Buccaneers vs. Rams: Preview, predictions, what to watch for

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An inside look at Sunday’s Buccaneers-Rams NFC divisional matchup in Tampa, Fla.:

Marquee matchup

Jalen Ramsey vs. Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski

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Ramsey, who is comfortable in the slot, lined up on just nine snaps against Evans in the Rams’ 34-24 Week 3 victory, but Los Angeles defensive coordinator Raheem Morris doesn’t have to worry about defending Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, which could alter his strategy. The Rams are not known as a man-to-man team, but that can be misleading.

“Zone coverages kind of become man once people come to their area,” Brady said.

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Ramsey, a five-time Pro Bowler, has the size — 6-foot-1, 194 pounds — athleticism and versatility to deal with the 6-5 Evans and the 6-7 Gronkowski.

“It’s just covering different body types, it’s a little bit different of a feel I guess you would say,” Ramsey said. “You know how I feel about challenges, I welcome ‘em, and I’m excited for that challenge, however many times that may or may not happen.”

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jalen ramsey, los angeles rams, matthew stafford, mike evans, nfl playoffs, rob gronkowski, tampa bay buccaneers, tom brady

Jalen Ramsey and Mike Evans

Getty Images; AP

Serby’s call

The game won’t be too big for Matthew Stafford, but Tom Brady rides RB Leonard Fournette, and Playoff Lenny will lead the Bucs to the brink of what would be Brady’s 11th Super Bowl appearance.

Buccaneers 30, Rams 28

Four downs

Back to back: Rams RB Cam Akers has made a miraculous comeback 5 ¹/₂ months after Achilles surgery.

“We know as coaches, and our players here know how dynamic Cam is,” Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell said. “I even noticed another gear there against the Cardinals, his confidence level, his bounce, in and out of the huddle, on and off the field. I’m just seeing Cam every single day locking back in and really not only a testament to coming back from that injury, but mentally, to be able to just transition right back into playing in really competitive environments and playing against really good athletic defenses, physical deftness, and him in some cases taking the physicality to the opponent, I can’t say enough about what he’s been able to do to help us.”

Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette returns after tweaking his hamstring Dec. 19.

“We ask him to catch it, we ask him to run it, we ask him to pass protect it,” Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “Him and Tom are really good together out there, they have a good feel for each other.”

Brady: “Did a great job in the biggest moments last year. I think everyone believes in him and trusts in him and knows he can come through for us.”

Odell Wreckam and Von Boyage: Neither Odell Beckham Jr. nor Von Miller was with the Rams for the Week 3 meeting of these teams, and they have made significant impacts since joining the Rams in early November.

Beckham has caught six TD passes, including his first career playoff TD last week. He also threw an eye-opening 40-yard bomb to Akers in the wild-card game.

“As a former quarterback,” O’Connell said, “where I was standing, when he throws that tight of a spiral and that nose just turns over like that, the first thing you deep down think is jealousy for, ‘Why couldn’t I have the ball like that?’ ”

Miller has six sacks in his past five games.

“He’s making a lot of big plays for us, and he’s doing it with a lot of swag, and guys feed off of that,” Jalen Ramsey said.

Super Bowles: Stafford has the best passer rating (139.6) this season when facing five or more rushers, and owns a 71.5 completion percentage and a 16-1 touchdown-interception ratio. Bowles uncharacteristically shied away from blitzing him in Week 3.

“He’s done a heck of a job,” Bowles said. “He’s been a heck of a quarterback for a long time and one of the best in the game. We’ve got our hands full whether we blitz him or whether we play coverage, so we’re just going to go out and play our game and we’ve just got to be disciplined.”

The loss of LT Andrew Whitworth (knee), who will be replaced by Joe Noteboom, is a blow for Matthew Stafford.

The Brady Bunch: Tom Brady’s sturdy wall could have cracks in it if either C Ryan Jensen or RT Tristan Wirfs are diminished by their ankle injuries. Wirfs would be replaced by Josh Wells.

“I think at this point in the year, in order to play offensive line, you’re gonna be dealing with some stuff,” LG Ali Marpet said. “You just gotta learn how to play banged-up if you can.”

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