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Prediction: Buccaneers over Rams, 24-20

Rams hit the road on East Coast trip for fifth time this season

The Los Angeles Rams will make their fifth and final trip back to the East Coast over a 10-week period, facing the 7-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road.

It will be the second time this season the Rams play in front of actual fans in a stadium after facing the Miami Dolphins a few weeks ago.

The Rams look to move to 7-3 on the year, keeping pace with the NFC West leading Seattle Seahawks, who held off the Arizona Cardinals for a 28-21 win in Seattle.

However, the Rams face a well-rested and healthy Tampa Bay squad led by perhaps the best quarterback ever to play the game in Tom Brady.

“It’s a great challenge,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “We all know what a great and accomplished player Tom is, and I think when you put the weapons around him, he does a great job of getting a bunch of different playmakers involved. He’s obviously processing things really well. He’s throwing the football really well on all three levels.”

Matchup microscope

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One of Brady’s many strengths is to quickly read the defense, understand where he wants to go with the football and get the ball out quick. Even at 43 years old, Brady plays with great anticipation from the pocket. It will be important for defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams’ defensive front to get pressure up the middle against Tampa Bay. Brady’s been sacked just 14 times this season. However, the New Orleans Saints have done a nice job against him, sacking him six times and forcing five interceptions in two matchups against the Bucs this year. Teams are blitzing Brady just 17 percent of the time this season because he’s so good at diagnosing pressure and finding his hot routes, creating explosive plays. Donald and company will likely have to get there with four pass rushers. In two games against Brady, including the Super Bowl, Donald has no sacks, eight combined tackles and two quarterback hits.

One to watch

McVay said Joe Noteboom played solid against the Seattle Seahawks last week in replacing an injured left tackle Andrew Whitworth. However, the Rams were playing with a lead and didn’t have to push the football down the field. This week will be different for Noteboom, with Tampa Bay having a week to prepare for the matchup. Expect defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to test Noteboom early in the game, and how the TCU product holds up in pass protection will dictate what McVay can do on offense.

Fun to watch

Jalen Ramsey did a nice job against DK Metcalf last week, but he will get an even tougher test this week against a more polished receiver in Mike Evans. The Texas A&M product does not have the explosive speed of Metcalf, but he’s a more experienced route runner who understands the nuances of creating separation at the top of his route and can regularly win in 50-50 ball situations. Ramsey should have his hands full against Evans, but he’s held up against every challenge so far this season.


Key to the game

Tampa Bay is playing well right now, winning four of their last five games. Bruce Arians is 1-2 against McVay, with his lone win a 55-40 victory over the Rams in L.A. last season. Tom Brady’s record against the Rams is 5-1, including two wins in the Super Bowl. Defensively, the Rams have to bottle up Ronald Jones II and Tampa Bay’s running game, get off the field on third down and limit the Bucs to field goals in the red zone. Offensively, up front the Rams have to do a good job of protecting Jared Goff and create some explosive plays at the second level of Tampa Bay’s defense, allowing them to get into scoring position easier. And special teams need to show up this week for L.A. I’ll lean toward the healthier team at home this week.

Prediction
Buccaneers 24, Rams 20