Rams, Bucs wrap up Week 11 with a potential NFC playoff preview
"Monday Night Football" features an intriguing matchup of NFC playoff contenders between the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A win in Tampa would tie the Rams (6-3) with the Seahawks atop the NFC West while the Buccaneers (7-3) are a half-game behind the Saints in the NFC South entering New Orleans' meeting with Atlanta on Sunday. The Saints swept the Bucs, so Tampa will need to finish with a better record to win the division.
Los Angeles enters this game with momentum, as the Rams came off of their bye and beat Seattle 23-16 at home last Sunday. Jared Goff topped the 300-yard mark for the second straight game and even though the Rams averaged just 3.7 yards per carry as a team, they scored three rushing touchdowns (two by Malcolm Brown). The defense did the rest, sacking Russell Wilson six times and intercepting him twice. Jalen Ramsey also made things hard on Wilson as he locked down DK Metcalf, holding him to just two catches on four targets.
Tampa Bay bounced back from a humbling loss to New Orleans in Week 9 by doubling up Carolina 46-23 on the road this past Sunday. Tom Brady had another strong game with 341 passing yards and three touchdowns, and Ronald Jones II's monster 192-yard performance was highlighted by a 98-yard TD run in the third quarter. The Buccaneers have scored 30 or more points in three of their last five games and are getting Antonio Brown more involved on offense. The former Steeler/Patriot wideout turned eight targets into seven receptions for 69 yards. The defense also did its job, limiting the Panthers to 187 total yards of offense while also recording three sacks and an interception.
Just a few weeks ago these Buccaneers beat the Giants 25-23 on "Monday Night Football" to improve their MNF record to 5-2 since 2010. This is the Rams' second Monday night appearance this season after they dispatched the Bears 24-10 in SoFi Stadium in Week 7.
And if this year's encounter between the two teams goes anything like last year's, fans could be in for a treat. Last season, Goff and Jameis Winston lit up the scoreboard in a wild, 55-40 Tampa Bay win. Goff put up a career-high 517 passing yards but he also tossed three interceptions and lost a fumble. Winston threw for four TDs and just one pick while Tampa's defense held the Rams to 28 rushing yards. Of course, this is now Brady's offense so we'll see what he can do against the NFL's second-ranked defense.
Monday Night Football: Los Angeles at Tampa Bay
Kickoff: Monday, Nov. 23 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Buccaneers -3
Three Things to Watch
Schedule-wise this game favors the road team. The Buccaneers have not had their bye yet and Bruce Arians admitted earlier in the week that his team is tired and he's had to alter the schedule a bit to keep his squad fresh. They are coming off a road divisional game and have another huge yardstick game next week at home against the Chiefs. That's not to say they will be looking ahead, but the schedule continues to be tough. The Rams had their bye two weeks ago and haven't been on the road since Nov. 1. Next week they host the 49ers as they begin a stretch with a couple of NFC West matchups.
2. Under pressure
The numbers are pretty clear that Tom Brady is a better quarterback when he's got a clean pocket. Brady has been sacked 14 times this season, with nine of those coming in three games — both New Orleans contests and at Chicago. Not surprisingly, Tampa Bay lost all three of these games as Brady struggled against the Saints' and Bears' defenses. Next up are the Rams, who are tied for third in the NFL with 31 sacks. Eleven different Los Angeles defenders have registered a sack, led by All-Pro Aaron Donald's nine, so Brady should expect pressure to come from everywhere. The Buccaneers are one sack ahead of the Rams on the stat sheet (Tampa has played one more game), so Jared Goff needs to be wary of the pass rush as well. He has been sacked 13 times through nine games.
3. Who will get Jalen Ramsey's attention?
The cornerback did some amazing work against DK Metcalf last week and figures to probably be matched up with Mike Evans. According to Pro Football Focus, Ramsey has been targeted just 34 times this season, a big reason why he has just one interception. Evans has been frustrated at times when isolated against a No. 1 corner. His battles with the Saints Marshon Lattimore have always been fun to watch. The problem for Los Angeles is that the Buccaneers still have Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown at wide receiver as well as Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate at tight end. Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette are capable pass catchers out of the backfield as well. This puts even more emphasis on the Rams' pass rush because facing Brady when he has time in the pocket is dangerous.
Bruce Arians saying his team is tired resonated with me earlier in the week. I think the Rams have the defense to pressure Tom Brady into some mistakes. The big question is if Jared Goff can take advantage and find Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp down the field. Will Los Angeles be able to run the ball at all? I think the answer is yes and I think the road team shines brightest in primetime.
Prediction: Rams 27, Bucs 23
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.