Last week we were treated to a terrific Thursday night matchup between Minnesota and Arizona, two likely playoff teams. This week... not quite as good.
Tampa Bay (6-7) has been a pleasant surprise in tripling last year's win total, and it has a franchise quarterback in place in 2015 No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston. He's your NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite and should be the first Buc to win that award since running back Cadillac Williams in 2005. This team has a bright future.
I thought St. Louis (5-8) would contend for a wild-card spot this season, but I clearly overrated quarterback Nick Foles, who was acquired this offseason in the Sam Bradford deal. Foles has been a major bust and has since lost his job to journeyman Case Keenum. It's too bad because this Rams defense is playoff-caliber, and St. Louis has one of the NFL's most electric young talents in running back Todd Gurley, who had been the Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite for a while. Maybe he can catch Winston with a huge final three games.
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Buccaneers at Rams Betting Story Lines
It really would behoove the Rams to lose out and pick as high as possible and finally take a first-round quarterback because Foles isn't the answer -- currently St. Louis would pick 11th in the 2016 draft. After missing the previous two games with a concussion, Keenum led a 21-14 win over Detroit last week. That ended a five-game losing streak and was the Rams' most points scored since a Week 8 win over the 49ers; it came under new offensive coordinator Rob Boras, who was promoted for the fired Frank Cignetti.
Keenum didn't actually do much vs. Detroit, completing just 14-for-22 for 124 yards with a pick. But Gurley looked back to his early-season form in rushing 16 times for 140 yards and two scores. Defenses had been stacking the box to stop Gurley because they didn't fear Foles or Keenum. St. Louis is now 4-1 in games Gurley rushes for at least 100 yards. His five games with at least 125 yards are two shy of the league record for a rookie (Eric Dickerson had seven in 1983). Gurley needs just 25 yards to become the first Rams rookie to reach the 1,000-yard mark since Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis in 1993. As a team, the Rams rushed for 203 yards on 29 carries, an average of 7 yards per attempt against Detroit.
The Rams are 31st out of 32 teams in both scoring (16.2 points per game) and total offense (297.9 yards per game), and last in passing offense (173.1 yards per game), passing touchdowns (eight), passer rating (69.2) and third-down conversions (25.3 percent). In more than half their games -- seven -- the Rams have been held to 13 points or fewer, matching the most of any team in the NFL. The Rams, 49ers and Titans are all 0-7 in such games.
I don't expect head coach Jeff Fisher to be back next season, and this could be the team's final game ever in St. Louis if owner Stan Kroenke gets his way and moves the franchise to L.A. this offseason. Most experts believe, however, that Kroenke doesn't have the necessary 24 votes from other owners to approve a move. But he might just sue. We should have some resolution on the L.A. market, at least for 2016, in mid-January.
The Bucs aren't officially eliminated from the playoffs yet, but last week's 24-17 home loss to New Orleans all but ended any shot. Really no excuse scoring 17 against the terrible Saints defense. Winston threw for only 182 yards and the Bucs totaled 291, holding the ball for less than 23 minutes. That's going to happen with a young quarterback. The Bucs likely have lost starting receiver Vincent Jackson for the rest of the season as he suffered a sprained MCL in the loss. Jackson had a disappointing, injury-plagued season, catching 33 balls for 543 yards and three scores. Expect Mike Evans to get double-digit targets from Winston the rest of the way.
These teams met Week 2 last year in Tampa and the Rams won 19-17. Greg Zuerlein's fourth field goal of the day, a 38-yarder with 38 seconds remaining, won it. Austin Davis was the Rams' QB that day while it was Josh McCown for Tampa.
Buccaneers at Rams Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , the game is a pick'em (Rams -125) with a total of 41. On the alternate lines, St. Louis is -1 (-118), -1.5 (-110, -2 (-105), -2.5 (+100), -3 (+125) and -3.5 (+150). Tampa is -1 (+113), -1.5 (+118), -2 (+123), -2.5 (+128), -3 (+153) and -3.5 (+168). Tampa Bay is 7-6 against the spread (4-2 on road) and 6-7 "over/under" (2-4 on road). St. Louis is 5-7-1 ATS (4-3 at home) and 3-10 O/U (2-5 at home).
The Bucs are 4-0 ATS in their past four after a loss and 9-1 ATS in their past 10 after an ATS loss. They are 1-4 ATS in their past five Thursday games. St. Louis is 1-4 ATS in its past five after a win. It has covered only one of its past six on Thursdays. The under is 5-0 in Tampa's past five in December. The under is 6-0 in St. Louis' past six after a win. The under is 5-0 in the past five meetings. The Bucs are 0-4 ATS in the past four.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Buccaneers at Rams Betting Predictions
Tampa is 1-2 in Thursday games since the NFL started playing regularly on Thursdays in 2006. All three Thursday games were lopsided, including an embarrassing 56-14 loss in Atlanta early last season. I rather doubt this is lopsided because both offenses are rather shaky -- it should have a final score similar to last year. Take St. Louis and go under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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