$FML - Los Angeles Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 01/23

Tom Brady is chasing down back-to-back Super Bowl wins for a mind blowing second time in his career but there's plenty of reasons why the LA Rams can make their own history.

Best Bet:

betmgm

RAMS +3 @ -120

Los Angeles Rams (12-5, NFC West Champions)

Listed at +1200 (7.7% implied probability) odds to take the crown back in preseason, the Rams entered as the 4th most likely winner, as implied by betting odds. Of the three teams with shorter odds, two are in the AFC conference (Chiefs +450 preseason, Bills +1100 preseason) and the third is the reigning champs, the Tampa Bay Bucs (+700 preseason), who the Rams will pay a visit to on Divisional Weekend. It’s one week early, but this is the matchup Vegas felt we deserved, and it’s the one we got – pure destiny.

Strengths

Led by one of the youngest, most respected coaches in the game, Sean McVay (age 35), the Los Angeles Rams are on the fringe of perennial powerhouse status. After a disappointing 2nd round exit last year, the team made perhaps a much-needed upgrade at the quarterback position by acquiring veteran Matthew Stafford. As if that wasn’t enough, LA’s front office pulled off some midseason magic by acquiring linebacker Von Miller and controversial (but very talented) wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Armed with weapons like Beckham Jr., Cooper Kupp and Cam Akers (recently returned from injury), the Rams pack a potent offense, but their strength lies in their defense.

Since acquiring and pairing Miller with 7x All-Pro Defensive End Aaron Donald, LA’s won 6 (including playoffs) and lost 3, holding opponents to 20.8 points and 323.6 total yards per game, down 4.6% and 7.1%, respectively, from pre-Von Miller averages. Of the 9 games with Miller in the lineup, LA forced at least 1 turnover in every game but his first, and they’ve forced 2+ turnovers in three straight games entering Saturday.

Lastly, while this is more of an intangible strength, I found it interesting and potentially relevant: For most West Coast teams, logic suggests playing on the East Coast is a disadvantage due to the 3-hour time difference. However, that logic doesn’t hold when Head Coach Sean McVay is behind the bench. Since taking over in 2017, McVay’s Rams are 12-3 overall and 3-0 this season in games played in the Eastern Time Zone. Very interesting! Credit to Allan Bell of SportsLine for the tip on this.

Weaknesses

They stayed clean last week, but before that, offensive turnovers were a major issue. In Weeks 1-8, Quarterback Matthew Stafford averaged only 0.5 interceptions per game, which is very good, but the number spiked to 1.4 INTs per game in Weeks 9-18. To win this game, it’s critical that the Rams limit turnovers, which could prove challenging vs. a Bucs defense that averages 1.1 INTs per game, 8th most in NFL.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4, NFC South Champions)

Back in August, as Bucs QB Tom Brady celebrated his 44th birthday, Sportsbooks were offering to pay 7-1 odds (12.5% implied probability) on bets the reigning Super Bowl champs could pull off the repeat. 6 months later, those odds have been trimmed to +550 (15.4% implied probability) – not much different, but an improvement vs. pre-season reflecting the fact they’re only 3 wins away and get to play at home this weekend as 3-point favorites.

Strengths

When healthy, this Bucs team is virtually unstoppable as we saw last playoffs. Unfortunately, it’s been an injury-riddled season, but with legendary quarterback Tom Brady at the helm – the team’s “next man up” mentality keeps them extremely competitive.

Including playoffs, Tampa Bay is averaging 30.1 points per game, 2nd best in the NFL, largely in-line with last year (30.8 PPG in 2020). In home games, they’ve averaged 33.0 points per game vs. only 27.2 on the road, underscoring the importance of home-field advantage.

On defense, the Bucs boast one of the fiercest front fours in the game featuring Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea and Jason Pierre-Paul. Add superstar linebacker Lavonte David to the mix, and they’re downright nasty. This defensive core makes it extremely difficult to run the ball and sustain drives, posing a threat to the Rams’ preferred strategy, which I see as a run-heavy game script designed to keep the clock running and Tom Brady off the field.

In big games like this, I also value experience, and the Bucs have it. Tom Brady has a proven track record of winning big games, and Matthew Stafford does not. Through that lens, I see an edge for the Bucs.

Weaknesses

When these teams clashed in LA on September 26th, the Bucs secondary got absolutely torched for 343 pass yards and 4 touchdowns. I mention that because pass defense was an issue, but a lot has changed since then. A couple key starters missed that game but are now healthy, and the stats show it. Since Week 6, Bucs’ opponents have averaged a measly 210.3 pass yards per game (including playoffs), down more than 100 yards from 314.4 pass yards per game in Weeks 1-5 (Rams played the Bucs in Week 3).

On the offensive side, it’s hard to knock Tom Brady, but it’s worth noting he notoriously struggles against teams with fierce defensive lines. It’s no secret: to beat Tom Brady, you need to sack Tom Brady. In the event Bucs starting offensive linemen Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen can’t play (which seems increasingly likely), the Rams defensive line could potentially feast, making Brady uncomfortable, creating turnovers and opening the door to a potential upset victory.

@FastMoneyLabs’ Verdict

Yes, the Rams rolled when these teams sparred in Week 3, but a lot has changed since then. The Bucs defense is now healthy, the Rams lost WR Robert Woods but replaced him with superstar WR Odell Beckham Jr. and bolstered their defense by adding an elite linebacker in Von Miller.

This week, Tampa could be without two of its five starting linemen, which I view as significant considering Tom Brady notoriously struggles under pressure. Brady doesn’t often lose big games, but when he does, it’s because he got hit. A lot. And I like the Rams’ chances at doing just that.

If this game were being played in LA, I think the spread would be closer to a pick-em. I value home-field advantage but feel it’s somewhat muted by Sean McVay’s Rams’ track record of winning games on the road in the Eastern Time Zone.

Backing Rams QB Matthew Stafford over Tom Brady isn’t ideal, but I expect more of a defensive battle than a scoring frenzy, which makes me comfortable with the Rams spread. My gut tells me to back the Moneyline, but to be safe, I’ll take the points at the key number of 3 at -120 with BetMGM.

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