NFL Thursday Night Preview: Tampa Bay vs. St. Louis

jameis-winston-1024x683Two struggling teams with uncertain futures will face off tomorrow night, when the St. Louis Rams host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their final home game of the season.

St. Louis broke their five-game losing streak last week when they won 21-14 over Detroit at the Edward Jones Dome, which has been lucky for them since they recorded four of their five wins this season.

The teams have two rookies who are looking to make their mark. Todd Gurley is leading the way for the Rams. He’s run for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries to climb within 25 of joining Eric Dickerson (1983) and Jerome Bettis (1993) as the only rookies in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards.

Tampa Bay’s rokie is the their QB. Tampa Bay’s disappointing play hasn’t put off quarterback Jameis Winston, who’s thrown for 182 yards when he faced the New Orleans Saints, raising his season total to 3,059 yards- a franchise rookie record. The Buccaneers slight playoff chances took a big hit last Sunday when they lost a close game, 24-17 to New Orleans at home. The Buccaneers haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2007, and currently they are two games off the pace in the NFC wild-card race. If they lose tomorrow night, they could officially be eliminated from post-season contention this weekend.

Tampa Bay won’t have a lot of time to sulk about last week’s deflating loss. They had only a little time to turn things around since it was a short week, playing a NFL Thursday night game, and doing that out on the road against an unpredictable Rams teams, in front of a national audience.

After losing at home to the Saints, the Bucs would need a miracle to get into the post-season. So the first step would be beating the Rams, who are a lowly 5-8. But they are coming off a 21-14 win over the Detroit Lions that they pulled off last week.

But the short week won’t make it easy for the Bucs as they’ve got a bunch of key injuries to players who won’t have a full week off to heal up before game action tomorrow night. With every game being a must-win for Tampa Bay from here on out, they’ll need all the help they can get, if they want to win or even steal a few games. St. Louis has other plans and will do their best to put a stop to any post-season fantasies Tampa Bay might have.

The Buccaneers at 6-7, will hold on to those slim hopes of reaching the playoffs, and they’ll try to do that behind the improved play of rookie quarterback and top overall draft pick Winston. They are a vastly improved team and their running back, Doug Martin, ranks second in the league with 1,214 rushing yards and third in the NFC with 1,413 yards from scrimmage. The 26-year-old has recorded six touchdowns in his last 10 games, including five on the ground. Alongside that, Winston is the third rookie quarterback in league history to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark which gives the team a lot of confidence.

The Rams at 5-8, have one bright spot this season, and that has been their ability to get to the opposing quarterback and get them to the ground. The Rams are second in the NFC with 36 sacks, including 11 made by Aaron Donald alobe. The 24-year-old, who is second in the conference in sacks, leads all NFL defensive tackles with 20 since the start of the 2014 campaign. They will look to use that weapon tomorrow night against the rookie QB.

But the Rams has some other preoccupations, they might be relocating to Los Angeles after this season. Owner Stan Kroenke wants to move the franchise to Los Angeles and a vote on the possible relocation will occur sometime in 2016. With that looking in the air, every home game matters, to the exisiting and to every St. Louis fan, so the crowd could be the 12th man.

Our Pick: Rams over Bucs 27-21