Divisional Round Sunday Showdown DFS Primer (Rams at Buccaneers)
The Rams and Buccaneers are set for a rematch in Saturday’s Divisional Round matchup in the NFC. In Week 3, the Rams convincingly beat the Buccaneers 34 to 24 in Los Angeles. However, there have been significant injuries for both teams since. Further, this game is in Tampa Bay. Thus, the Bucs are 3.0-point favorites. This looks like a competitive game on paper. Below, I highlight my favorite options on this single-game slate.
Game: Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Spread: TB -3.0 Points
Over/Under: 48.5 Points
Rams Analysis: Yes, there are only four players in the table. Therefore, I'm not sipping the Odell Beckham Jr. Kool-Aid after last week's "outburst." Admittedly, OBJ looked good against the Cardinals. However, his big game amounted to a 4-54-1 line on four targets and a 40-yard completion. OBJ has bested 50 receiving yards in nine games with the Rams only three times, and twice was against the Cardinals. So, he's an ancillary part that offers more sizzle than steak.
Instead, I'm locked in on the trio of Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Tyler Higbee from the Rams' pass-heavy attack. According to Sharp Football Stats, in neutral game scripts (an offensive margin from trailing by six points to leading by six points), the Rams passed at the third-highest rate (62%) behind the Bills and upcoming Buccaneers (66%). In addition, Stafford is a matchup nightmare for the Buccaneers. First, allow me to tip my cap to Ian Hartitz and Dwain McFarland for pointing out Stafford's elite numbers against the blitz this year on the PFF Fantasy Football Podcast. According to Pro-Football-Reference, the Bucs blitzed at the highest rate (40.8%). Meanwhile, according to Pro Football Focus, out of 38 quarterbacks that were blitzed at least 50 times, Stafford was fourth in passing yards, PFF passing grade, third in passing touchdowns, tied for second in yards per attempt (9.4), and first in completion percentage (74.6%). Predictably, he carved the Bucs up in the first meeting, passing for 343 yards and four touchdowns.
Kupp, like he did all year en route to leading the NFL in every meaningful receiving category, also balled out against the Bucs. The stud receiver hauled in nine of 12 targets for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Further, in last week's poor showing by his standards, Kupp led the Rams in routes (21), targets (seven), receptions (five), receiving yards (61), and caught one of the two touchdowns scored through the air. He's a no-doubt selection on this single-game slate.
Higbee is the other passing game option that's the apple of my eye, coming out of nowhere down the stretch. In the previous three games, Higbee has been third on the Rams in routes (81), tied for second in touchdown receptions (two), and second in targets (19), receptions (15), and receiving yards (170).
Finally, Cam Akers is intriguing. The Bucs are applauded for their run defense. However, they weren't the same world beaters this year as in 2020. According to Football Outsiders, Tampa Bay was 12th in rush defense Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). They were also a significant liability against explosive runs. According to Sharp Football Stats, Tampa Bay allowed the third-highest average explosive run rate (14%). Last week, Akers played 53% of the offensive snaps, piling up 95 scrimmage yards on 17 rush attempts and one reception. He appears to be the feature going forward.
Buccaneers Analysis: As I noted above, the Bucs passed at the highest rate in neutral game scripts in the regular season. So, it should come as no surprise the table is filled with passing-game options. Unfortunately, there's a lot of uncertainty behind Rob Gronkowski and the not-included Mike Evans. The lack of steady playmakers behind Evans and Gronk makes me think the Rams could use Jalen Ramsey in shadow coverage, something he's done in the past but hasn't been tasked with this season. Of course, they could also scheme Evans out of the game in non-shadow ways, allowing Ramsey to take someone else away. Regardless, Evans is the high-priced player I have no problem fading entirely.
There's another likely significant challenge for Tom Brady and the passing attack, as numerous starting offensive linemen are on the injury report. Tackle Tristan Wirfs and center Ryan Jensen are the most notable linemen on Tampa Bay's injury report, with both missing practice through Thursday. As a result, Brady might be limited to a quick-hitting attack, limiting the time Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and Co. have to put the heat on him.
Brady worked a similar game plan to success last week, with Evans' average depth of target (aDot) of 8.0 yards downfield representing the deepest mark on the team. Gronk had a modest aDot of only 6.7 yards, tying for second on the team in routes (35), receptions (five), sitting in second for targets (six), and producing 31 receiving yards and a touchdown. Brady's long-time running mate was a target hot down the stretch, securing double-digit targets in three of the last four regular-season games. Gronk parlayed his looks into a 7-115-0 and 7-137-0 line in Week 17 and Week 18. He's easily the player I'm most interested in using from the Bucs.
Astute readers might be wondering why Giovani Bernard is on the table, and Leonard Fournette isn't. The latter might be back from the Injured Reserve this week. However, I'm not entirely convinced he'll reclaim his bell-cow role. Moreover, Bernard showed enough last week to possibly retain the passing-back role many expected him to hold this year after joining the team in free agency. The former Bengal was second on the team in targets (seven), reeling in five receptions for 39 receiving yards. So, even if Lombardi Lenny returns this week, I'm open to using Bernard on this single-game slate in hopes he is Brady's new James White-lite in a contest he might need to pepper short-area targets.
The remaining options, Breshad Perriman (as long as this week's practice absences are maintenance-related like last week's absences were), Cameron Brate, Tyler Johnson, and Scotty Miller, are a crapshoot. Perriman has made the most out of the least, Brate is a favorite of Brady's in the red zone, Johnson has run the third-most routes (107) since Week 17 to thoroughly underwhelming results, and Miller's primarily been invisible this year but touched the ball twice last week and offers the straight-line speed to break a big play.
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