The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be looking to end a three-game losing streak when they welcome the Los Angeles Rams to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
Here’s everything you need to know heading into this rematch of last year’s NFC divisional playoff game:
Stop the skid
The first half of the 2022 season hasn’t exactly gone to plan for the Bucs, who are currently sitting at 3-5, dropping three straight games and four of their last five.
Tampa Bay has another streak they’d like to end Sunday, having never beaten the Rams in three tries during the Tom Brady era.
After back-to-back regular-season losses, the Bucs were bounced from the postseason by the Rams last year. With a win Sunday, Tampa Bay can exorcise their demons against the team that’s given them the most trouble over the last few seasons, and possibly get their season back on track after a rough start.
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Making (More) History
At this point, it’s just surprising that there are any milestones left for Brady to achieve, after a legendary career that’s 22 seasons and counting.
But the GOAT has an opportunity to add yet another feather to his cap Sunday, as he currently needs just 164 passing yards to become the first player in NFL history to throw for 100,000 yards in his career in both the regular season and playoffs combined.
The next six quarterbacks on that list are all retired (Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Dan Marino), with Matt Ryan the closest active player with just over 64,000 yards.
Once Brady eclipses that mark, it’s hard to imagine another quarterback getting anywhere close anytime soon.
The Bucs have ruled out four players for Sunday’s game: Pro Bowl safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (concussion), tight end Cameron Brate (neck), guard Luke Goedeke (foot), and wide receiver Russell Gage (hamstring). Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks (foot), along with cornerbacks Carlton Davis III and Sean Murphy-Bunting (quad) are listed as questionable. Linebacker Jacob Hummel (hip) is the only Rams player ruled out for Sunday, while center Brian Allen (knee) and wide receiver Van Jefferson (knee) are questionable.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bucs WR Mike Evans vs. Rams CB Jalen Ramsey
Anytime you get to watch two of the game’s best line up against one another, it’s must-see TV. That’s what we’ll get this week when Evans and Ramsey lock horns, pitting one future Hall of Famer against another.
Ramsey got beat by Evans in 1-on-1 coverage for a 55-yard touchdown in last year’s playoff game, so he’ll be wanting revenge for that. Evans will be hoping to do it again, and keep marching to a ninth straight 1,000-yard season.
Rams DL Aaron Donald vs. Bucs’ interior offensive line
The weakest link on Tampa Bay’s entire roster has been the interior of the offensive line, which is terrible news when you’re going up against one of the best interior defenders in NFL history.
Tampa Bay has one veteran in right guard Shaq Mason who should be able to hold his own, but left guard Nick Leverett and center Robert Hainsey will need some additional help to keep Donald from getting to Brady early and often, as well as disrupting the ground game.
Rams WR Cooper Kupp vs. Bucs’ secondary
Kupp is dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday, and limited him on Thursday.
That said, after practicing on Friday, he didn’t get an injury designation for Sunday’s game, which means he’ll be ready to roll against a defense he’s torched time and time again.
The fact that Tampa Bay’s secondary is still banged up should make containing Kupp an even bigger challenge, even if he’s less than 100 percent himself.
Both of these teams have disappointed through the first half of the season, and are hoping to get back on track with a win here. While they’ve both had their share of struggles on both sides of the ball, the Rams’ coaches seem to have a better handle on how to scheme their players into success when talent alone isn’t enough.
Tampa Bay’s play-calling has been bland and predictable on offense, and the defense has been plagued by miscommunication and missed assignments all year. Don’t be surprised if that continues Sunday, and the Bucs drop their fourth straight.
Rams 31, Bucs 20