Contrasts between Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford couldn’t be more striking when it comes to postseason football.
Tampa Bay’s 31-15 win last week over the Philadelphia Eagles upped Brady’s playoff record to 34-11. Seven of those wins, including one last February on the Bucs’ home field over Kansas City, have put Super Bowl rings on Brady’s fingers.
Stafford piloted his first career playoff win Monday night when Los Angeles routed the Arizona Cardinals 34-11. It was only his fourth career postseason game. He appeared in just three over 12 mostly fruitless years with the Detroit Lions.
The Bucs are 2.5-point favorites but the betting action has been tight at most sportsbooks. The Rams are being backed by 54 percent of the bets and 57 percent of the spread-line handle at DraftKings, while the Bucs have been supported by 56 percent of the bets at PointsBet but Los Angeles has drawn 73 percent of the money.
Stafford can double his playoff win total on Sunday in Tampa if the Rams topple Brady and the defending champs in an NFC divisional playoff meeting.
“I thought he did a great job leading the way,” said Los Angeles coach Sean McVay. “He’s still the same great player to me and he always was before this game as well. I think it’s good so you guys don’t have to talk about that any more so he can get that one out of the way. Just so lucky to be able to do this with him. He’s our leader. We wouldn’t be here without him.”
Stafford played the type of efficient, mistake-free game that hasn’t always been a staple of his career. He was 13 of 17 for 202 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a third score via his legs. His passer rating of 154.5 set a franchise record for a playoff game, according to NFL Research.
For his part, Stafford said the result was more about helping the team advance in the postseason than it was getting the bagel out of his playoff win column.
“I think it means a lot more to you guys and all that,” he said. “I just want to be a part of this team and help us win. I trust in myself, trust in my abilities, trust in my teammates.”
Stafford threw for 4,886 yards and 41 touchdowns this season, including 343 and four scores in a 34-24 Week 3 win over the Buccaneers in Inglewood.
The Buccaneers figure to have Leonard Fournette on the field after he was activated off injured reserve on Saturday. Fournette was sidelined with a hamstring injury and he missed the final three regular-season games as well as last weekend’s 31-15 playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
And Tampa Bay is hoping to have the services of a couple of Pro Bowl offensive linemen — right tackle Tristan Wirfs and center Ryan Jensen. Both left last week’s win with ankle injuries. Both returned to practice on Friday but will be game-time decisions on Sunday.
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians is concerned about the health of his offensive line and how it could affect Brady’s performance against a pass rush that’s added Von Miller since the teams’ October meeting.
“I’d be worried if they were healthy,” Arians said. “If they’re not healthy, I’m hellaciously worried.”
Brady did absorb four sacks against Philadelphia, but still found time to hit 29 of 37 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Evans caught nine passes for 117 yards and a score, and Rob Gronkowski bagged the 15th playoff touchdown catch of his career, trailing only Jerry Rice in NFL postseason history.
Most importantly, Tampa Bay’s defense blanked the Eagles for three-plus quarters, shutting down their running game and forcing quarterback Jalen Hurts to beat them with his arm instead of his feet. Philadelphia’s two fourth quarter scores only made the final margin look more respectable.
“Just the level of intensity that the defense came out with, it was just exceptional,” Gronkowski said. “We just had to match them on the offensive end, and we did at times for sure. We played some complimentary football.”
–Field Level Media