The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the defending Super Bowl champions. Their quarterback, Tom Brady, is the Greatest of All Time, and they just dominated the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs.
The Los Angeles Rams sputtered into the playoffs with an overtime loss in Week 18, got to play an Arizona Cardinals team in the Wild Card round that clearly had its wheels fall off once DeAndre Hopkins got hurt, and now has to play the Buccaneers on the road on a short week.
So, naturally, there’s pretty much no chance the Rams can win this game, is there?
Not so fast, Goaty McGoatFace. Here are three reasons the Rams can pull the upset on Sunday:
Odell Beckham Jr. is playing his best football at the perfect time
The question with Odell Beckham Jr. has never been about his talent. He is an elite receiver and in the right spot can be a game-changer every time he takes the field. Right now, with the Rams, he is in the right spot. In his last eight games since being acquired from the Cleveland Browns in a midseason trade, Beckham has six touchdown receptions.
His fingerprints were all over the Rams’ 34-11 victory over the Cardinals in the Wild Card round, catching four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown and setting up another score with a 40-yard pass. He is the perfect complement to Cooper Kupp, having finally settled into the role occupied by Robert Woods III before his injury.
The way to beat the Buccaneers is through the air, and Beckham makes the Rams’ air attack a dangerous group at the perfect time.
The Rams defense can take advantage of the Buccaneers’ lack of receiving depth
It has now been four weeks since Chris Godwin’s season ended with a torn ACL and Leonard Fournette was sidelined with a hamstring injury. It’s been three weeks since the team released Antonio Brown. Here are the Buccaneers’ point totals in those four games, all victories: 32, 28, 41, and 31.
The Buccaneers believe that Fournette, who has been practicing, however limited, this week, will return for Sunday’s game. But at some point the lack of depth at receiver is going to become a factor, and facing the vaunted Rams pass rush at the scrimmage line and Jalen Ramsey in the secondary could be the tipping point.
In those four post-Godwin games, the Buccaneers faced the terrible Carolina Panthers twice and the equally terrible New York Jets once. Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles and their lack of explosive offense were no match for Brady, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski.
The Rams’ defense is a whole other matter. They were a top-5 defense all season and can get pressure on Brady, which is his Achilles’ heel.
Cam Akers gives the Rams’ offense a diversity that will be difficult to stop
The potential return of Derrick Henry to the Titans’ backfield this weekend is the top headline among running backs making playoff impacts after significant injuries in 2021. But the No. 2 man on this list has to be Cam Akers, who was a complete afterthought after tearing his Achilles’ tendon last July.
But against all odds, Akers is not just back playing for the Rams, he made a significant contribution to the effort in Monday’s 34-11 victory over the Cardinals.
Akers had 17 carries – four more than starter Sony Michel – and gained 55 yards. With Michel gaining 57 yards, the duo kept the Cardinals defense from focusing too much on the pass-catchers, which opened things up for Kupp and Beckham.
The Eagles wanted to run the ball on the Buccaneers last week but couldn’t because their passing game was not a legitimate threat. That is clearly not the case this week, and the Rams have a chance to pile up yards and points once again.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference