For a third straight year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' penultimate game of the season is meaningless.
The Buccaneers have not played a game this late in the season with playoff implications since 2010. This week, they face a St. Louis Rams team that also has nothing left to play for but pride and job security.
The Bucs are coming off a stinging loss to the San Francisco 49ers. While Bucs head coach Greg Schiano apparently won his team over, his success in the locker room is not translating to success on the field.
Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon regressed over the past month and his stats tell the story of how the Bucs became the worst offense in football:
Glennon's accuracy and production took a nosedive since the end of November. Based on the his strong body of work in the month of November, Glennon earned some goodwill, but he is playing every bit the rookie to close out the season.
On Sunday Glennon will face a Rams defense struggling to find consistency. The Rams have probably the best 4-3 defensive end in the NFL in Robert Quinn, who has amassed 15 sacks in just 14 games. He has the ability to single-handedly change the course of a game.
Bucs left tackle Donald Penn will have his work cut out for him. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Penn surrendered a sack and two QB hurries to stud 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith. If the Bucs hope to have any chance with their passing game, they need Penn to bounce back and keep Quinn in check.
Fortunately for the Bucs, Quinn is the only real stud on the Rams defense. Bookend defensive end Chris Long is good, but he has not proven to be nearly as dominant as Quinn. The Rams linebacking corps is solid with James Laurnaitis and Alec Ogletree, but they are not terribly special.
Surprisingly enough, the Rams secondary has not taken full advantage of Quinn's unstoppable pass rush. The Rams' defense has allowed 317.3 passing yards per game to rank 26th in the league.
Nonetheless, the Bucs cannot expect to stroll into Edward Jones Dome for an easy win. This is a Rams team that just shut down Drew Brees and the Saints. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher has his team playing hard every week, even after the loss of starting QB Sam Bradford.
The Rams offense is unquestionably the weaker side of the ball for St. Louis. Back-up QB Kellen Clemens is adequate, at best. He is completing only 54.7 percent of his passes since taking over for Bradford who was lost to a torn ACL in Week 7.
The real focal point of the Rams offense is rookie running back Zac Stacy. Though he has not been spectacular, Stacy certainly earned his starting role by carrying the Rams since Bradford went down.
The Bucs defense against the run is not as stout as it was last year, allowing 109 rushing yards per game. Missed tackles are a key contributor to Tampa Bay's drop-off in defensive efficiency. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bucs have missed 129 tackles this season compared to 122 for all of last year.
To have a chance against the Rams, the Bucs must pinpoint the cause of their poor tackling. The Rams defense will give Glennon fits so the Bucs defense will have to keep the game close. The playoffs may be a pipe dream to both teams, but neither team has given up on the season—yet.