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