AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

STAR NFL PREVIEW Sun: Los Angeles Rams @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The NFC this season is full of disappointing and underachieving teams and along with the Packers the Rams and the Buccaneers should be saddled with that epithet.

Both franchises would be expecting to be sitting at the top of their respective divisions but instead the past two Super Bowl champions find themselves at 3-4 (Rams) and (3-5) Buccaneers. Rams coach Sean McVay never had a losing record at any point in a season before this year. Tom Brady has never been two games under .500 as a starter in any season of his career until now. So that’s the state of play and I’m not expecting a classic performance from either team as it will be just a case of getting an all-important win.

Whilst it’s too early in the season to hit the panic button both teams do find themselves in a rather precarious position with just three wins a piece through eight weeks. The Rams have lost three of four, while the Buccaneers have dropped five of their past six games. One of these teams will give itself a chance to turn its season around on Sunday, while the other will find itself in real danger of falling out of the postseason contention.

Both sides appear to have had similar problems this year with a quarterback who is under performing due to some very shaky offensive line play and allied to that factor they have failed to run the ball effectively to create a balanced offence. Both teams rank at the bottom in the NFL in rushing offence this season. The Rams are 31st with 68.4 rushing YPG, and the Bucs are last with 61.9 rushing YPG.

Without a doubt this has to be one of the worst (if not the worst) period in Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady’s long career going 1-5 in his last six starts and Brady is looking increasingly at odds with his offensive line and receiving corps. The strange thing is that he hasn’t been intercepted once in that span and the Tampa Bay offence is equally safe with the ball. One noticeable element within Brady’s game is that he is getting rid of the ball faster than ever and that’s a function of him not trusting his offensive line. That all leads to a lack of big plays and the Buccaneers are unable to lean on their running game it all adds up to an offence that is struggling. Tampa Bay have rushed for 51, 35, and 42 yards in their last three matchups with the Rams. Those totals represent Tampa’s three worst rushing games in the team’s last 37 games and I wonder how long the Buccaneers will persevere with Leonard Fournette as the lead back as he’s had just the one 100-yard rushing game this year.

Tampa Bay have been particularly bad running the ball on first and second downs often leaving themselves in third-and-long situations and it may be time that Rachaad White is given a chance instead of Fournette within the ground game.

Despite having an excellent cabal of receivers Brady and the Buccaneers have been poor in the Red Zone all season and are amongst the league’s worst in efficiency in this area of the field and they face another tough task here. The Rams defence has allowed teams to score just 43.8% of the time in the red zone — the third-best mark in the NFL. Both Brady’s two main WR’s Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have their plus points though with Evans registering 80+ yards in four of his last five games although he hasn’t scored a TD in four straight. Godwin has yet to turn any of his 55 targets into a touchdown this season and I feel that Bardy must re-establish his connection with those two to give Tampa Bay a chance of winning this game. The Rams aren’t pressuring quarterbacks particularly well, generating just 15 sacks in seven games, and have only forced five interceptions.

Protecting the quarterback has been one of the Rams problems all year and their offensive line appears to be more of a revolving door than safe space for the quarterback to operate behind with Matthew Stafford already absorbing 24 sacks (he only took 30 in the whole of the 2021 regular season). Given that problems they may well struggle to score 27 points as they have in their last three meetings with the Buccaneers having also won all three of those games.

Unfortunately for Stafford and the Rams it looks as though the Tampa Bay defence which has had a fair share of injury woes this year is getting healthy despite the loss for the season of leading edge rusher Shaq Barrett. The Rams have scored more than 24 points just once this season (31 against Atlanta) and Stafford is having one of the worst seasons of his career and remember he played for an awful Lions team for 12 years.

Stafford’s (and the Rams) problems are compounded on Sunday not only by the fact that they have an awful offensive line and the that their run game is a committee based one but also that their main wide receiver, Cooper Kupp is likely be at less than 100% capacity due to an ankle injury. The last three times the Rams have played Tampa Bay they have beaten them by throwing the ball frequently and well and I’m not sure they have the personnel in place to be able to do that on this occasion. Including playoffs, Kupp’s four career stat lines against Todd Bowles Tampa Bay defence are 9/183/1, 9/96/2, 11/145/0, and 9/121/1. Will Kupp be capable of that sort of production this time around?

If Kupp is at less than full speed expect Rams TE Tyler Higbee to see plenty of the ball with the Buccaneers having been vulnerable to that position all season long.

As ever quarterback play is going to be important and this contest looks as though it will go the way of the team that produces the best play from that position especially as neither side is particularly adept at running the ball and both have problems protecting the QB.

With Brady having the more “complete” offence and slightly better protection and a longer rest period plus home field advantage I’d be edging towards the Buccaneers in the battle of the regressing Super Bowl champions.


ANDY RICHMOND is a lifelong punter and sports enthusiast who now writes extensively on horse racing and the NFL. His CV includes long spells on Timeform Radio and Racing UK having previously held several positions at the then-fledgling Betfair Exchange where he worked for six years. He has a particular love for the statistical and analytical side of sports which fits in well with the NFL. He writes all the NFL content on Paul Jones subscription service as well as having his own betting advisory service.


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