After 54 years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the first franchise to host a Super Bowl.
And now all eyes are on the Los Angeles Rams as they look to repeat the feat at SoFi Stadium, especially this Sunday when they welcome the defending champions.
It's far too early for conference championship game previews. Nonetheless, it feels like the top spot in the NFC is at stake.
While there are three other NFC unbeatens (Carolina, San Francisco, and Arizona), and plenty of one-loss contenders (Green Bay, Seattle, and NFC East Placeholder), this is the game with the highest stakes in Week Three.
Quick Pause to Appreciate
Every so often, I'm reminded not to take these moments for granted. It wasn't too long ago that the thought of the NFL situating a Rams home game against the defending champs as a showcase event would've been hard to fathom.
These days, prime time and national window opportunities are the norm.
The NFL teed this up and both teams delivered 2-0 starts.
How awesome is it to play the game of the week – perhaps the entire regular season – with every expectation that your team can-and-should win if they perform in all three phases.
Separation Sunday (and Monday)
That being said, all the featured games this week are golden.
Opposite the tilt in Inglewood, the loser of the Seahawks and Vikings is going to have a long road back to contention in the division. That should be intense in Minneapolis.
Sunday Night Football has Green Bay at San Francisco, arguably the second-best contest on the slate.
And Monday Night Football between rivals Philadelphia and Dallas will bring some clarity to the muddied NFC East, especially if Buffalo beats Washington on Sunday.
With a Little Help From Our (AFC) Friends
Now although Houston couldn't pick off Carolina on Thursday, this could be a week where AFC home teams give a nice little assist to the Rams playoff odds. (It would be welcomed, especially after the Chargers let the Cowboys off the hook.)
In addition to Buffalo potentially setting 1-1 Washington back, the same could be said of New England hosting 1-1 New Orleans and Cleveland welcoming 1-1 Chicago, with Justin Fields making his first start.
Favorable outcomes would thin the herd a bit.
And this is just downright greedy, but could winless Jacksonville hand 2-0 Arizona a loss before the Cardinals come to Inglewood?
Stafford as Advertised
The sample size is too small to be evidential, but after two weeks, the early returns on the partnership between Matthew Stafford and the Rams are extremely encouraging.
He ranks top five in the NFL in most core quarterback metrics, and top 10 in nearly all of them.
On the Coach McVay Show – have you subscribed on YouTube, Apple, and-or Spotify yet? – the Rams play-caller has made this point twice in as many weeks about his new QB1.
"His ability to process and quickly exhaust progressions is what really stands out to me after a couple games," McVay noted. "He just sees everything and he's able to communicate right when he gets off (the field). He doesn't need to look at the pictures. He's seen it in live action. He has a reason for why he's doing everything. I can't tell you how nice that is to be able to work through those things in real time."
Touchdown Drive to Survive
The Bucs lead the NFL with 79 points scored and nine touchdowns, two more than any other team.
Taking nothing away from their prowess – Tampa Bay is extraordinarily efficient as well – it is worth noting that six of their scores have come on short fields: drives of 57 yards or fewer.
Two more touchdowns came on defense in last week's fourth quarter versus Atlanta.
That's a great contrast for what the Rams have had to do to get in the end zone seven times on offense. Their shortest touchdown drive of 2021 is 70 yards. And their average march is 76.3.
Impressive, but not sustainable.
This isn't rocket surgery; the Rams need better kick coverage and three and outs on defense to set up shorter fields for their offense.
As you know, this is the third meeting in as many seasons between Tampa Bay and L.A.
In the prior two, McVay's play-calling has been on point versus former Jets head coach and current Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
While pass-heavy in approach (skewed in part because of the 2019 shootout), the Rams have racked up 67 points and averaged 6.1 yards per play, all despite committing six turnovers along the way.
Brian Allen has validated the team's decision to elevate him to the starting role, and he's done so against some terrific interior defensive linemen. In fact, Pro Football Focus has Allen as their second-highest-graded center in the league.
But this Sunday's test is a final exam in organic chemistry.
Vita Vea is different. In fact, I'm going to print (read: copy/paste) his full name out of respect: Tevita Tuliʻakiʻono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau Vea. Watch this from last week.
And Ndamukong Suh knows the drill, too.
If Allen holds his own against those two, the Rams might really be on to something.
What Does the Fox(boro) Say?
The hypothetical I'd love to ask Tom Brady: If you could only win one of Tampa Bay's next two games, would you choose this Sunday versus the Rams or next weekend upon your return to New England?
We'd never, ever get a straight answer, of course. And that's because it's a dumb hypothetical that only I would waste time thinking about.
But it has to be next week at Foxboro, right?
For the record, this is not to imply that Brady or the Bucs are in any way going to get caught "looking ahead."
Two 199th Picks
After all, this is his Jordan Fuller revenge game. The Rams safety has surely been keeping the seven-time Super Bowl champion up at night, with visions of those two interceptions over the middle playing on repeat.
Brady's full attention will be on his first professional game in Los Angeles. And maybe trying to beat Fuller on a deep post for payback.
It felt like such a low blow that I debated whether or not it even deserved to be addressed in this space.
In case you missed it, The Ringer remains unconvinced that the Rams are contenders and laid the blame at the feet of the defense, describing the 2021 unit as "a cheap knockoff" of last year's elite force.
How dare they?
Look, we know the shortcomings to date. But how about some perspective, Ringer?
The defense ranks fourth in DVOA (faring better against the pass than the run) and eighth in scoring, despite last week's special teams touchdown by the Colts.
We'll concede that Brady and the Bucs are a level up from the quarterbacks the L.A. defense has faced thus far.
Bend Don't Break
This week on Rams Revealed, in jest, I asked linebacker Troy Reeder if it might be better to just have opposing offenses start their drives in the red zone. You know, just cut to the chase?
"The important thing is, the way teams have gotten down there is very correctible," Reeder said, coming off his first career interception – one of three red zone takeaways (including on downs) for the Rams in two games.
"I think we felt throughout all of camp that we were trying to build off of what we did last year. We didn't want to start backwards. We have a lot of the same guys back. But we know that this team may have a different identity."
Just Going to Leave This Here
Aaron Donald has zero sacks of Tom Brady in three career meetings, including the postseason.
Donald potentially getting the Rams sack record against Brady at SoFi sets up nicely, doesn't it?