The Rams picked a really good time for their most complete performance of the season and earned a trip to the Sunshine State in the process. The task at hand is much tougher this week against Tom Brady, Bruce Arians and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Rams beat the Buccaneers during the regular season and are playing some outstanding football, so Game 1 of the NFL’s Sunday doubleheader looks like one that should live up to the billing.
The divisional-round matchup features the Rams in an underdog role for just the third time this season, but it would also be the second-smallest favorite role for the Bucs if the line winds up at 2½ across the market, which it already is at some places.
Rams at Buccaneers (-3, 48½), 12:05 p.m. PST Sunday, Ch. 4
When these two teams met at SoFi Stadium in Week 3, the Rams came away with a 34-24 win as the smallest of underdogs with a line of +1. Interestingly, the total for that game was 55 and the game did go over that, with a lot of yardage and some points left on the field. Games tend to tighten up in the postseason and we’ve certainly seen an adjustment to the total here.
We’ve also seen an adjustment to Sean McVay’s mindset on offense. Game state had a lot to do with why Matthew Stafford only had 17 pass attempts last week, but it was a continuation of the run-focused offense we’ve seen recently from McVay. Over Stafford ’s first 12 games, he averaged 36.5 pass attempts per game. Over the last six games, Stafford has exceeded that total just once.
Sony Michel had 129 carries over the final six regular season games and ran the ball 13 times out of just 24 snaps last week against Arizona. Cam Akers returned and had 17 carries on his 32 snaps. The Rams led big throughout most of the game, but it is clear that McVay’s intention has been to run the ball more often late in the year, maybe due in part to the inconsistencies of Stafford ’s game.
Will that be a recipe for success against a Tampa Bay team that has been one of the league’s best at the ball control style of offense? The Buccaneers do it through the air with Brady and a lot of smart, efficient, high-percentage passes. That objective may be tougher if Ryan Jensen and Tristan Wirfs are unable to go, though it does appear that Jensen is very much on track to play and Wirfs seems like the more questionable of the two.
Any injury up front is a concern for the Bucs with Aaron Donald and Von Miller lurking. The Rams defense had some issues throughout the season against better offenses, including the 411 passing yards allowed in the win over the Bucs, but shut down the Cardinals last week after allowing over six yards per play in both regular season meetings.
How much of that was about the Rams and how much was about Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury? It was the first time on the big stage for both guys and they failed miserably. Brady has more postseason experience than anyone and Arians certainly has his fair share. That is a question a lot of bettors seem to be asking.
The line is pretty sharp for this game in my estimation. A field goal game makes a lot of sense. The Rams have been a well-respected team throughout the season and have graded well in a lot of areas. The Bucs have as well, but deserve to be favored for home-field advantage on what amounts to a short week for the Rams and also with the G.O.A.T. at quarterback.
The total interests me a lot here, though. As mentioned, the Rams have become something of a run-first offense. I don’t think McVay wants to get into the type of offensive shootout we saw in the first meeting, a game that featured 853 yards and over 740 through the air. Tampa Bay may have some problems protecting Brady. Even if they don’t, the Rams have a stingy secondary that had more interceptions than touchdowns allowed.
Both defenses ranked in the top 10 in red zone efficiency. The Bucs were sixth in points per drive allowed and the Rams were seventh. The sizable adjustment to the total from the first game says a lot about how this one is expected to play out and I tend to agree.
Pick: Under 48½
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