The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are where most NFL teams want to be in the month of January: At home in the Divisional Round. But the Bucs have a tough test in front of them on Sunday: The Los Angeles Rams.
These two teams met in Week 3 out west and the Rams sent the Bucs packing 34-24. But, entering Sunday Tampa Bay is riding a 4-game win streak and is playing some of its best football when needed most.
On the flip side, Los Angeles has won 6 of their last 7 games while averaging 28 points per contest featuring one of the league's best receivers in Cooper Kupp.
With all of that in mind, here are three keys to the game for the Bucs vs. the Rams to advance to the NFC Championship as they look to repeat as Super Bowl champs:
1. Make Someone Other than Kupp Beat You
Speaking of Kupp, he captured the elusive receiving triple crown, becoming the first player since 2005 to lead the NFL in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
Simply put, the Bucs need to focus on slowing down Kupp in the passing game, even if that means letting Odell Beckham Jr. or Van Jefferson beat you on some passing plays.
The last time these teams battled, Kupp finished the game with 2 touchdowns on 9 catches and 96 yards. But it was now-free agent DeSean Jackson who led the Rams in receiving yards, with 120 yards on three catches last time around.
If Tampa Bay can keep Kupp out of the endzone on Sunday, which is much easier said than done, there's a good chance the Bucs will win.
2. Break the Mold and Switch Things Up on Offense
I know, I know, as the old saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," and that certainly applies to veteran quarterback Tom Brady and these Bucs.
Brady has personally been successful against the Rams. Brady defeated the Rams in two of his Super Bowls with the Patriots, in 2001 and 2018.
As it turns out, these two teams are pretty similar in what they do well on offense and defense -- that is passing the ball, and stopping the run. But, with Leonard Fournette set to be back with the team, the Bucs should try to get the run game going early to allow for some play-action later on in the afternoon.
Sure it seems nonsensical to suggest running the ball against this Rams' defense, but Los Angeles also knows what Brady can do and has done in the past. Leaning on the run could turn out to be a good thing as Fournette works his way back to normal.
3. Score More than 30 Points
If you read last week's Three Keys to the Game, you'll remember I wrote this exact same point. Sure, scoring a lot of points seems like an obvious key to winning games, and that's because it is, but hear me out.
Tampa Bay has scored at least 30 points in five consecutive postseason games, which is tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. Only the 2009-11 New Orleans Saints (six) had a longer streak, a stretch the Buccaneers can match on Sunday according to the league.
The Bucs scored 31 points vs. the Eagles last week and will need to put up even more points against this high-powered Rams offense.
One final point: There's a good chance the winner of this game will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, as history has shown. The NFC’s Super Bowl team has come from the NFC West or NFC South in eight of the past nine seasons, including appearances by the Rams in 2018 and Buccaneers last season.
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