Continuing our series of offseason opponent breakdowns following the 2021 schedule release, theRams.com examines Los Angeles' Week 3 home opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (SoFi Stadium, Sept. 26, 1:25 p.m. PT on FOX – TICKETS | SUITES).
Between the signing of six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady, Super Bowl LV being hosted in the Buccaneers' home stadium and the acquisitions of tight end Rob Gronkowski via a trade with the Patriots, running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Antonio Brown, expectations were high for Tampa Bay last year.
While they got off to a 6-2 start, it wasn't perfect the entire way – see their 1-3 slump during the month of November, with the third loss coming before the bye week. However, whatever struggles the Buccaneers endured during that stretch appeared to get solved during the bye.
They closed out the regular season with a four-game win streak to clinch the NFC's No. 5 seed and the league's No. 7 total offense (384.1 yards per game), No. 3 scoring offense (30.8 points per game), No. 6 total defense (327.1 yards allowed per game) and No. 8 scoring defense (22.2 points per game allowed). In the playoffs, they dispatched the Washington Football Team in the wild card round, Drew Brees and the Saints in the divisional round, and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC Championship to reach the Super Bowl, where they defeated Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs 31-9.
With the appearance and win, Tampa Bay became the first team to both play and win the Super Bowl in their home stadium in NFL history.
Other than adding former Bengals running back Giovani Bernard to their backfield via a reported one-year, veteran-minimum deal, none of significance.
The bigger story was what didn't change. Earlier this offseason, Tampa Bay became the first team in the NFL's salary cap era to retain all 22 starters from their Super Bowl roster.
Bruce Arians is in his third year as head coach of the Buccaneers, compiling an 18-14 regular season record through his first two seasons with the franchise. Last season was Tampa Bay's first qualifying for the playoffs under Arians. Including his five seasons with the Cardinals (2013-17), Arians has compiled a 67-44 overall record with three playoff appearances in seven seasons as a head coach.
What to watch for
Sizing up Super Bowl contenders
While no one can predict the future, last year showed early-season matchups can offer previews of potential playoff matchups, as well as the chance to see how contenders in each conference stack up against others. Look no further the Week 6 meeting between the Packers and the Buccaneers.
With the Rams and the Buccaneers among the Super Bowl 56 favorites, this Week 3 matchup seems to fit that criteria.
Each team had a top-10 defense in 2020. The Bucs had a top-10 offense, both in total yards and scoring average, while the Rams were just outside at No. 11 in each category.
For a Rams team with its own aspirations of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on its home turf this season, facing the defending champs this early will provide a valuable opportunity to see how it measures up in reaching that goal early on.