clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Buccaneers vs. Rams 2015, 'Thursday Night Football' preview: Is this the last NFL game ever in St. Louis?

The Rams need a victory against the Bucs to clinch a winning home record for just the third time in the past decade.

The St. Louis Rams have more than just their dwindling postseason hopes on the line Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is the Rams' final home game of the season, and potentially the last NFL game played in the "Gateway City" for years to come. Rams owner Stan Kroenke is trying to move the franchise to Los Angeles, and the fate of the team could be decided as early as Jan. 12-13 at the league owners' meeting.

With the threat of relocation looming this winter, the Rams are trying not only to stave off playoff elimination but also cap off their home slate on a winning note. They need to beat the Bucs to finish with a winning record at Edward Jones Dome for just the third time in the last decade.

A loss, meanwhile, would officially eliminate them from postseason contention and guarantee their ninth straight losing season overall. That would be the league's longest active streak of sub-.500 campaigns, and would match the longest stretch in franchise history (1990-98). Even if the Rams win on Thursday, they'd still have to sweep their final two road games -- at Seattle and at San Francisco -- to avoid finishing in the red this year.

The Buccaneers suffered a crippling loss on Sunday, which derailed their promising playoff drive and kept them from climbing above .500 for the first time in more than three years. They now sit two games out of the final Wild Card spot with three left to play. At 6-7, they likely need to win out against the Rams, Bears and Panthers -- plus get some help -- in order to have a shot at their first playoff berth since 2007.

Still, this season already has to be considered a success. Tampa Bay has already tripled its win total from last season and has a chance to finish with a non-losing record for the first time in six years. For such a young and inexperienced team, the Bucs have also shown resiliency this season. They have dropped back-to-back contests only once, and are 3-1 in games decided by four points or fewer.


The Rams snapped a five-game losing streak in Week 14, and while the victory was essentially meaningless in terms of postseason contention, it did serve one important on-field purpose. In his first game as offensive coordinator, Rob Boras dialed up the team's winning formula and made sure to do what the Rams do best: give the ball to Todd Gurley and let him run.

Their overall success this season is directly tied to the effectiveness of Gurley, who carried the ball 16 times for 140 yards in the win over the Lions. The Rams are 0-6 when he plays and has fewer than 100 yards rushing, but are 4-1 when he tops the century mark on the ground. Gurley is the difference-maker on offense that St. Louis desperately needs if it is ever going to be a contender in this league.

The Rams are so reliant on Gurley because their passing game is anemic. The quarterback tandem of Nick Foles and Case Keenum has produced the league's worst passer rating, fewest passing yards per game, fewest yards per attempt and the lowest completion percentage in the NFL. They have posted just two 200-yard passing games, while every other team has done that at least five times this season.

The Buccaneers are well-positioned to be able to stop the Rams' ground game. While they've struggled in pass coverage, allowing a league-worst completion rate of 68.7 percent, they are excellent in the trenches. Tampa Bay is yielding the fewest yards per rush (3.4) in the NFL, and has allowed only one player to rush for more than 100 yards this season (Houston's Alfred Blue in Week 3).

On the other side of the ball, there is some concern in Tampa Bay about an offense that failed to take advantage of the NFL's worst defense on Sunday. The Bucs put up just 17 points and 291 yards against a Saints unit that entered the game giving up 425 yards and 32 points per game. The Rams defense presents a much stiffer challenge: they are 12th in points allowed and have held their opponent without a touchdown twice this season.

Who to Watch

The focal point of both offenses is in the backfield, where fans should get a real treat watching two of the league's best running backs in action. Doug Martin and Gurley ranked second and fourth in rushing yards per game, respectively, and both are also in the top six in yards per rush.

They are each having fantastic campaigns and on the verge of rewriting the record books. Martin has 1,214 rushing yards, 330 shy of tying James Wilder's franchise single-season mark, set in 1984. Trailing Adrian Peterson by 37 yards on the yardage leaderboard entering Week 15, he also has a chance to become the first league rushing champion in Bucs history.

Gurley, meanwhile, needs 25 yards on the ground to join Eric Dickerson (1983) and Jerome Bettis (1993) as the only 1,000-yard rookie rushers in Rams history. He also picked up fifth game with at least 125 rushing yards last Sunday, which is tied for the second-most by a rookie in NFL history. The record is seven, set by Eric Dickerson in 1983.

How to Watch

When: 8:25 p.m. ET

Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Mo.

TV: NFL Network

Announcers: Ian Eagle, Trent Green, Evan Washburn

Online: Verizon NFL


The Rams are 1.5-point favorites and the over/under is 41, according to

Preliminary Judgment

The experts are slightly favoring the Buccaneers on the road. Five of the eight panelists at CBS Sports have Tampa Bay, and it's the same ratio here at SB Nation. The three guys on our crew taking St. Louis are Stephen White, Danny Kelly and Matt Ufford.

Further Reading

For more on the Buccaneers, head over to Bucs Nation. To read about the Rams, check out Turf Show Times.