Would you have believed me if I told you that the Los Angeles Rams would hold the Arizona Cardinals to just 40 yards of offense in the first half of last week’s game? Or that David Long Jr. would be the record holder for the shortest pick-six in NFL playoff history? I definitely would not have.
LA’s win over Arizona last week came with a myriad of surprises that no one could have predicted. It will likely be the same case for Sunday’s divisional matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—a team that Los Angeles has already beat once this season. Despite the absolute havoc that the Rams put on display against Arizona last week, according to DraftKings Sportbook, they are 2.5-point underdogs going into the game. With great matchups to watch across the board Sunday’s action will be unpredictable, but here is my best crack at it—these are my bold predictions.
The Rams defensive line eats
Don’t let the score between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Buccaneers fool you, Tom Brady was hit a lot on Sunday. The pass rush that lined up across Brady last week sacked him four times which tied the most by any team playing against Tampa Bay this season. A lot of that was attributed to key injuries suffered by the teams offensive tackles, most notably Tristian Wirfs (ankle), Josh Wells (quadriceps), and Ryan Jensen (ankle). After getting the nod to attend his first Pro Bowl this year, Wirfs injury may prove to be the most detrimental to his team.
Derek Barnett and Javon Hargrave attack Tom Brady and sack him!!#Eagles #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/L7xcy2uNSj— Brodes Media (@BrodesMedia) January 16, 2022
Especially with All-Pro Aaron Donald terrorizing the field with Von Miller, Leonard Floyd, and Greg Gaines backing him up along the way. In Week 3 Los Angeles brought down Brady three times without the help of Miller and last week against the Arizona Cardinals contained Kyler Murray to just six yards rushing.
Fearsome in 4️⃣0️⃣.— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 18, 2022
@ESPNNFL | @VonMillerpic.twitter.com/J4VnqCb1J5
Tampa Bay will also be without key contributors Chris Godwin and Ronald Jones—making life a bit easier for Jalen Ramsey and company on the back end of plays and forcing Brady to hold on to the ball longer. That is why I am predicting a five sack day from LA’s defensive front on Sunday, the most surrendered by the Bucs offensive line all season.
Tom Brady throws for over 400 yards
It may sound like a bad thing, but last time the two teams played each other Brady threw for 432 yards and the game was not even close. The defense for the Rams completely shut down Tampa Bay’s run game and forced them to play from behind. Brady dropped back to pass 55 times in the match, but was also the team’s leading rusher with 14 yards.
The game plan will be much of the same this week. For the defense, win in the trenches and force Brady’s offense to become one dimensional. For the offense, put up points early and make the Bucs play from behind. If both squads can do their job, Brady will be dropping back a lot and be susceptible to a talented Rams defensive front.
(5:05) “You’re going to see certain things you didn’t see because its playoff ball,” Donald explained when asked about the team’s success against Brady in Week 3, “It’s going to be a different look... we just gotta be prepared for whatever they throw at us.”
Raheem Morris’ “bend but not break” defensive scheme does give opposing quarterbacks a lot of room to play with if the pass rush cannot hit home. Teams that have found ways to get the ball out fast have had success against the defense; most notably Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 18 and Aaron Rodgers in Week 12. Brady will get his opportunities in the short yardage and rack up yards against Los Angeles, but that may all be by design. I predict that Brady throws for over 400 yards, making it his third game of the season over the mark.
Cam Akers takes control of the offense
The reemergence of Cam Akers in the Rams first playoff game should scare the remaining foes in the NFC. Akers performance last week was a revelation—he looked fresh, strong, but most importantly the second year back looked healthy. Some of his biggest runs on the day were called back due to a penalty-prone offensive line, but he still managed 55 yards on the ground and 40 yards through the air. He had a chance to possibly add another 40 yards to his receiving stats, but him and Stafford could not connect on a long ball.
Cam Akers this recovery from the achilles injury is outrageous pic.twitter.com/4ikLnDKjno— Liam (@Blutman27) January 18, 2022
The Bucs run defense has also struggled at points in the season and rank 15th in the league in yards per carry allowed (4.3) and 3rd in rushing yards per game (92.5). They nearly let a struggling New York Jets team run over them, allowing 150 yards on the ground in Week 17, and in Week 14 allowed Josh Allen and his running backs 173 yards rushing. Just last week the Eagles averaged 5.6 YPC against them.
YOU LOVE TO SEE IT!! CAM AKERS pic.twitter.com/0QgPamxMHw— 2021 National Champs Barstool FSU (@FSU_Barstool) January 18, 2022
With Akers returning as the feature back for Los Angeles the entire playbook suddenly opens for Sean McVay. Last week we saw the running back position used more than just a check down in the pass game, but rather the main target on plays designed to exploit mismatches. That is why I foresee Akers doubling his offensive output from last week; I predict 110 yards on the ground and 80 yards through the air from the Rams young star.
Matthew Stafford does not turn the ball over for second week in a row
Stafford has only gone back-to-back games not throwing an interception twice this season and has gone undefeated in games he does not turnover the ball. In Week 3 Stafford played some of his cleanest football and took his team to victory over Tampa Bay. It was the same story last week when he played efficiently against the Cardinals on his 17 attempts.
(3:00) “I felt going into the game he had such ownership of the game plan,” Kevin O’Connell, offensive coordinator for the Rams, answered when asked about Stafford’s play against the Cardinals, “I thought his ability to just play with a real quieted mind and have such command of what we were trying to do early on really got in a rhythm, got different players involved... Matthew [engineered] that whole thing, running the show, making sure the operation was clean.”
A good sign that Stafford will continue to protect the football was his 22 yards rushing last week which was the most he’s had all season. Instead of forcing errant throws or tossing 50/50 balls downfield to one of his receivers, the veteran quarterback chose to take the yards on the ground instead of causing a potential negative play.
Mathew Stafford is picking the Cardinals apart with ease. He is heading for his first career playoff win. #Rams #NFL pic.twitter.com/k01eUD2bMq— Average Joe Sports Talk Podcast (@joes_talk) January 18, 2022
He will likely have to throw more often in this one against the likes of Brady, but an efficient game last week is hopefully a projection of what is to come from Stafford in the playoffs. It really is that simple—if the Rams quarterback plays clean football, LA wins. That is why I am predicting that for the third time this season Stafford plays back-to-back games without a turnover and takes his team to the NFC Championship game.
What are your bold predictions this week? Let’s discuss in the comments below!