DETROIT – The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady will face off against Matthew Stafford and his Los Angeles Rams in the NFC divisional round at 3 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 23) at Raymond James Stadium on NBC.
The two teams faced off in Week 3 at Sofi Stadium when the Rams defeated the Buccaneers 34-24. That primetime matchup saw Stafford put on one of the best games of his career, out-dueling Brady by tossing four touchdowns.
Stafford, who said he wanted to come to Los Angeles for big-time games like this, passed for 343 yards, snapping the Buccaneers’ 10-game regular season and playoff winning streak.
In defeat, Brady completed 41 of 55 passes for 432 yards and a touchdown. He also recorded a rushing score as the Bucs played from behind the entire game.
Since their matchup, a lot has changed for both players. Both teams have shuffled their rosters ahead of their rematch.
Including the NFL wildcard round, Brady finished the 2021 season with a quarterback rating of 95 in six of his last seven games. Last week, the defending champs dominated the Philadelphia Eagles, as Brady completed 29 of 37 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns.
Stafford threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns in his Rams playoff debut, leading Los Angeles past the Arizona Cardinals with a 34-11 victory on Monday Night Football to close out the wildcard round.
Detroit Lions fans were watching that game on pins and needles as their former quarterback and future ring of honor candidate still holds his former team’s success in the palm of his hands.
Stafford and Detroit had a Hollywood divorce this past offseason, as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft sought greener pastures after his 12 years with the franchise.
While donning the Honolulu blue, Stafford made three playoff appearances in 2011, 2014 and 2016, but injuries and the lack of a running game sent him and his One Pride army packing.
Brady, the hottest free agent in 2020, and his Buccaneers rolled the Stafford-less Lions in under 30 minutes of play that season, as the Lions’ leader left the game with an injury.
After their Week 16 matchup, Detroit traded Stafford to the Rams for two first-round picks. The first will come in 2022, with the second following in 2023.
The Lions would have received the No. 23 pick if the Cardinals had upset the Rams. But since they didn’t, Detroit will receive the No. 26 pick at best, no matter the outcome of the Sunday (Jan. 23) matchup.
Stafford, the hottest trade acquisition of 2021, will look to duplicate what the most seductive free agent in 2020 did by becoming the first team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
When Tampa Bay dethroned Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, the state of Michigan and Wolverines fans pulled out their maize and blue No. 10 jerseys in celebration of Brady, who won his seventh title.
Brady played for Michigan from 1995 to 1999. He was on the 1997 Rose Bowl team that won the national championship. During his miraculous career, Brady earned the moniker as the comeback kid, leading Michigan to numerous comebacks during his tenure. It’s safe to say he’s kept that reputation throughout his 20-plus year career.
The matchup will be a legacy advancing game for both Michiganders.
How will Brady handle the pressure of being pursued by defensive tackle Aaron Donald and defensive end Von Miller? When the pocket closes around Brady, he usually chucks the pigskin up for grabs, which wouldn’t be safe this weekend as all-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey will be roaming the secondary.
On the offensive side of the ball, Stafford has Triple Crown winner Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr, Cam Akers, and Brady’s former teammate, Sony Michel, to tote the rock.
The Buccaneers return Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Lavonte David and Sean Murphy-Bunting. Although those additions are a welcomed site for the Bucs, they also have a depleted offensive line, running back room and receiving corps.
Tampa has lost Leonard Fournette (doubtful), Ronald Jones II, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen ahead of the NFC divisional round.
On paper, Stafford and the Rams look like prohibited favorites, but as the old saying goes, you never bet against Brady.
So, Michigan, who’s your guy? Who will you be rooting for to advance to the NFC championship?