On the next-to-last (but the last game anyone is interested in?) Thursday Night Football of the 2015 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the St. Louis Rams in the first matchup of top rookies Jameis Winston and Todd Gurley. Don Banks provides a few reasons why you should tune in and makes his pick.
• Last week: 11-5; Season: 133-75 (.639).
• Worst pick in Week 14: San Francisco 20, Cleveland 16 (Actual score: Browns 24-10).
It wasn’t easy, but I’ve come up with five semi-compelling reasons to watch the NFL’s penultimate Thursday night game of the season, pitting Tampa Bay (6–7) at St. Louis (5–8):
1. This is the Rams’ home finale, with emphasis on the finale. If you’re into watching NFL history, this could be the final time the Rams or any other franchise plays in St. Louis, after a 21-season run that began in 1995. With the league’s three-team relocation issue expected to be settled next month, this game could have a funereal feel to it for Rams fans, who don’t know if their team will resurface in Los Angeles next season or stay put with plans to build a new riverfront stadium to replace the out-dated Edward Jones Dome.
2. This is a handy and perhaps pivotal head-to-head matchup of two of the top contenders for the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year honor: Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston and St. Louis running back Todd Gurley. One of them could seize the upper hand in that particular race with a big showing, preferably one that leads to a victory for their team.
3. Speaking of Winston, this is his one and only primetime appearance as a rookie, with Tampa Bay scheduled for 15 day games in 2015, largely of the nothing-to-see-here-move-along 1 p.m. ET variety. His fellow top-of-the-draft quarterback, Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota, played well but lost his primetime debut at Jacksonville in Week 11. Let’s see how Winston responds to the bigger stage.
4. Both teams actually are still alive in the NFC playoff picture, albeit barely. The improving Bucs have won four of their past seven games, are 3–3 on the road this season, and have already tripled their meager win total from 2014, when their 2–14 record earned them a shot at drafting Winston. Tampa Bay’s best playoff hope is to win out to finish 9–7, then hope for a collapse from one of the NFC’s two eight-win wild-card contenders, either Minnesota or Seattle (both 8–5). Not likely. St. Louis won last week to snap a five-game skid, but needs nothing short of a miracle to reach the postseason for the first time since 2004.
5. The final Thursday night game of the season, which falls on Christmas Eve, involves the underwhelming and anemic Chargers traveling to play the Raiders in Oakland, in what amounts to the Relocation Bowl. You’re probably not going to build your festive night around that one, which makes Bucs-Rams a little more appealing in that last glimpse sort of way.