When the 2013 schedule came out, the week 16 matchup between the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked intriguing: two teams that once jockeyed for NFC dominance a decade ago now looking to rebuild under second year head coaches and promising young quarterbacks. Both teams were coming off near-misses in 2012, but both teams had their arrows pointed firmly in the right direction.
It didn't quite turn out that way.
Instead of being a matchup of two young playoff contenders, both the Bucs and the Rams enter Sunday with nothing to play for but jobs and pride. The Bucs, like the Rams, have faced a brutal schedule, a result of playing in the NFC's other meat-grinder division, the NFC South.
Neither team's promising quarterback will see the field Sunday. Sam Bradford is fresh off ACL surgery while Tampa's Josh Freeman will be carrying a clipboard for the Minnesota Vikings, having been unceremoniously dumped after Tampa's tumultuous 0-4 start. Freeman became embattled with head coach Greg Schiano and the Bucs cut him loose after unsuccessfully trying to trade him. Rookie Mike Glennon took over the starting job in Tampa, and while he predictably struggled early, he's led the Bucs to four wins in their last six games.
The Rams, of course, have been riding the wave of improved play out of veteran backup Kellen Clemens. St. Louis is 3-4 with Clemens at the helm, but have won home games against playoff contenders Chicago and New Orleans.
Both teams sport young defenses that have helped offset their offensive struggles. The Bucs rank last in the NFL in total offense, but have a 13th ranked defense that has been fairly stingy. They're tied with the Rams at 13th in the NFL in points per game allowed at 23.1.
Schiano, who was all but gone during the Freeman affair, may have saved his job with the team's second half showing. Sunday's game is big for him personally if he hopes to cement himself as part of the Bucs' future. With a visit to New Orleans on the slate for the final game, Sunday represents the chance for Tampa to get to 5-10 after dropping their first eight games.
Jeff Fisher isn't on any hot seat with Rams' management, but both of his coordinators might be. Tim Walton needs his defense to put together consecutive strong showings. If the Rams come out and surrender big points and yardage to the Bucs struggling offense, he might be looking for a job this off season. Brian Schottenheimer is probably a little more secure, having had the benefit of the doubt of losing his starting quarterback. Still, the Rams need to finish strong for him to avoid the pink slip.
No playoff berths will be on the line as both teams had hoped heading into the season, but there's still plenty on the line for the Rams and the Buccaneers.
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