WHERE:Raymond James Stadium
SPREAD:Tampa Bay -3
TIME:3:00pm ET

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Mark Taylor

Football data analyst

LA Rams (13-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4): Odds, picks, tips and predictions for NFC matchup

The second seeded and defending Super Bowl champions, the Buccaneers meet the fourth seeded Rams in the divisional round that will decide one of the NFC Championship contestants. The Rams became the final team to make the divisional round after their comfortable 34-11 Monday night win over NFC west rivals Arizona. Tampa Bay had a similarly easy win over Philadelphia by 31-15, but it came a day earlier, so they have an extra day of rest and preparation compared to the Rams.

Brady brilliant as usual

It’s been another Tom Brady masterclass in Tampa for the ageless quarterback. He’s thrown for six tenths of a yard further per attempt after defense adjustments and, alongside an above average running game, has helped to outscore par concession rates for opposing defenses by seven points per game. Unsurprisingly, they put their fate in Brady’s arm and throw on 65% of snaps and they are perhaps an even better offense than last year’s Super Bowl vintage.

Defensively they are top ten against the pass, but slightly below par on the ground, but that’s enough to shade a point per game of the scoring rate of their regular season opponents. Tampa is 5-1 against playoff teams, but these have been amongst their closest contested games and while their underlying defensive numbers have held up, there’s been a considerable downtick on the offense. Brady and co have had relative struggles in high quality matchups. If the Rams overturn Tampa and there is an upset in Green Bay, they’ll possibly play back-to-back home games to conclude the season.

Rams up to Tampa task?

In Matt Stafford they have a quarterback capable of matching Brady’s passing efficiencies. He’s thrown for nearly a yard further per attempt once the defenses faced has been allowed for. The Rams are slightly less pass heavy than Tampa, throwing on 59% of snaps and they’ve a below par running game, which leaves them scoring 4.5 points per game greater than defense adjusted par.

That’s enough to keep them competitive in this game, although Stafford has been plagued with interceptions, particularly of late, turning the ball over on 2.8% of passes compared to Brady’s mere 1.7% rate.

They’ve also struggled against postseason teams. Without the wildcard win, they are just 2-5 against other postseason sides, allowing three more points per game than is typical. This deficit is fully wiped out by the scoring efforts of the offense, but a negative turnover differential, fueled by Stafford’s wayward arm has proved difficult to overcome.

Stafford was flawless in beating Arizona in the wildcard game, but he was only required to throw the ball 17 times. It is when the Rams’ become more pass heavy, especially against the best, that his picks have surfaced.

Overall, post season teams have had to throw on an average of 71% of their snaps to go toe to toe with Tom Brady in 2021 and so Stafford’s accuracy will be severely tested in Tampa. Scoring rates favour Tampa by an average score line of 29-24 and if Stafford wilts under the pressure and expectation of turning the Rams into a home team Super Bowl side, the host Bucs should cover the current three-point spread.

NFL playoff pick: Tampa -3

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