The most-talked about game in the NFL this week is what could be an NFC championship preview. Sean McVay and Bruce Arians sure wouldn’t mind if that were the case. The Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers probably should have drawn the prime-time billing on NBC, but they’ll be the most intriguing game in the 1 p.m. PT window instead.
We’ve seen some rather fascinating line movement here, as sharp bettors have determined a side and everybody involved has determined a play on the total.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1.5, 55) at Rams
So far, so good in the Matthew Stafford era. The Rams are 2-0, though they did fail to cover against the Indianapolis Colts. The line was -3 or -3.5 and the Rams won 27-24 in a game in which they trailed in for only 2 minutes 9 seconds. The Colts took a 21-17 lead in the first minute of the fourth quarter. The Rams marched right downfield and then won on Matt Gay’s 38-yard field goal with 2:23 left.
It was a win for the Rams, but the loss of running back Darrell Henderson Jr. put a damper on things. Henderson is unlikely to play this week, which means that Stafford will be plenty busy with a limited running game.
That looks to be a concern for the Rams. Last week, they at least gave the illusion of trying to run and had 101 yards in 29 carries. Stafford threw 30 times, with nine receptions on 11 targets from Cooper Kupp. Kupp is the only player Stafford has targeted at least nine times. The Rams are fifth in the NFL in yards per play but have only run 110 plays to this point.
The offense has been very deliberate. Against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, that strategy might not work. Tampa Bay has increased its rate of pre-snap motion and the number of five-wide sets, so the game plan for the Buccaneers is to throw, throw, and keep throwing. And why not? With a surefire Hall of Famer in Brady and a bevy of weapons, it makes sense.
Though Brady’s seventh Super Bowl ring earned all the attention, it was actually the play of the defense that should have received the accolades. We haven’t seen the same disruption from Tampa’s front four to this point, as the Bucs have only two sacks this season. The Bucs do have two pick-sixes from Mike Edwards.
The keys to this game are whether Stafford can find somebody other than Kupp to be productive and if the Rams' secondary can cover enough players to make life tough on Brady. John Johnson and Troy Hill played such a big role with 16 starts each in 2020. This game will show just how ready Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp are for the bright lights.
Sharp money has been on Tampa Bay. Some books opened Rams -1 and most of the market is now -1.5 on the Bucs. Public money doesn’t show up until later in the week, so bettors with influence are on the Buccaneers. I tend to agree.
However, rather than lay the -1.5 in a game that could end up being close, the Buccaneers are at a cheap moneyline price of -120, which is more equitable than -1.5 at -110 juice.
Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers moneyline (-120)
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.