When the Los Angeles Rams acquired Matthew Stafford after the 2020 season, football fans almost instantly predicted he and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady would face off in the 2021 NFC Championship Game.
Although they will meet in the 2021 NFL Playoffs, they’ll instead do so in the Divisional Round. Brady and the Buccaneers will host Stafford’s Rams at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 23, in a win-or-go-home showdown.
Only days after winning his first career playoff game, Stafford’s latest Super Bowl aspirations will end almost as soon as he arrives in Florida.
4. Matthew Stafford has a habit of turning the ball over
Although teams can win the Super Bowl with turnover-prone quarterbacks (see Manning, Eli, and the 2007 New York Giants), teams won’t win the Super Bowl if their quarterbacks are committing turnovers. That clear difference is why Stafford, who led the NFL with 17 interceptions this season, could doom the Rams’ championship hopes with a poor performance on Sunday afternoon.
Despite the defense’s various injuries, the Buccaneers’ 17 interceptions tied for eighth among NFL teams this season. Stafford had four of his picks returned for touchdowns and has 27 in his career. All it takes is one terrible throw and one successful return to turn a 13-6 Buccaneers lead into a 20-6 game.
3. The Buccaneers have managed to survive a recent rash of injuries (and Antonio Brown’s drama)
Outside of the New Orleans Saints, nothing proved it could stay in the Buccaneers’ path this season. The various injuries, including a season-ending knee tear for slot receiver Chris Godwin, didn’t keep Tampa Bay from winning its first NFC South title since 2007. Antonio Brown’s drama and subsequent release only meant more targets for Breshad Perriman and Tyler Johnson. Second-year running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who has received more carries in Leonard Fournette’s absence, scored a touchdown in the Wild Card Round.
Although the Buccaneers could be without All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs and center Ryan Jensen on Sunday, injuries haven’t stopped the Buccaneers yet. Don’t be surprised if backup center Robert Hainsey resembles Indianapolis Colts legend Jeff Saturday on Sunday afternoon.
2. Rob Gronkowski is healthy and still terrorizing defenses
After missing most of the season’s first half with broken ribs, Gronkowski has been a mainstay in the Buccaneers’ lineup since late November. The four-time Super Bowl champion has 19 catches, 283 yards, and a touchdown in his last three games. Gronkowski’s 15 postseason touchdowns lead all tight ends and trail only Jerry Rice’s 22 scores.
Many have tried to stop Gronkowski in the postseason, and few have succeeded. With respect to the Rams, we’re not expecting much to change on that front this weekend.
1. Tom Brady doesn’t lose at home in the postseason (or in the Divisional Round)
Brady enters Sunday afternoon with a 35-11 career postseason record; only four of those losses have come at home, a remarkable feat considering he’s reached the playoffs every year since 2009.
Of those four losses, only one has come in the Divisional Round. Rex Ryan’s New York Jets famously engineered a 28-21 upset on Jan. 16, 2011, just over a month after Brady and his New England Patriots teammates routed the Jets, 45-3, on Monday Night Football. Brady’s only other Divisional Round loss came on the road against the Denver Broncos in January 2006.
Counting the Wild Card Round, Brady is 8-1 with 27 touchdowns, four interceptions, and one damaged Microsoft Surface tablet at Raymond James Stadium this season. For as entertaining as the Rams have been in recent months, it’s hard to see them pulling off an upset on Sunday afternoon.