While a miracle scenario still exists that would involve the Rams making the playoffs, a more realistic goal is the first season with a better-than-.500 record since a 12-4 season in 2003. No such scenario exists for the Buccaneers though, as they are out of contention after four consecutive losses spoiled a 6-4 record through their first 10 games.
The losing streak for the Buccaneers and the weak offensive season for the Rams have done nothing to quell the consistent criticism of the pair of young starting quarterbacks in the game. However, the most intriguing matchup on Sunday could be the battle of two of the NFL's top running backs in very different parts of their career.
St. Louis' Steven Jackson is looking to finish with an eighth consecutive season of more than 1,000 yards rushing, while Tampa Bay's Doug Martin is one of the league's top young backs with 1,250 yards on the ground and 10 rushing touchdowns in his rookie season.
Meet the Buccaneers
It appears as though another season will pass without Josh Freeman definitively answering questions about his ability as the quarterback in Tampa Bay. He became only the second Buccaneers quarterback to surpass 3,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, but just 54.8 of his passes have been completed, marking the first time since his rookie season that he's under 60 percent. Lucky for the Buccaneers, they have another offensive option in Doug Martin, as the rookie is third in the NFL with 1,647 yards from scrimmage.
Defensively, the Buccaneers are the NFL's worst team against the pass, despite some emerging pass rushing threats. After recording four sacks in each of the last two seasons, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has recorded five so far in 2012, second behind Michael Bennett's team-leading total of nine sacks. In the secondary, the Buccaneers have struggled but have continued to have contributions from Ronde Barber, the only player in NFL history with more than 25 sacks and more than 40 interceptions.
Meet the Rams
Sam Bradford had a career-best 377 yards in Week 15 and tied his career-best with three touchdowns in a losing effort against the Minnesota Vikings. Bradford has the highest quarterback rating of his career at 83.3 and tied his career-most touchdowns in a season, but has still drawn criticism for his lack of wins in his third season in the NFL. Behind him in each of those seasons has been Steven Jackson, the three-time Pro Bowler that became player No. 15 to surpass 10,000 yards rushing with one team.
On defense, the Rams are in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed, led by a pair of first round draft picks rushing the passer. Chris Long and Robert Quinn have combined for 16 sacks in 2012, and Long forced a fumble during a sack in his last game against the Buccaneers. Rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers has added to the pass rush as well with four sacks, the second most among rookies.
Local Takes: Buccaneers
Sander Philipse from Bucs Nation says that Josh Freeman is the reason why the Buccaneers don't allow many sacks.
So are the Bucs among the best pass-protecting units in the NFL, despite starting Jamon Meredith and Ted Larsen for almost the entire season at both guard positions? Or is it just that they've done certain things with the scheme to help avoid sacks, while Freeman himself is actually pretty good at avoiding sacks himself? If you ask me, it's the latter.
Local Takes: Rams
Ryan Van Bibber from Turf Show Times says that stopping a streak of 30 consecutive games with Sam Bradford being sacked would be a sign of progress for the Rams.
Stopping his sack streak at 30 games would be a nice sign of progress. The Buccaneers have just 25 sacks on the season, only three NFL teams have recorded fewer, so maybe this is the finally the week.
Follow the Fun
Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, Bucs Nation and Turf Show Times, for more analysis and highlights from the game.
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
So, in Schiano's 1st year, other teams are interested in his assistant coaches twice. I don't think that happened once in 3 years of Raheem— Sander Philipse (@Bucs_Nation) December 17, 2012
Best thing we've read today: "the Rams train is ready to bust out of this impossibly long tunnel." was it on a "dark and stormy night" too?— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) December 18, 2012
Buccaneers beat writer, @HolderStephen
A very serious tone from Josh Freeman today. Knows he's under much scrutiny but is blocking out the outside chatter -- which is pretty loud— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) December 20, 2012
Rams beat writer, @JThom1
Rams off. coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said he's heard the head-coaching rumors but likes it in STL and isn't planning on going anywhere— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) December 20, 2012
Battle of teams who can't get over the hump. The Rams are knocking on the door of being relevant, trying to finish up with seven or eight wins. The Bucs have been streaky, but they're also pushing .500. After the Bucs lost by six touchdowns and didn't score a point last week, the Rams are the pick.
The pick: 20-16, Rams
The odds-makers favor the home team in this matchup, giving the Buccaneers a three-point edge over the Rams, according to OddsShark.