While the Bucs boast must-watch playmakers in Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson, their pitiful 32nd-ranked pass defense will make all of the Rams receivers look like studs. Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s showdown.
Where: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Fla.
When: Sunday, Dec. 23 at 1 p.m. ET
Listen: Sirius XM Radio: 148 or online at Audio Pass
Betting Line: Tampa Bay by 3, according to Bovada
What’s at Stake?
Not much is at stake besides giving the fans their money’s worth on an afternoon they could be entertaining themselves elsewhere on a 70-degree day. St. Louis is mathematically still alive with a 6-7-1 record, but it’d need a Christmas miracle to sneak into the postseason.
Rams Injury Report (via ESPN, as of Dec. 18)
Buccaneers Injury Report (via ESPN, as of Dec. 18)
Fantasy Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em and Sleeper
Start: Sam Bradford
Any quarterback against the Buccaneers is a must-start. Their secondary is so pathetic that it made Nick Foles look like Peyton Manning, as two weeks ago the Philadelphia Eagles’ passer racked up 381 yards and two touchdowns in Tampa.
Bradford is hot after recording 377 yards and three touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings last week, too.
Sit: Steven Jackson
While the Buccaneers field the worst pass defense in the league, they're ranked first in stopping the run. They allow just 83.0 yards a game and Jackson hasn’t been that dominant this season to begin with.
Sleeper: Dallas Clark
Clark had a season-high eight receptions last week against the New Orleans Saints. Either he’s starting to grow on Josh Freeman or his numbers increased due to the fact that Tampa had to pass the whole game in a 41-0 blowout.
What They’re Saying
Buccaneer legend Derrick Brooks is urging fans to stay patient despite the team’s disappointing season:
#Buccaneers fans,hang in there,very bleak now,big picture here is building, not ready yet,despite today,team has 2 find somethin to build on— Derrick Brooks (@DBrooks55) December 16, 2012
On the other sideline, St. Louis still technically has hope, but as Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated noted, it’s complicated:
The Rams can still make the playoffs, but I need more than 140 characters to explain how.— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) December 17, 2012
Rams Player to Watch: Janoris Jenkins
The fact that Jenkins fell to the 39th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft should give every fan hope that one day, they could be calling the shots on a professional football team.
It’s a travesty Jenkins fell that far and he’s showed why this season. The former Florida Gator and North Alabama cornerback has four takeaways this season, three interceptions and a fumble recovery, and he turned three of them for touchdowns.
He simply makes things happen when he gets his hands on the ball.
Buccaneers Player to Watch: Doug Martin
In this rookie edition of Players to Watch, here’s another NFL draft steal.
Martin has gained 1,647 yards from scrimmage this season and 11 touchdowns while averaging 4.6 yards per carry. If it weren’t for Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson defying the odds as first-year QBs, he’d be the Offensive Rookie of the Year front-runner.
Key Matchup: Vincent Jackson vs. Cortland Finnegan
Throw the league’s feistiest cover corner across from one of the league’s most-gifted wideouts, and fans have themselves a reason to show up to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
Finnegan has flourished in his first season in St. Louis and Jackson has done the same as a new face in Tampa Bay. The wideout has reeled in 62 receptions this season for 1,226 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s capable of taking over a football game, so Finnegan’s ability to shut him down—and catching passes from the mediocre Freeman, Jackson can disappear at times—is huge.
On the Hot Seat: None
Jeff Fisher and Greg Schiano are both first-year head coaches who managed to improve their respective football teams. Their disappointing finishes won’t influence their job security.
Tampa Bay is on a four-game losing streak while the Rams have won three of their last four. On top of their momentum, St. Louis also has more to play for. Combine those factors with a superior defense, and it’s the Rams’ game to lose.
St. Louis by 6
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.