Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Here we go again, right? Tom Brady starring in another Divisional Round bout.
This time, though, he’ll be joined by a counterpart unfamiliar to the stage, albeit one that’s actually been around awhile.
Matthew Stafford gets the biggest assignment of his 13-year career Sunday. It’s the type of moment Stafford was long overdue for after wasting away his prime in Detroit, where a mostly hapless bunch that surrounded him helped shackle the stud QB1 to a mere three playoff games up to 2021. The Lions, unsurprisingly, lost all of them.
Figures that once Stafford was able to escape football’s wasteland in the Motor City, he would finally capture his first postseason victory after usurping the Cardinals last Monday. And with that proverbial monkey off his back, the former No. 1 overall draft pick is prime for more.
First of all, Stafford actually enjoyed a stellar first campaign in LA despite the relative lack of fanfare he’s received. Stafford notched the best passer rating (102.2) he’s ever had for a full non-injury-shortened season and also matched his highest mark with 41 touchdown passes.
Given the surplus of weapons around him, the Rams’ success on offense should be no surprise, as their 27.1 points average each week was topped by only two NFC clubs (including the Bucs). But Stafford deserves major credit leading the way.
After all, he did engineer another chase of the single-season receiving yards record. Though Cooper Kupp wound up 17 yards short of Calvin Johnson, what was the common denominator between the two?
Stafford. The man merits accolades for what he’s done in his new digs, and I certainly don’t envision him bowing out.
That would seem to point to a quality performance from Stafford and Co., which translates to points. Tampa possesses a good defense, of course, but that didn’t slow down Los Angeles when these two powerhouses met early in the campaign. Stafford registered his first four-touchdown, zero-interception game in five years that day en route to a statement W.
Brady also contributed a notable showing in this affair, accumulating 432 yards through the air — his most in a game since Super Bowl LII. That’s something.
That outing was also no coincidence if you look at the “how” in analyzing Brady’s dissection of them in the Week 3 meeting.
The future hall-of-famer paced all quarterbacks this season in every quick-pass category; that is, throws that are made from snap to release in 2.5 seconds or less. In fact, he connected on 25 of 28 such throws in that previous encounter for more than half of those 432 yards. Interestingly, no team yielded more yards on these types of throws than the Rams.
So there’s a blueprint already in place for Brady’s Bucs to regularly march down the field. Even if there wasn’t, I mean, this is Tom Brady in the playoffs. The most lethal player to ever participate in these games.
Fortunately, it appears he will also have his offensive line fully intact. Both Tristan Wirfs (ankle) and Ryan Jensen (ankle) returned to practice Friday, and even if only one suits up, that’s a huge difference.
Brace for dueling offenses. I’m buying a half point in case of a 27-20ish outcome.
Pick: OVER 47 (-120)