St. Louis hasn’t had the season they wanted, mainly because of the offense, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy watching their aggressive defense in prime time. Aaron Donald may be listed at defensive tackle, but that guy is a top 7 force on that side of the ball with 11 sacks coming into this game. It’s unfortunate that Robert Quinn, who has established himself as an elite defensive end, was put on injured reserve because of a back injury. Mark Barron is a safety-turned outside linebacker that actually leads the team in tackles. I like how physical Janoris Jekins is and he’s usually around the ball. His 3 interceptions are second to Trumaine Johnson’s handful, who is having a breakout season for himself and is tied for 3rd in picks so far. Facing Tampa Bay’s ground game will be a big challenge the linebackers, putting James Laurenitis into the spotlight to shadow Doug Martin.
Martin is in the running for Comeback Player of the Year. He’s also the main reason that Tampa Bay is still alive in the postseason hunt, second to Adrian Peterson’s slim margin in rushing entering week 15. Aside from an eye-popping 5-touchdown performance a few weeks ago, Jameis Winston’s greatest strength has been taking care of the ball as a rookie. Mike Evans is a mismatch nightmare out wide, but Vincent Jackson’s absence will shade extra attention to his side of the field. If you need a tight end for the fantasy football playoffs, Austin Seferian-Jenkins should get a few more targets while V.J. is sidelined. The Rams are tough to score on, but the area that offenses find more success at is through the air.
The other side of the equation features the Rams’ offense, who have scored the 2nd fewest points in the league, against an opportunistic Love Smith defense. Rams head coach, Jeff Fisher, along with Smith, both come from a background in the secondary with old school and defensive mentalities. This game is going to be a war in the trenches. St. Louis found an identity when Todd Gurley finally stepped on the field, who currently ranks 4th in rushing during his rookie campaign. We’ve seen explosive plays from Tavon Austin here and there. One of my favorite defensive players in all of football is linebacker Lavonte David, who’s sitting in 4th right now in tackles for the Bucs. In the same Philly game that Winston tossed 5 TDs, David snatched a pair of picks and took one to the house.
Yards on the ground will come tough for Gurley, so you can bet everything he gets will be earned. Evans could be a prime candidate for a game ball as the top target, but that is if things go their way since I believe the Rams can intercept a pass or two from the rookie QB. The same can be said with Case Keenum replacing Nick Foles under center for the Rams. The Buccaneers have more to play for this week, a low-turnover quarterback, and the 2nd leading rusher and that’s why I’m picking them despite St. Louis being favored by 2.5 points at home.