Questions about how much confidence the Bucs coaching staff have in Jameis Winston abound, and the quarterback will have to succeed with two key players battling injury: center Ryan Jensen and receiver Chris Godwin.
The game kicks off a five-game odyssey for the team, heightening the need for hope, if not an all-out win. Can the Bucs get it done? Survey says probably not, but this is why we play the games.
Signs point to a Rams win
Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer @NFLStroud: This is the first of five consecutive games away from Raymond James Stadium for the Bucs and perhaps their most difficult opponent. The defending NFC Champions haven’t slowed down and are off to a 3-0 start. The Bucs still appear to be reeling from blowing an 18-point lead to the Giants. Plus, there are some concerns about the health of center Ryan Jensen. Coverage will be a lot tighter for Mike Evans than it was last week. Aqib Talib still is a shutdown corner. Rams 28-20
The sting from Giants loss lingers
Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs/pro sports enterprise writer, @EddieintheYard: Inside the Bucs facility, they have a 24-hour rule. After a loss, come in on Monday, watch the tape, and move on to the next one. But the sting of last week’s loss will be more difficult to overcome than most, and this week’s road test offers little reprieve. We’ll find out more about this coaching staff’s ability to put players in winning situations, because they’ll have a tall task in stopping the game’s top defensive player in Aaron Donald, potentially without Jensen. That could make for a difficult day for the Bucs’ offense. Rams 31-20
Should the Rams be on upset alert?
Thomas Bassinger, sports data reporter, @tometrics: In the aftermath of the loss to the Giants, tight end Cameron Brate identified this game as “a good measure of who we are as a team and the kind of guys we have in the room, whether we can bounce back from something like this.” In the past, we’ve seen Tampa Bay crumble on the road against quality opponents early in the season. In 2018, the Bucs lost in Chicago 48-10. In 2017, they lost in Minneapolis 34-17. In 2016, they lost in Glendale, Ariz., 40-7. The Rams offense — and Goff in particular — hasn’t been as explosive as it was last season. Los Angeles has gained fewer yards per drive, scored fewer points per drive and committed more turnovers per drive. Goff’s touchdown percentage and yards per pass are down, and his interception percentage is up. Should the Rams be on upset alert? Perhaps. They don’t have the home-field advantage that teams like the Saints and Seahawks do, but Goff does seem to be more comfortable at the Coliseum. At home over the past couple of seasons, he has a 4.1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 105.9 passer rating (he has a 2.2 ratio and 92.7 rating on the road). If he and Kupp click, it’ll be a long afternoon for the Bucs. Rams 41-23
Find a sense of hope
John Romano, columnist @romano_tbtimes: Hey y’all, it’s hyperbole time. It’s still September, and yet this is Tampa Bay’s most important game of the season. The Bucs don’t have to win in LA, but they have to show up. Too many bad vibes on defense, and not enough faith in the offense right now. If the Bucs let last week’s meltdown bleed into the Rams game, it’s going to get ugly and it’s going to be hard to rebound in a string of games away from Raymond James. As long as they keep the score close, they can move ahead with some sense of hope. Rams 24-16
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A ‘primetime sandwich’ for the Bucs?
Martin Fennelly, columnist @mjfennelly: The Bucs get a break and catch the defending NFC champions in nappy time, the fabled “primetime sandwich” – at Cleveland last Sunday night, at Seattle next Thursday. Look for the Rams to be uninspired, no surprise. Look for them to move five yards back before every Bucs field goal. Oh, those Bucs. Look for Bruce Arians and his team to have a better day, but it’s easy to see the Rams getting a late play by Donald and slipping past the Bucs, who will take the close as a sign of growth. Then they get creamed at New Orleans. Rams 31-23.
Is it a video game, or an oracle?
Ernest Hooper, columnist/assistant sports editor, @hoop4you: In August, my colleague Thomas Bassinger simulated the 2019 season 10 times on the Madden NFL 20 video game. The Bucs beat the Rams in seven of the 10 simulations. The Bucs only held an advantage in one other matchup. It’s a lark, but perhaps the game holds some insight that’s not immediately evident. The Rams are the defending NFC Champions with a stout defense and a prolific offense. Yet, they have appeared vulnerable this season with a sputtering running game, an inconsistent Jared Goff and a defense that had to fight to hold off Cleveland last week. If the Bucs hit on all cylinders, they can pull off the upset. Bucs 23-20
The margin for error grows thinner
Mike Sherman, sports editor, @mikesherman: The Bucs’ three games have been decided by a horrendous interception just before the two-minute warning, a goal-line stand with 1:28 to play and a missed 34-yard field goal as time expired. They are a missed kick from taking a 2-1 mark to Los Angeles or one inch from being 0-3. This team has little margin for error, so this would be a fine time to stop making so many of them. Your customary big gains in the secondary and one foolish interception per game will get you slaughtered on the road by a team with Super Bowl experience and aspirations. But I’m willing to be surprised. Rams 31-21.