The NFL playoffs are now in full swing, it’ll be Conference Championship Sunday before we know it. But before we get to that in seven days’ time we need to know who’s going to be there.
We already know one team in each game after last night saw the Cincinnati Bengals allow 9 sacks on their quarterback and still come out victorious over the sloppy AFC Number 1 seed Tennessee Titans. The first NFC representative is San Francisco after they took down the NFC 1 seed Green Bay Packers without scoring an offensive touchdown in the snow at Lambeau Field.
The attention now turns to tonight where the NFC’s Los Angeles Rams travel to Tampa to face off against Tom Brady’s reigning SB champ Buccaneers before we get another potential classic between two AFC giants. Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes face off again as Buffalo travels to Kansas City. Due to both 1 seeds being eliminated last night, these games have a little more on the line. The winner of each will host the championship games next week. This is a preview of the first of tonight’s two matchups.
Both teams are coming off dominant home victories in the wildcard round. Tampa had the game done before the half against Philly, whilst the Rams achieved a similar feat, jumping out to a four-score lead vs the Cardinals. The Rams defense managed to contain Kyler Murray, which is very difficult to do, sending a tonne of interior pressure, forcing 2 INTs and 2 TDs. Whilst by getting out in front early against the Eagles, Tampa Bay forced them to do something they’re not the best at, throw the football.
Monday night at SoFi saw Matt Stafford win his first-ever playoff game in a convincing win. He seems to be developing a relationship with Odell Beckham in the absence of Robert Woods. He’s stepped into that role perfectly. The Rams didn’t have to air it out much due to the way the game went, so Stafford wasn’t required to force anything. But when necessary he played pretty well, going 13/17 for 202 yards and 2 passing TD’s.
It’ll be interesting to see if they lean towards the run again (38 rushing attempts, 18 passing last week) against the league’s 3rd best run defense. I doubt it, especially if they go down 10 points or so, but one thing to look out for is the return of Darrell Henderson. Sony Michel has played pretty well in his absence.
Mike Evans had a big day for the Bucs, in the absence of Chris Godwin (IR) and Antonio Brown (released) he’s the one in the pass game that gets the O moving. Evans caught 9 of his 10 targets for 117 yards and a TD. I’d assume that the Rams will put Jalen Ramsey on him, as he’s their main receiving threat. The likes of Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson will get a fair few targets, as will Gronk and Cameron Brate at TE.
The team had a couple of injury scares last Sunday as both Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen, their starting right tackle and center went down during the game. Both were practicing Friday but were limited. Look for LA to exploit their replacements if they’re not good to go. One player that looks set to be back is their star running back Leonard Fournette. He’s not featured since straining his hamstring in Week 15.
These two franchises have already played each other this season, all the way back in Week 3. The Rams came out on top in that one 34-24 in LA. You may remember that Tom Brady was the Bucs leading rusher in that one with 14 yards on the ground. Tampa never really got going so had to abandon the run pretty quickly. TB12 threw 55 times, completing 41 for 432 yards and only 1 TD. LA got the game plan spot on. One man who did have a big day was Desean Jackson. He however is now a Raider, having been traded ahead of the deadline after complaining about a lack of targets.
Prediction: Los Angeles 31, Tampa Bay 23
This one is so difficult to predict because I believe the Rams are the better team, there’s no denying that. But Brady is the better quarterback and one I trust in big moments. A lot of the time when teams meet for a second occasion in the playoffs the outcome is different because they’ve seen what you do had a second chance at looking at the tape, then build a game plan around what went well, and what didn’t last time. That would also lean me towards the Buccaneers.
But yet I’m drawn to the Rams. I expect they’ll take a lot from what the Saints did to Tampa (dropping back and letting your elite pass rush get at Brady) especially if Jensen and Wirfs aren’t good to go. Aaron Donald’s going to have a monster game. Watch out for Von Miller too. Hopefully, Stafford won’t have to overthink things like he did a couple of times down the stretch then. Giving LA an 8 point victory and a home NFC Championship game.