams pulled away for a 20-point win. The Colts, meanwhile, were shredded by Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in an opening day loss. This game is big for them, as no one ever wants to start a season 0-2. A win over the Rams would also give Indy credibility as a legit playoff contender.
Oddsmakers have the Rams favored by thee on the road.
Rams Defense vs. Colts Offense: The matchup of Rams D-lineman Aaron Donald—widely considered the best defensive player in the game, if not the best player period—against Colts All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson alone makes this game an intriguing one. If you are a football purist who loves the battle in the trenches, this should be a treat, assuming it happens. Nelson missed practice this week with a back injury but has indicated he will play on Sunday. Nelson is arguably the best guard in the NFL, so this could be a great battle if he is at full strength. It's potentially the best one-on-one battle you will see in the NFL in 2021.
Colt's offensive line should have concerns and issues. Right-tackle Braden Smith is out, and left tackle Eric Fisher is questionable with an Achilles injury. You don't want to face this Rams defensive front with both tackles out, so that could be a huge deal.
Colts running back Jonathon Taylor needs a big day for Indy. The one negative in the Rams win last week against the Bears was the rush defense, gashed for over 100 yards by Chicago running back David Montgomery. Indy can win this game if Taylor can have a big day, and the Colts can keep the explosive Rams offense on the sidelines.
Outside linebacker Justin Hollins had a big day last week for the Rams, including a pair of sacks. Meanwhile, the Rams deployed top cornerback Jalen Ramsey all over the field, including matching up with the Bears' tight ends on occasion. It will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Raheem Morris follows that game plan again on Sunday.
Colts quarterback Carson Wentz had decent numbers on paper last week, throwing for 251 yards and two touchdowns. He didn't do as well by the "eyeball' test, though, as he tended to look a little sluggish and overmatched on the field. He threw 15 picks in 2020 despite being supplanted as the starter for Philly by Jalen Hurts late in the season. Two of those came against the Rams, including an interception in the end zone that stopped a Philly drive.
He can't turn the ball over on Sunday, or this could get ugly.
Wentz knows both the Rams and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris from his days in Philly. Of course, that also means they know him. If this turns into a shootout, we like Ram's chances in this game. But if Indy can run the ball, avoid turnovers and play positional football, the Colts may well notch their first win of the season.
Rams Offense vs. Eagles Defense: The Colts don't necessarily have great edge rushers, but they do have one of the game's best defensive tackles not named Aaron Donald. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who notched 9.5 sacks last season and was named First-team All-Pro Buckner, regularly terrorized the Rams as a member of the 49ers from 2016-2019. He can be a big problem, and the Rams know it.
The job of containing him will fall to center Brian Allen and guard Austin Corbett. We had concerns about Allen last week, and they said so. He proved us wrong, playing so well that he was singled out for praise by Rams coach Sean McVay. He needs another strong performance on Sunday. Matt Stafford's inside pressure will rattle him so that this battle could be a key to the game.
The Colts will be without their best corner in Xavier Rhodes. That's all the more reason why Indy needs to generate some pressure upfront. One of the reasons the Rams got Matt Stafford in the off-season was his ability to throw the deep ball. We saw it last week in long touchdowns to Van Jefferson and Cooper Kupp, and the Colts don't want a repeat if they are to win on Sunday.
The Ram running game was dormant last week until late in the game, when Darrel Henderson showed some flashes and helped cinch the win. Overall, the running game was just OK, and Los Angeles would like a little more on the ground so that the play-action passes that are a big part of their offense can click.
Will we see more of Sony Michel at running back last week?
Special teams: Rams kicker Matt Gay was very well last week. Punter Johnny Hekker was decent in limited action. The Rams kickoff coverage was not great, though, which is something they want to work on.
We aren't necessarily a fan of having Cooper Kupp as a punt returner either. First of all, we don't want to see him injured. But we also don't love his work as a return man so far, including appearances in that role last season.
The Colt's special teams were outstanding in 2020. With only one regular-season game under their belt, we don't know if that will hold this season. But we are going to check this box for Indy.
Coaching: Colt's headman Frank Reich, is a good NFL coach with a very competent staff. But giving Sean McVay the kind of tools he appears to have on offense this season could be scary.
Final Prediction: Colts legends Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James will be at this game. The Colts are also playing at home, and while this isn't a "must win' game, it's undoubtedly a "really want to win" game.
We think the Rams have a little better team, and talent usually wins in the NFL.
Rams 30 Colts 24
Overview: You never really know what to expect in season openers. These teams were playoff teams last year, albeit Chicago with a mediocre 8-8 mark. Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy's job depends on how his team performs this season.
Both teams feature new quarterbacks in this game. The Rams gave up a fortune in talent and draft choices to get former Lion's signal-caller Matt Stafford. No one doubts Stafford's arm talent, but he's never won anything worth mentioning in his NFL career. Was that because stuck in Detroit, the Siberia of the NFL? Or is he not a winner? We may find out in 2021.
The Bears, meanwhile, turn to NFL journeyman Andy Dalton. Dalton is "just a guy, let us be straight" He won't kill you with rookie mistakes, but he won't carry a team on his back either. He's keeping the seat warm for Bear's first-round pick Justin Fields, from Ohio State University. We may or may not see Fields take some snaps in this game, But Nagy insists that Dalton is his starter. The Rams have reportedly been preparing for both players in their defensive scheming for this game.
Rams Defense vs. Bears Offense: One thing many folks will be watching for in this game is a potential marquee matchup between Rams corner Jalen Ramsey and Bears' wideout Allen Robinson, who is easily Chicago's biggest offensive threat. Ramsey regularly battled DK Metcalf, DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, and Terry McLaurin last season. While he may not have been perfect in those matchups, he won more often than he lost. Robinson is an excellent receiver, but Ramsey puts the "shut down" in the 'shut down corner." We like his chances of at least containing Robinson.
The other big matchup, of course, features Rams All-World defensive lineman Aaron Donald against Bears interior lineman Cody Whitehair and James Daniels. The Bears O-line widely regarded as the team's weakest link on offense. They will likely do what everybody does, go all out to contain Donald. Whether they are successful will have a lot to do with the outcome of this game.
The Rams got some good news on the injury front that defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson will likely play. Robinson, a mountain of a man, will be partially counted on to replace the departed Micheal Brockers in the Rams defensive front. He's reportedly shed a few pounds to improve his pass-rush skills.
This game will also be a reunion, as Rams linebacker Leonard Floyd faces his old team. Floyd considered a bust when he left Chicago, a former first-round pick from Georgia who underachieved in his stint with the Bears. But he revived his career last year with the Rams, notching 10.5 sacks in route to a fat new contract in the offseason. We would think he might have a little extra motivation to play well in this game.
The Bears rushing attack runs through David Montgomery, a well-above-average NFL back with some game-breaking potential. The Rams linebackers, especially the inside backers, have to do their job on Sunday night. If there is a weakness in this defense, they may be it.
The Rams defense is lead by defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Morris is a former head coach who is very well thought of around the league, but he has big shoes to fill in replacing Brandon Staley. The latter coached the league's top-rated defense in L.A. last season. The Rams likewise will have to replace Safety John Johnson, a long-time stalwart in the secondary who played at a Pro-Bowl level. It won't be easy, but the Rams still have many talents on defense.
Rams Offense vs. Bears Defense: Even though Nagy brought a reputation as an offensive genius to the Bears when he came to Chicago from Kansas City a few years back, this team's strength has been chiefly on this side of the ball. With a front seven that includes Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, and Bilal Nichols, these guys can wreck a game plan..and an offense.
We are a little concerned about the Rams going with Brian Allen at the center. He wasn't terrific in 2019 when he last started. Hopefully, he's stepped up his game since then. Bears tackle Akiem Hicks may be looking forward to seeing Allen across the line. Let's hope Hicks is in for a disappointing night. The ears' defensive tackle battle is battling a knee injury, and they may try to compensate by having Hicks try to take advantage of Allen in this game.
Khalil Mack is another game-wrecker, especially as a pass-rusher. He might not entirely be Aaron Donald, but he's not far behind A.D., and that is saying something. Rams offensive tackle Rob Havenstein needs to hold his own against Mack at least. The Rams think they can take advantage of a questionable Bears secondary, but if Matthew Stafford is flat on his back all night, that won't happen. The Rams held Mack to a sack and a forced fumble last year in a Los Angeles win. Those may not be superior numbers from Ram's point of view, but Mack can do much more damage if Havenstein doesn't bring his A-game.
The Bear's secondary is the relative weak link here. One reason the Rams added Stafford and DeSean Jackson and rookie Tutu Atwell, the speedster from Louisville, was to try to open up a deep passing game that was lackluster last season. Expect them to take their shots down the field. Of course, veterans Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are already excellent receivers, so if the Rams can keep Stafford upright, they could score some points.
The Rams got a tough break when they lost running back Cam Akers in the preseason. Darrel Henderson and Sony Michel expected to carry the bulk of the load. Bears linebacker Roquon Smith is a significant force in stopping the run and covering receivers out of the backfield. Smith vs. Henderson/Michel is another crucial matchup.
It's hard to say precisely how the new pieces on this Rams offense will come together in week 1, and the Bears have some serious defensive talent. We're going to check the box for Los Angeles, but this should be an exciting matchup. If the Bears can pressure Stafford and contain the running game, they absolutely can win this game.
Edge: Rams (not by much)
Special Teams: The honest answer in week one of 2021 is who knows? The Rams seemed to find their groove last season in the kicking game when they signed Matt Gay, and punter Johnny Hekker returns despite being out-performed in the preseason by Cory Bojorquez, subsequently traded to the Green Bay Packers. But Hekker is still an excellent punter, and as a former high-school quarterback, he adds the dimension of a fake punt to the arsenal for the Rams.
Los Angeles just wasn't excellent in kickoff and punt coverage or return game last season. They brought in 33-year veteran Joe DeCamillis to run the special teams this year. Let's hope he can step up the play from last season when special team's units were a problem after mostly being a team strength in previous years.
The Bear's special teams aren't necessarily a team strength either. They have a history of missing big kicks in crucial games, going back to a missed field goal that cost them a playoff game against the Eagles a few years ago. Cairo Santos is the current placekicker and considered solid, if not extraordinary. Pat O'Donnell handles the punting choirs, and the Rams will see a familiar face returning punts in former Ram Nsimba Webster. The Bears are missing Tarik Cohen on the return game, who is injured. Cohen is an excellent player, so his loss hurts.
There are too many variables here to pick a clear favorite until we see some regular-season action from both squads, so we'll rate this as a toss-up for now.
Coaching: Matt Nagy had a reputation as an offensive genius when he was the Chiefs, offensive coordinator. We haven't seen that in Chicago. Then again, going from Patrick Mahomes to (former Bears quarterback), Mitch Trubisky might have something to do with that.
Sean McVay's reputation as an offensive genius likewise may have taken something of a hit last season when the Rams offense was not very good. Will the change at quarterback and the influx of speed at wide-receiver change things? We don't know. But we think the Rams have the overall advantage here.
Final Prediction: The Rams are considered a Super Bowl contender, while the Bears generally are not. But this is not an easy matchup by any means. The Bears upset Los Angeles's last Super Bowl team in 2018, and they are capable of doing so again, especially if they can generate some takeaways on defense. Season openers are always a little dicey. You don't know.
But we'll take the Rams
Rams 27, Bears 20