No one wins in the playoffs quite like Tom Brady. The ageless Buccaneers quarterback holds the all-time record for career postseason victories (35) and Super Bowl rings (seven). The next-closest QBs in those categories are 49ers legend Joe Montana, who trails Brady by 19 playoff wins; and Steelers Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, who retired with four titles in the Super Bowl era. In other words, the safe bet in January is almost always Brady, who has a chance to return to the NFC Championship when he and the Bucs rematch the Rams in the Divisional Round this weekend.
Consider this a path to the improbable, then, because we've got three reasons the Rams can -- and should -- beat Brady and the reigning champion Buccaneers on Sunday:
1. The Bucs are just too banged up
No, this didn't bother them as much as we thought it would against the Eagles. But Philly made the playoffs as a No. 7 seed beating up on lowly clubs with bad QBs. The Rams are a different animal. And the fact remains Tampa Bay's depth is decimated. Todd Bowles' defense is still lively, but starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting is still battling a hamstring issue.
The offense is in far worse shape: Chris Godwin has already been sidelined for a while, but Leonard Fournette (hamstring), Ronald Jones (ankle), Breshad Perriman (hip), Cyril Grayson (hamstring) and Tristan Wirfs (ankle) are all questionable, and Wirfs' fellow linemen Ryan Jensen (ankle) and Josh Wells (quad) are also battling injuries. Brady gets rid of the ball quickly, but he's still got to have outlets for those passes. If Jalen Ramsey stays with Mike Evans, the Rams have the speed at linebacker to keep Rob Gronkowski under wraps, as well as the power in the trenches (see: Donald, Aaron) to get in Brady's face.
2. Sean McVay's offense has found its sweet spot
On paper, Los Angeles already boasted an elite unit, with big names at every position. And yes, the Rams had some inefficient outings down the stretch of the regular season. But McVay has smartly leaned on his underrated ground game as the year has gone on, including in Monday night's rout of the Cardinals, where both Sony Michel and Cam Akers looked fresh while gashing Arizona's defense. When the Rams allow the rush to set up Matthew Stafford's big arm, everything runs so smoothly.
Speaking of Stafford, he hasn't been perfect in his first year in L.A., but he's been darn good most of the time. Monday night, in particular, his first playoff start in five years, proved just how lethal the offense can be with him involving both Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. The latter set the tone early against Arizona, with Kupp serving more of a closer role, and that helped Odell stay dialed in throughout the matchup. Throw Tyler Higbee and Van Jefferson into the mix, and this group has both the balance and talent to keep the Bucs on their toes, as they did in Week 3's 10-point win.
3. The pressure is off Matthew Stafford
Well, sort of. No one will be satisfied if the Rams beat up on Arizona and then lay an egg against the Buccaneers, failing to return to the NFC Championship. But Stafford's smooth performance in a big win on wild card weekend can't be discounted. That's already more than he can claim to have offered any Lions fan who watched him play QB for over a decade. If the pressure isn't off, it's at least lessened going into Raymond James Stadium, especially against a team Stafford lit up earlier in the year.
The Rams are the only team to beat Brady twice since the future Hall of Famer landed in Tampa Bay. They got the "W" in 2020 partially in spite of Jared Goff's play under center; the ex-starter threw a pair of interceptions in a one-score game last November. Stafford, on the other hand, was instrumental to L.A.'s rout of the Bucs this season, airing it out with MVP-like authority. He can go into this weekend knowing he's already proven he's an upgrade for the Rams and that he can beat Brady. And that, coupled with the supporting cast around him, is a winning recipe.