Los Angeles Rams @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers predictions: Hard to see past Bucs in own backyard

The champion Buccaneers, who won the Super Bowl in their home stadium last year, welcome the team that has gone all-in to win it in their own patch this time around.

Both teams have stars on defence, but all eyes will be on Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford as the top two touchdown passers of the season collide at Raymond James Stadium.

With such similarities on both teams fine margins could decide this one, it could be a thriller!

When: Sunday, Jan 23, 20:00 GMT

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida

How to watch: Sky Sports

The Buccaneers: Bags of Brady experience could be key

Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady has records coming out of his ears but the stats are particularly impressive in that he's won nine Divisional Round games in a row with the Patriots and Bucs - and is 14-2 overall at this stage of the play-offs.

History counts for little, but experience of winning close play-off games counts for a hell of a lot, and with Brady it works for every facet of the team's game.

What could get mentioned more is how much confidence he instils in the team all around - even the defence will play with more confidence knowing they've got TB12 to lean on come crunch time.

Brady's won all five of his play-off games with the Bucs, who have scored at least 30 points in all of them, which is the second-longest streak in history, so if they keep up that form then it's a big ask for the Rams to score 30-plus on the road in the play-offs.

The Bucs defence stepped it up last week against the Eagles to make it four games in the last six allowing 17 points or less, and although Tampa Bay have injuries and losses at running back and receiver, Brady still has Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski to throw to - and you'll do well to find a more dominant pair especially in the red zone.

The Rams: Is Stafford the missing piece?

Los Angeles Rams Quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) during a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks on October 7, 2021,

The Rams have splashed out big time to assemble this team of star names, firstly by bringing gunslinging QB Matthew Stafford in from the Detroit Lions, and they've since sprinkled more stardust, and spent more cash, on Odell Beckham Jr and Von Miller.

Stafford won the first play-off game of his career last week yet the question is still being asked if he can really do it when the pressure is really on.

He threw just 17 passes last week and saw his team score a defensive touchdown as they jumped into a lead against the crestfallen Cardinals and never looked back.

The week before, with the hammer really down against an in-form and nasty 49ers side, Stafford crumbled and threw some trademark interceptions from some trademark bad decisions. He also had the most pick-sixes in the league this season and questions will continue. Unless he beats Tom Brady IN Tampa.

The Rams have beaten the Bucs in their last two meetings, how and away, keeping Brady to exactly 24 points each time, and that again will be key with Aaron Donaldo in particular key to getting pressure on the GOAT - his only known Achilles heel.

Rams @ Buccaneers key stats

  • The winner here will fancy making the big game, as a team from either the NFC West of NFC South has been in eight of the last nine Super Bowls.
  • Tom Brady is just the second quarterback to win at least five play-off games with multiple teams - Peyton Manning being the other.
  • Mike Evans has an NFL record eight straight seasons with 1,000 receiving yards at the start of his career.
  • Odell Beckham Jr last week became the first player to catch a touchdown AND complete a 40-yard pass in a play-off game in the Super Bowl era.
  • LA's David Long had the shortest interception return touchdown (three yards) in NFL play-off history last week.
  • Von Miller recorded his first sack in the play-offs last week since in Denver's Super Bowl 50 victory in 2016.

Rams @ Buccaneers key match-ups

Von Miller

Beating Brady is an open secret, you need to get pressure on him through the middle and force him outside of the pocket and outside of his comfort zone. Knowing that is one thing, doing that is a different story.

The Rams are better equipped than most, and winning the last two suggests that Sean McVay has the Brady antidote in Aaron Donald and perhaps now Von Miller.

Tampa Bay having injury worries over centre Ryan Jensen and right tackle Tristan Wirfs could be huge if either or both are slowed or can't go - that will leave Brady vulnerable.

On the flip side, Stafford will have to battle a Bucs defence that got three turnovers last week, and with this game likely going down the stretch he'll have to make some throws - that is after all why the Rams brought him in.

Planet Sport verdict

You can see a "last team to have the ball" situation in this game with two evenly matched teams, but if you're asking the question of which QB you trust to win it late on then you just simply have to go with Brady.

The Rams got a borderline bye last week with the dross the Cardinals served up, but this is a step up, a big one, and at home you have to back the Bucs to be back in the NFC Championship game.

Prediction: Rams 27-31 Buccaneers

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