Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7 SU, 7-6 ATS) vs. St. Louis Rams (5-8 SU, 5-7-1 ATS)
NFL Week 15
Date/Time: Thursday, December 17, 2015 at 8:25PM EST
Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Missouri
TV: NFL Network
by Scott, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: TB pk/STL pk
Over/Under Total: 41
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to the Edward Jones Dome to face the St. Louis Rams on Thursday Night Football. Tampa Bay has made some gains this season, though they are coming off a costly 24-17 home loss to New Orleans. A win could have sent them above .500, but it was not meant to be. St. Louis is only 5-8 on the season, but they finally got a positive development on Sunday, ending a 5-game losing streak with a 21-14 win over Detroit at home. Its been a rough season for the Rams this season, but they showed some fighting spirit on Sunday and look to finish strongly this season.
The Rams have certainly fallen off the map in the middle of the season after a semi-promising beginning. Theyve been a hard team to get a read on, though their recent form leading to Sunday had been awful. They covered the spread on Sunday for the first time since early-November. During their 5-game losing streak, 3 of the losses were 24-point defeats, so Sunday was a needed win.
The fact that Case Keenum is now behind center with Nick Foles not injured shows how well their plans at quarterback worked out. The Rams have the last-ranked passing offense in the NFL. On Sunday, Keenum wasnt much better with just 124 yards passing, no touchdowns, and a pick. But in getting the win, he likely earned himself the starting gig for the time being. The Rams got a big game out one of the leagues emerging stars in Todd Gurley, who ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns, though he reportedly dinged up his knee a bit. He should only get better. The problem is that hes the only real weapon in this offense. Kenny Britt leads all receivers with 480 yards just to give you an idea of how dry they are in the playmaking department. They average a paltry 16.2 points per game. They really rely on their defense and running game.
The Rams defense is a group that could come around and be special. Theyre not too bad now, despite being put in bad situations time and again by the St. Louis offense. They give up under 21 points a game on average, which is really good with all the issues on the team. There are some real difference-makers on the defense, with young studs like Aaron Donald making big plays. Trumaine Johnson has 5 interceptions. On occasion, they are really tough. But a lack of offensive continuity, injuries, and some inconsistency continue to hold them back from being a truly top unit.
After the first game of the season, youd have received long odds that the Bucs would even vaguely be in it heading into week 15. The loss on Sunday put their postseason hopes on the critical list, but they still deserve accolades for rising from laughingstock status to semi-respectability in one season. Jameis Winston has delivered in his first year, working through some tough passages to end up with a nice rookie season under his belt. But this is a team still working some things out, making their home loss to a 4-8 New Orleans team understandable on some level. Theyre still far from a bankable entity.
The Bucs offense has been boosted immeasurably by getting solid quarterback play from Winston this season. He wasnt at his best in the loss to the Saints. But hes kept mistakes down, with just four picks in his last 9 games. He has gotten better as he now has his feet wet. Running back Doug Martin has been resurgent this season and has 508 rushing yards in his last 4 games. On Sunday, he did the most he could with just 11 carries, gaining 81 yards and a TD. Their aerial attack has a lot of potential, with a group of contributors like Mike Evans, along with Charles Sims and Martin adding production. If only they could get all their playmakers on the field at once, with injuries hurting the continuity of the aerial game.
Weve seen a Tampa Bay defense in recent seasons that was put into one bad situation after the next with the offense playing so pitifully. But finally having a serviceable quarterback in there and Martin having a better season has given this D more room with which to work. We see playmakers like Alterraun Verner, Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy, and Howard Jones all making a lot of contributions to the team cause. They are able to stay fresher and as a result, a run-defense that always looked good on paper has flourished. They give up just 3.5 yards per game and have allowed only 5 rushing TDs this season. That stout play up front could pay off as they prepare to take on the run-happy Rams.
Despite good signs, Tampa is not quite there yetprobably a good year away. And that means that what happened Sunday might continue to happen. Their trajectory will not be an uninterrupted upward line. There are going to be peaks and valleys. When a team is a rising one, we can easily get confused or start to project that they have already arrived when theyre not really there yet.
St. Louis has not had an easy time of it for the most part this season, but for a not-quite-ready-for-primetime Bucs, this still represents an awfully-tricky road spot. Tampa has been able to maximize their potential this season to a certain extent, while the Rams havent. And over the past several years, the Rams have gotten worse when people had good reason to expect an upsurge. I think the Bucs present some matchup concerns for the Rams, with their run-defense and better offense seeing them through to a tough win.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a pick em.
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