When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams met at SoFi Stadium in Week Three of the 2021 season, it was a matchup of two undefeated teams with demonstrably high-powered offenses that were considered prime NFC Super Bowl candidates. That early assessment has clearly been borne out, as the two teams are set for a rematch, this time in Tampa, with a spot in the conference championship game on the line.
The Rams won that Week Three matchup fairly handily, 34-24, but the Buccaneers ended up with the conference's second playoff seed and finished the regular season ranked higher than Los Angeles on offense and defense in terms of both yards and points. Both teams also handled their Wild Card foe with relative ease, but the Rams are arguably a healthier team and they will roll into Raymond James Stadium on Sunday with a full head of steam.
Los Angeles barely broke a sweat beating Arizona in the Wild Card round, and pretty much all of the big-name stars the Rams have added in 2021 came up big. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was coolly efficient in a 202-yard, two-touchdown effort, wide receiver Odell Beckham scored a touchdown and also threw a 40-yard pass to running back Cam Akers, and outside linebacker Von Miller continued his recent tear with a sack and three tackles for loss.
The Rams didn't have Beckham or Miller when they beat the Bucs in September, but they did have Stafford, who threw for 343 yards and four touchdowns without a pick in that game. The Rams converted 10 of 15 third downs on offense, got up early and never let the Bucs back into the game despite a 446-yard day by Tampa Bay's offense. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a ribs injury in that game that cost him the middle of the season, says the Buccaneers simply didn't play well enough that day but know what they need to do to be better in the rematch.
"It depends on the circumstance, but many times when you do lose you can definitely take away a lot of things that you did wrong that you can correct and fix," said Gronkowski. "There's no doubt about that. It also just shows you when you lose to them earlier in the season that you have to go out there and play your best ball because obviously the product that myself and the team put out on the field wasn't good enough the first time around. So, how can we fix that? How can we fix the problems that we had? [How can we] make sure we'll catch all the balls that are thrown our way? That's what you learn from a loss is how can you fix it and how can you correct it."
The midseason arrival of Beckham helped the Rams overcome the loss of Robert Woods for the season, and the Rams recently saw safety Jordan Fuller, their leading tackler, go to injured reserve. For the most part, however, all of the principle characters who engineered their first win over the Buccaneers are still in the same spots. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, has had to adjust numerous times to injuries to key players such as Chris Godwin, who had 76 yards and a touchdown in that Week Three contest. The latest issue is the Bucs' top-rated offensive line, which has two of its three Pro Bowl selections in doubt for the Divisional Round due to fresh ankle injuries. Overcoming those injuries and other absences to go 14-4 and remain alive in Round Two has been an impressive accomplishment, but it doesn't make things easier going forward.
"Oh, I don't think there's any doubt - next man up and the quality of the depth," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "We're still looking – we found John Brown last week and he might be on the field this week. You never know. Jason [Licht] and 'Spy' (Vice President of Player Personnel John Spytek) have done a great job of building the roster and our coaches do a great job of getting them ready quickly."
The Rams have taken an aggressive and superstar-heavy approach to building their roster into a true Super Bowl contender and are trying to get another bite of the Super Bowl apple after Sean McVay's crew – with Jared Goff instead of Stafford at the offense's helm – lost to Tom Brady's Patriots in Super Bowl LIII three years ago. The Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV last February and then were just as aggressive in retaining every potential free agent and bring all of their starters back for a chance at a repeat. Both strategies have worked, at least well enough to get these two teams on the doorstep of the conference championship game. Neither team wants to see the journey end now.
"We know postseason is a whole different ballgame," said wide receiver Mike Evans. "You get the best of the best, all-out effort. Everybody is straining to make sure they are playing the next week."
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Los Angeles Rams (13-5, #4 NFC Seed) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4, #2 NFC Seed)
Sunday, January 23, 3:00 p.m. ET
Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 65,618)
TV Broadcast Team: Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst), Michelle Tafoya (reporter), Kathryn Tappen (reporter)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
The Buccaneers decades-long history with the Rams includes the highest-scoring game in franchise history, the most thrilling Monday Night Football victory in team annals and a pair of NFC Championship Games, neither of which went the right way for Tampa Bay.
The Los Angeles-and then St. Louis-and then Los Angeles again Rams hold a 16-9 edge (18-9 including playoffs) in the all-time series with Tampa Bay after beating the Bucs in the regular season in each of the last two years. In Week Three of the 2021 season, the Buccaneers took their first of only four losses in their first visit to SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, with the Rams taking a 34-24 decision. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 343 yards and four touchdowns and the Buccaneers had difficulty scoring despite racking up 441 yards of offense. The previous year, in a game that had three lead changes and four different ties, the Rams won 27-24 on a 40-yard field goal by former Buccaneer Matt Gay with 2:36 left in regulation. Los Angeles held the Bucs to just 251 yards, their second-lowest total of the year, but Tom Brady hit Chris Godwin on a 13-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with four minutes to play. The Rams duo of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp combined for 23 catches and 275 yards and Jordan Fuller sealed the win with a pick on Tampa Bay's last drive.
In Week Four of the 2019 season, the Buccaneers played in L.A. for the first time in 26 years and celebrated with a 55-40 win that set team records for most points scored and most combined points by both teams. Six different Buccaneers scored touchdowns in the game, with Godwin notching two among his 12 catches for 172 yards. Former Ram Ndamukong Suh ended the Rams' late comeback attempt with a 37-yard fumble return for a touchdown after a Shaq Barrett sack and forced fumble.
That win snapped a five-game winning streak in the series by the Rams, which in turn had come after the Bucs had won five of six between 2000 and 2010.
The second of the two Bucs-Rams NFC Championship Games came at the end of the 1999 season, pitting St. Louis' "Greatest Show on Turf" against a stifling Buccaneers defense. That defense carried the day for most of the game's four quarters until Ricky Proehl's 30-yard touchdown catch in the final five minutes gave the Rams an 11-6 lead. The Bucs had one more chance to take the lead back but stalled well into Rams territory after an overturned reception that led to the famous Bert Emanuel rule. Coincidentally, the Bucs and Rams had also met in the NFC Championship Game in 1979, in Tampa Bay's first-ever foray into the playoffs. Los Angeles won that game, 9-0.
The most famous non-playoff game between the Bucs and Rams occurred the season after their second NFCC meeting. In Week 16 of the 2000 campaign, with both Tampa Bay and St. Louis fighting for playoff spots, the two clubs staged an incredible shootout on Monday Night Football at Raymond James Stadium. Marshall Faulk scored four touchdowns for the visiting Rams but Warrick Dunn countered with three rushing scores of his own, including the game-winner on a one-yard dive with 48 seconds left. That final drive was kept alive by an incredible bit of ad-libbing by Dunn, who got out of a tackle for a loss by flipping the ball back to quarterback Shaun King. King ran around the end for a first down and a late-hit penalty tacked on 15 more yards. The Bucs held on to their hard-fought 38-35 win when John Lynch intercepted Kurt Warner's last pass.
· Rams Head Coach Sean McVay got his very first NFL job in Tampa, joining Jon Gruden's staff as an offensive assistant in 2008.
· Buccaneers defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh played for the Rams in 2018 as they advanced all the way to Super Bowl LIII. Suh started every game and contributed 69 tackles and 6.0 sacks, playoffs included.
· Rams kicker Matt Gay originally entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2019. He spent one season as the Bucs' kicker and made 27 of his 35 field goals. The Buccaneers went with the veteran Ryan Succop over Gay at the start of the 2020 season and Gay later joined the Rams just after midseason.
· Raheem Morris, currently in his first year as the Rams' defensive coordinator, was the Buccaneers' head coach from 2009-11. Tampa Bay compiled a 17-31 record in that span. Morris was also an assistant on the Bucs' coaching staff from 2002-05 and again from 2007-08, starting out as a defensive quality control coach and eventually moving on to assistant defensive backs coach and defensive backs coach. Morris was also promoted to defensive coordinator after the 2008 season to replace Monte Kiffin but he got the head coaching job just a few weeks later.
· Los Angeles Secondary Coach/Passing Game Coordinator Ejiro Evero also broke into the NFL with the Buccaneers, coming aboard Gruden's staff in 2007 as a defensive quality control coach. He remained in that role for three seasons, the last one under Morris.
· Eric Yarber, in his fifth season as the Rams' wide receivers coach, held the same role for two seasons (2010-11) under Morris.
· Kevin Demoff, the Rams' Chief Operating Officer, took over his current post as four seasons with the Buccaneers, working as a consultant and a senior assistant.
· Rams Assistant Special Teams Coach Dwayne Stukes was previously both a player and a coach in the Buccaneers organization. Stukes spent part of the Bucs' 2002 Super Bowl season on the team's practice squad. He later had a six-year stint on Tampa Bay's coaching staff (2006-11), serving as the special teams coordinator in his final campaign.
· Running back Raymond Calais, who is currently on the Rams' injured reserve list, originally entered the NFL as a seventh-round pick by the Buccaneers in the 2020 draft.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
· Tampa Bay:
· Head Coach Bruce Arians
· Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
· Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
· Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
· Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
· Los Angeles:
· Head Coach Sean McVay
· Offensive Coordinator Kevin O'Connell
· Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris
· Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis
KEY 2021 ROSTER ADDITIONS
· S Andrew Adams (FA)
· RB Kenjon Barner (FA)
· RB Le'Veon Bell (FA)
· RB Giovani Bernard (FA)
· LB K.J. Britt (5th-round draft pick)
· WR Jaelon Darden (4th-round draft pick)
· CB Pierre Desir (FA)
· CB Dee Delaney (FA)
· OL Robert Hainsey (3rd-round draft pick)
· WR Breshad Perriman (FA)
· CB Rashard Robinson (FA)
· CB Richard Sherman (FA)
· LB Grant Stuard (7th-round pick)
· QB Kyle Trask (2nd-round draft pick)
· OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (1st-round draft pick)
· WR Tutu Atwell (second-round draft pick)
· WR Odell Beckham (FA)
· DT Bobby Brown (fourth-round draft pick)
· RB Jake Funk (fifth-round draft pick)
· LB Ernest Jones (third-round draft pick)
· RB Sony Michel (T-NE)
· OLB Von Miller (T-DEN)
· WR/KR Brandon Powell (FA)
· CB Robert Rochell (fourth-round draft pick)
· QB Matthew Stafford (T-DET)
· S Eric Weddle (FA – currently on practice squad)
ADDITIONAL 2021 CHANGES OF NOTE
· While "keeping the band" together on the field for a run at another championship, the Buccaneers also managed to keep their coaching staff almost entirely intact for 2021. The lone departure was Offensive Assistant Antwaan Randle El, who left to coach the receivers on Dan Campbell's staff in Detroit. There were two additions to Arians' staff: Offensive Assistant A.Q. Shipley and Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Thaddeus Lewis.
· Mike Greenberg, who provided invaluable help to Jason Licht in the efforts to keep the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning roster together as the team's director of football administration, was promoted during the offseason to vice president of football administration. Greenberg is entering his 12th year with the team.
· After playing their 2020 home schedule in front of audiences ranging from empty stands to about 25% capacity, the Buccaneers will be at full capacity at Raymond James Stadium in 2021. And we do mean full capacity. The defending champions have already sold out every home game this season; the last time every game at Raymond James Stadium sold out was in 2009.
· The Buccaneers introduced new uniforms in 2020 that were heavily influenced by the look the team had during its first Super Bowl era but also included a brand new alternate set with matching pewter jerseys and pants. That gave the team four combinations last season: pewter on pewter, white on white, white on pewter and red on pewter. The Bucs will use a fifth combination in 2021, with a red jersey over white pants, which they will wear in the Sunday Night Football spotlight at home against the Saints in Week 15.
· There are new men in two of the three coordinator spots under McVay in 2021 after the departure of Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley to be the new Chargers head coach and the shift of Special Teams Coordinator John Bonamego to the positions of senior coaching assistant. Both Staley and Bonamego had held those positions for just one season. Taking their spots are Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris and Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis. The Rams have kept the same scheme they were running under Staley on defense but Morris, who spent two thirds of last season as the Falcons' interim head coach, is sure to put his own spin on it. DeCamillis is now in his 34th consecutive season as an NFL special teams coach or coordinator, having previously held the position for Denver (twice), the New York Giants, Atlanta, Jacksonville (twice), Dallas and Chicago.
· McVay has a number of other new faces on his coaching staff in 2021, in large part because a handful of assistants were poached by other teams or colleges. That includes Staley, Joe Barry (defensive coordinator in Green Bay), Shane Waldron (offensive coordinator in Seattle), Andy Dickerson (run game coordinator in Seattle), Aubrey Pleasant (pass game coordinator/defensive backs coach in Detroit) and Liam Coen (offensive coordinator at the University of Kentucky). In addition, Offensive Line Coach Aaron Kromer was not retained. New to the Rams staff in 2021 are Offensive Line Coach Kevin Carberry, Offensive Assistant Nick Jones, Assistant Special Teams Coach Dwayne Stukes, Offensive Assistant Chris O'Hara and Assistant Defensive Line Coach Marcus Dixon. Wes Phillips, also the tight ends coach, took over for Waldron as the passing game coordinator.
· The Rams' receiving corps looks quite a bit different than it did when the Buccaneers went to Los Angeles in Week Three. Since then, DeSean Jackson has been released, Odell Beckham has been signed and Robert Woods has gone on injured reserve. Similarly, the Rams' backfield has lost Darrell Henderson to injured reserve but gotten Cam Akers back from that IR list since they faced the Buccaneers.
Who's In and Who's Out? – Scroll down this page just a bit more and you will see a very lengthy injury report for the Buccaneers. As much as very good health fortune was a major part of the story in the Bucs' run to the Super Bowl championship last season, this year's theme has been quite the opposite. It has been a constantly twisting tale of the next man up, as Buccaneer players have had to deal with a litany of injuries, team architects have had to find new contributors on the fly and the coaches have had to frequently adjust the lineup. These injuries have often been concentrated at one or two positions, as the secondary was hit hard early and the receiving corps has taken a number of shots recently. The latest position to be thrown into doubt is the offensive line, which until last week was both the team's healthiest crew and it's top-performing unit. Now, however, the Buccaneers likely won't know until late in the week if they will have first-team Associated Press All-Pro Tristan Wirfs or Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen on the field when they take on the Rams. Others who could be in danger of missing the Divisional Round game include running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, wide receivers Cyril Grayson and Breshad Perriman, cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul. The Buccaneers got inside linebacker Lavonte David and outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett back in the lineup last weekend and that made a noticeable difference on the defense. If a number of the players listed above can play, this could be a story of their perseverance. If they cannot suit up, it's back to the next-man-up well for a Bucs team that has really tested its depth this season.
Rematch Revenge? – In the Divisional Round last year, the Buccaneers traveled to New Orleans and avenged two regular-season losses to the Saints. A year later, Tampa Bay is once again set for a Divisional Round rematch with one of the few teams that beat them during the regular season, in this case the Rams. It's not a perfect parallel because this time around the Buccaneers won their division and the second seed in the conference, which means the rematch will be on their home turf. In addition, both the Rams and Buccaneers have some significant differences in their rosters since they last crossed paths in Week Three. Still, there is a bit of revenge factor here, and Mike Evans for one is glad it's the Rams who are coming to town. Said Evans: "I've always liked playing a team that beats us. Even in the regular season if we're playing a division opponent that beat us the first time, I want to beat them bad the second time. Like last year, we played the Saints twice and I wanted to play them because they beat us twice in the regular season. I wanted to play them again this year, but it didn't happen that way. I'm definitely looking forward to the challenge come Sunday." Though much has changed since Week Three, there are still some useful takeaways from L.A.'s 34-24 win that will factor into their preparations and approach in the rematch. The Buccaneers' offense got off to a very slow start, failing on a series manageable third downs in the first quarter. The defense got little pressure on Matthew Stafford, which allowed him to rack up 343 yards and four touchdowns and hit some very big plays downfield. The Bucs actually outgained the Rams, 446 yards to 407, but couldn't reliably get off the field on third downs on defense and couldn't do much of anything on the ground on offense. The Bucs will try to write a very different script for Sunday's game.
Stop the Stampede – The Bucs' offensive line allowed the lowest sack rate in the NFL during the regular season, but the Rams did get Tom Brady down three times in that Week Three contest, including one each by the dangerous inside-outside duo of Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd. Since then, that duo has become a trio with the midseason trade for former Broncos star Von Miller. Aaron finished the season with a typical 12.5 sacks, Floyd added 9.5 and Miller has at least one sack in each of the last five games for the Rams. The addition of Miller, according to Rob Gronkowski, has added a whole new dynamic to the Rams' defense, with opposing teams now having to worry serious challenges on both edges if they try to double-team Donald inside. Tom Brady has beaten a lot of defenses this year with quick throws but the Buccaneers may need some big plays on Sunday to keep up with the Stafford and the Rams, and Brady could use a little extra time to find his targets downfield. Ideally, this will be a battle pitting two major strengths in the trenches, but the job will become more difficult for the home team if Wirfs and Jensen are out.
Staying Home – It's safe to say that neither team at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday will looking any farther ahead than the next snap, but both will undoubtedly know what's at stake. In fact, since San Francisco and Green Bay square off on Saturday night, the Bucs and Rams will go into their contest already knowing if a big prize is on the table: the NFC Championship Game in their home stadium. That makes every Ram and Buccaneer a very big 49ers fan this weekend, perhaps counterintuitively for L.A. players. The Bucs have played in four conference championship games in their history, but only one of them was at home and that was way back in 1979…coincidentally against the Rams. After winning three playoff road games last year to get to Super Bowl LV and become the first team ever to win the big game in its home stadium, the Buccaneers are hoping to stay at home for three straight weeks before jetting off to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the Rams are trying to duplicate the Buccaneers' groundbreaking feat from last year by making it to the Super Bowl in their SoFi Stadium home. One thing is for certain, it's the Buccaneers who will have the home field advantage this Sunday whether the ultimate prize is a third home game or a trip to Green Bay.
A Test for the Secondary – The Buccaneers still haven't been able to play a full game this season with all of their intended defensive backfield starters, with cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting currently the one missing time. The Bucs adjusted in the Wild Card game by using safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. in the slot in sub packages and playing Mike Edwards next to Jordan Whitehead at safety. It worked extremely well, as all three safeties had big games. Whitehead set the tone early with two big tackles for loss to kill the Eagles' first two drives, Edwards kept the first-half shutout intact with an end zone interception while also leading the team with nine tackles, and Winfield had a sack, two quarterback hits and five tackles. The Bucs didn't generate much pressure up front against the Eagles' strong offensive line, but the secondary led the way in what was a stifling effort for three quarters before the defense backed off and focused on killing time. Bruce Arians said cornerback Jamel Dean played his best game of the season and cornerback Carlton Davis was as solid as ever. That group will face a more serious challenge this Sunday, however. The Rams Matthew Stafford is an enormously talented passer who can stress all areas of the defense and Cooper Kupp is a catch and yardage machine who literally lines up in every possible spot on offense. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Kupp caught a pass from all seven pre-snap alignments (wide left and right, left and right slot, tight left and right and the backfield) in Week 14 against Arizona. He is the first player to do that in a single game in the NGS era, which dates back to 2016.
1. Buccaneers LT Donovan Smith vs. Rams OLB Leonard Floyd
Floyd has found life playing next to Aaron Donald to be very good. The ninth-overall pick in the 2016 draft, Floyd had a total of 18.5 sacks over four seasons in Chicago but has surpassed that in just two seasons with the Rams, as his 9.5 this year give him 20 since the start of 2020. He also had two sacks in two postseason games for the Rams last year. Floyd finished the 2021 regular season with 58 quarterback pressures according to NGS, which ranked ninth in the NFL and were just six fewer than his superstar teammate. It was obviously Floyd's speed and pass-rushing capabilities that made him such a coveted commodity on draft night, but he has developed into a very good all-around player for the Rams, which is why the team re-signed him to a new four-year deal after his 2020 breakout. Rams General Manager Les Snead calls Floyd a "special athlete" who has good instincts in the run game and the athletic ability to run stunts and games all along the line. Floyd will be a challenge for whichever Bucs blocker he draws, but that will surely be Smith at times, as the stalwart left tackle tries to keep Tom Brady's blindside unoccupied. The Buccaneers placed three offensive linemen in the Pro Bowl this year but those three (Wirfs, Jensen and Ali Marpet) are adamant that Smith was deserving of the same honor. The Bucs allowed the fewest sacks and the lowest sack rate in the NFL in 2021 and Smith was a big reason why. A powerful blocker in the run game, Smith is also nimble enough to keep up with speedy edge rushers like Fowler.
2. Rams WR Odell Beckham vs. Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean
As noted above, Dean turned in what his head coach thought was his best game of the year in the Wild Card Round, which was very helpful in the absence of Sean Murphy-Bunting. Dean is a big cornerback who generally plays with a very physical style, but he's also flat-out one of the fastest players on the roster, giving him catch-up speed on deep balls. According to NGS, Dean allowed a completion rate of 45.9% when he was the nearest defender to a targeted pass-catcher, which was the third-lowest mark in the NFL among qualifying players. He also had a 67% success rate by the estimation of NGS, which was second in the NFL. One of the Rams receivers that Dean will try to succeed against on Sunday is Odell Beckham, the midseason addition who gives the Rams a dynamic counterpoint to the NFL's leading pass-catcher, Cooper Kupp. Beckham had 27 catches for 305 yards in eight regular-season games for the Rams, and while those aren't overwhelming numbers he did score five touchdowns and turned in a handful of big plays. In the Rams' Wild Card win over Arizona, Beckham looked like one of the most important players in his team's offense, catching four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown, including a 31-yard reception, and also throwing a 40 yard pass to Cam Akers. Beckham is still capable of ripping off routes that are sharp they can completely lose a defender, and he remains a source for some of the most acrobatic catches you'll ever see.
3. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Rams CB Darious Williams
As many of his fellow pass-catchers have fallen by the wayside late in the season, Evans has continued to produce at a very high level even with opposing defenses now able to pay him even more attention. Evans finished the regular season with an 89-yard, two-touchdown outing against Carolina and then stung Philly with nine catches for 117 yards and a score in the Wild Card round. Evans doesn't see nearly as much man coverage as he would like but when the opposing defense does give him a man-to-man matchup on the outside and doesn't put enough help over the top, Tom Brady is more than happy to send his man vertical and go for the kill. The Rams' top cover man is Pro Bowl corner Jalen Ramsey, and as Evans noted on Wednesday, the Rams used Ramsey to trail Evans throughout the game when the two teams met in the 2020 regular season. However, this season Los Angeles has been playing Ramsey a lot more in the slot, and they didn't have him stick exclusively to Evans in Week Three. That means the Bucs' top pass-catcher will probably see plenty of Williams, who had a breakout season in 2020 playing opposite Ramsey. That's a tough job because opposing quarterbacks usually prefer to throw the ball away from wherever Ramsey is. Williams, who had four picks and 19 passes defensed in 2020, struggled a bit more through the first half of this season but lately appears to be rounding back into top form. According to NGS, Williams had an "expected points added" when targeted of +14.5 through the first 10 weeks of the season, one of the worst marks in the NFL, but has compiled a targeted EPA of -11.6 from Week 11 on, 12th-best in the league. Evans does bring a decent size advantage to this matchup, with eight inches and about 45 pounds on the 5-9, 178-pound corner.
4. Rams QB Matthew Stafford vs. Buccaneers S Antoine Winfield, Jr.
Stafford threw for 4,886 yards and 41 touchdowns during the regular season, third in the league in the former category and second only to Brady in the latter. However, Stafford also tied rookie Trevor Lawrence for the interception lead, with 17. The long-time Lion undeniably transformed the Rams' offense and had enormous production for his new team, but he was a bit error-prone down the stretch, throwing eight interceptions over the last four games of the regular season. Stafford was very sharp in the Rams' Wild Card win over Arizona, only needing 17 passes to log 13 completions, 202 yards and two touchdowns. He was not intercepted. The Buccaneers, of course, will be expected the best of Stafford on Sunday after he threw four touchdown passes against them in Week Three, but they will also be trying to prod him into a mistake or two, if possible. Winfield, who has a sack in each of the Bucs' last two games, is one of the Bucs' best sources for big plays in the secondary. The second-year Pro drew some Associated Press All-Pro attention in the voting because he is a very intelligent and instinctive player who is hard for quarterbacks to fool. Stafford may not throw any interception-worthy passes on Sunday, but if he does the Bucs hope Winfield is in the vicinity.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
· OLB Shaquil Barrett (knee) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· RB Giovani Bernard (hip/knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· QB Tom Brady (not injury related - rest) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· ILB Lavonte David (foot) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
· S Mike Edwards (elbow) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Cyril Grayson (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· TE Rob Gronkowski (not injury related - rest) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
· C Ryan Jensen (ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· RB Ronald Jones (ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· DL Steve McLendon (not injury related - rest) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
· WR Breshad Perriman (hip) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· DL Jason Pierre-Paul (not injury related - personal) – WEDS: FP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
· DL Ndamukong Suh (not injury related - rest) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
· T Josh Wells (quadriceps) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
· T Tristan Wirfs (ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· RB Buddy Howell (hamstring) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Doubtful.
· WR Brandon Powell (ribs) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· S Taylor Rapp (concussion) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· ILB Troy Reeder (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· WR Ben Skowronek (back) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· T Andrew Whitworth (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI:
Sunshine and clouds mixed. High of 61, low of 36, 5% chance of rain, 58% humidity, winds out of the NNW at 10-15 mph.
Head referee: Shawn Hochuli (8th season, 4th as referee)
· Favorite: Buccaneers (-3.0)
· Over/Under: 48.5
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Buccaneers (regular season)-
Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 131
Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 14
Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 5,316
Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 102.1
Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 812
Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 98
Receiving Yards: WR Chris Godwin, 1,103
Interceptions: S Mike Edwards, 3
Sacks: OLB Shaquil Barrett, 10.0
Tackles: LB Devin White, 128
Rams (regular season)-
Points Scored: K Matt Gay, 144
Touchdowns: WR Cooper Kupp, 16
Passing Yards: QB Matthew Stafford, 4,886
Passer Rating: QB Matthew Stafford, 102.9
Rushing Yards: RB Sony Michel, 845
Receptions: WR Cooper Kupp, 145
Receiving Yards: WR Cooper Kupp, 1,947
Interceptions: CB Jalen Ramsey/S Taylor Rapp, 3
Sacks: DT Aaron Donald, 12.5
Tackles: S Jordan Fuller, 113
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Buccaneers (regular season)-
Scoring Offense: 2nd (30.1 ppg)
Total Offense: 2nd (405.9 ypg)
Passing Offense: 1st (307.6 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 26th (98.4 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 2nd (23.8)
Third-Down Pct.: 2nd (47.1%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 1st (3.15%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 2nd (66.2%)
Scoring Defense: 5th (20.8 ppg)
Total Defense: 13th (331.5 ypg)
Passing Defense: 21st (238.9 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 3rd (92.5 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 17th (20.2)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 12th (38.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 12th (6.91%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 10th (52.5%)
Turnover Margin: 6th (+10)
Rams (regular season)-
Scoring Offense: 7th (27.1 ppg)
Total Offense: 9th (372.1 ypg)
Passing Offense: 5th (273.1 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 25th (99.0 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 12th (20.9)
Third-Down Pct.: 7th (43.9%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 7th (5.11%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-15th (60.0%)
Scoring Defense: 15th (21.9 ppg)
Total Defense: 17th (344.9 ypg)
Passing Defense: 22nd (241.7 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 6th (103.2 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 19th (20.4)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 21st (41.3%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 5th (8.00%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 8th (51.8%)
Turnover Margin: t-13th (+2)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
· Leonard Fournette had the most prolific postseason by a running back in franchise history last January and February, including 300 yards on the ground and 448 total yards from scrimmage. That puts him in position to take over the team's career lead in those categories, as well. He needs 42 more rushing yards to pass Mike Alstott (341) in the former category and 55 more scrimmage yards to pass Alstott (502) in the latter category. In addition, nine more catches will give Fournette the all-time franchise postseason lead in that category, as well, as he has 18 and the record is 26 by Warrick Dunn.
· WR Mike Evans actually leaped over Fournette on that receptions list with his seven-catch game against Philadelphia. Evans is now at 20 so seven more against the Rams would give the career record to him. Evans would also surpass Keyshawn Johnson (375) for the most career postseason receiving yards if he racked up 55 against Los Angeles.
· Fournette also scored four times in the Bucs' 2020 Super Bowl run, famously finding the end zone one team in each game. Alstott is also the Bucs' all-time leader in postseason touchdowns with seven, so Fournette could tie him with a three-TD game on Sunday.
· TE Rob Gronkowski has 1,304 career postseason receiving yards. If he gets 12 more Sunday he will move past Hall of Famer Michael Irvin (1,315) for the third most in NFL history.
· Both Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski caught a touchdown pass in the Wild Card win over Philadelphia, which moved both of them out of a four-way tie for the most postseason TD receptions in team history. Evans and Gronkowski now have three each, one better than the two scored by both Antonio Brown and Keenan McCardell. Obviously, either Evans or Gronkowski could take over first place all alone on Sunday if one of them scores and the other doesn't.
· Head Coach Bruce Arians on Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp: "He's one of the best. I think he and Chris Godwin, to me, are the best all-around receivers in the league because they block, they do everything – inside, outside. They're very comparable, and you know how I think about Chris. Cooper, he's a challenge. You can't double team him all day, that's for sure – they have too many other weapons. You just have to own up your guy and fight him. He's a hard tackle just like Chris is."
· Safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. on the defense playing with 'swagger' in the Wild Card round: "I would say since it's playoffs, the energy and all that – everything is up, and everybody is more aware of it. So, when you're out there, everything just feels different because it's win or go home. You have no choice but to bring that energy because you don't know when your last game is. That's something that we kind of felt in practice throughout the week and then in the game it just showed."
· Wide receiver Mike Evans on if the team's depth has been a major part of the Bucs' 2021 story: "Yeah, I think so. I said it when we first got this team together – our depth is crazy. I look at some of the [position] rooms like, 'If this guy goes down, we've got this guy,' going through all the ultimatums. Our depth has definitely helped us get to this point."
· Tight end Rob Gronkowski on the Raymond James Stadium crowd in the first round of the playoffs: "You have to give hats off to our fans – the Krewe – they were out there, they were loud, they were cheering. They were electric. They just made that atmosphere while playing the game of football that much more fun. We're excited to go back out there, run through the tunnel and see all of our fans out there again. The Krewe is going to be loud, they're going to be proud and it's going to be another great atmosphere. It'll be another football atmosphere this Sunday. It's going to be a good time."
Arians on how much it helps against a team with a great pass rush that Brady is so good at getting rid of the ball quickly: "It helps a bunch because they're going to be there sooner or later. You can only hold them out for so long. You still have to take some shots down the field. Everybody is not going to be dink and dunk. You just have to maximize how you're doing it, who you're blocking and who has who. They're doing a good job. They bring five a lot, so it's hard to double team anybody. So yeah, it helps a bunch."