Perhaps no two teams generated more hype this offseason than the Buccaneers and Rams. Tampa Bay returned basically every major piece of its 2020 championship team, surrounding Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady with enough familiar playmakers to warrant forecasts of a potential repeat. Los Angeles, meanwhile, spent big to replace Jared Goff with Matthew Stafford, giving an already loaded offense a big-armed upgrade at the most important position in the game. Two weeks into the 2021 season, both contenders have lived up to expectations, combining to go 4-0 and look awfully explosive while doing so.
On Sunday, one of these NFC powerhouses will finally go down -- barring a tie, of course. That's because the Bucs and Rams are set to square off in what figures to be one of the most thrilling matchups of the season thus far. Can Tom Brady and Co. stay unbeaten to start running away with the NFC South? Or is Stafford due for yet another big day against a Bucs defense that's surrendered an average of 27 points per game through two weeks?
We've got you covered below with odds, predictions, key questions, information on how to watch, and more:
How to watch
- Will the Rams abandon the run? L.A. ran the ball just fine against the Colts, but with Darrell Henderson banged up and the Bucs boasting one of the NFL's top rush defenses, it's hard to imagine Sean McVay pounding it with Sony Michel for long. That could mean a big day for Stafford, or it could mean too much Stafford, with Todd Bowles keying in on a lopsided run-pass ratio.
- Can Aaron Donald wreck the game? Donald single-handedly knocked Carson Wentz out of action in Week 2, and he's easily the Rams' best chance at slowing down Brady, who would rather throw it away to kill a drive than offer a sack or turnover in the face of pocket pressure. If L.A. can apply steady heat up front, it'll be in the driver's seat.
- Who will step up out wide for the Bucs? Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are enough to keep Brady rolling, but with Antonio Brown fresh off a one-catch outing and now on COVID-19 reserve, perhaps Rob Gronkowski or Giovani Bernard or even Scotty Miller will see more time. Either way, Tampa's offense is a problem.
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Boy oh boy does this feel like a potential NFC Championship Game preview. As home underdogs, the Rams will be fired up to prove they have what it takes to rock with the best of the best, and you just know McVay is itching to one-up Brady after falling to TB12 in the Super Bowl a few years ago. He's certainly got the offense to go blow for blow with the Bucs, especially considering Tampa Bay has been vulnerable to the pass early on.
Still, it's hard to pick against Brady and these Bucs right now. L.A. should definitely keep this thing close, and Donald's presence on the interior bodes well for the Rams' chances of getting their defense off the field here and there. But Tampa Bay still has the edge in terms of total talent on both sides of the ball. Let's go with the reigning champs in a game that could start slow but finish with a bang.
Pick: Buccaneers 29, Rams 27
Check out CBSSports.com for even more predictions on this game and the rest of Week 3.