If someone asked you to predict a playoff matchup before the start of the 2021 season, chances are Buccaneers versus Rams would've been one of your top guesses. Tom Brady and Tampa Bay were fresh off a Super Bowl run and brought basically the entire gang back for a potential repeat. Los Angeles, meanwhile, went all in to win, acquiring Matthew Stafford at quarterback and, later, bolstering its lineup with Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller. Now, with the Divisional Round upon us, the matchup has come to fruition, with the Bucs and Rams set for a rematch with a chance to make the NFC Championship.
L.A. got the best of the last meeting, a Week 3 showdown that served as early-year justification for the Stafford trade. But when can you ever count Tom Brady out of a playoff game? On Sunday, the two sides will go at it again, with everything on the line. We're previewing the matchup below with information on tuning in, key questions for the game, and a final-score prediction:
How to watch
- How will injuries affect the Bucs offense? This is the question of the game, really. Chris Godwin is out. Leonard Fournette is still battling hamstring issues. Cyril Grayson is coming off his own. And now star right tackle Tristan Wirfs is questionable. Tom Brady has been getting rid of the ball quickly, but he still needs help to get in the end zone.
- Can Matthew Stafford stay patient vs. Todd Bowles? Even with some injuries at corner, the Bucs "D" had its way with the Eagles' Jalen Hurts in the wild card round. Stafford, meanwhile, was prone to untimely forced throws down the stretch but has looked much more comfortable when Sean McVay's run game is also working.
- Will the Rams keep Odell involved early? Feeding Beckham Jr. helped open things up for L.A. against Arizona, with Cooper Kupp only emerging later in the contest. McVay could try to replicate the approach in Tampa to establish an early rhythm.
The Bucs looked plenty like championship material during their 31-15 rout of the Eagles on Super Wild Card Weekend, weathering a slew of injuries to punt Philly into the offseason. Tom Brady's performance was most impressive of all; without big-name weapons like Leonard Fournette, Chris Godwin and, at one point, two different Pro Bowl linemen, he made lightning-fast decisions and pinpoint throws to keep Tampa Bay in control from start to finish. Brady, of course, is the chief reason it's tough to pick against the Bucs, even with Tristan Wirfs still banged up and the wide receiver corps still lacking.
But you know what? For as much flak as the Rams got down the stretch, with Stafford forcing throws and the defense not always gelling, Los Angeles just has too many superstars to overlook in this spot. This team paid a fortune to build its lineup, and that lineup at full strength, firing on all cylinders, is dangerous. A road playoff game on a short week is never easy, but Stafford has Sony Michel, Cam Akers, Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. to lean on, not to mention a "D" that has its edge back thanks in large part to stalwarts Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.
Pick: Rams 29, Buccaneers 27