The Los Angeles Rams have sleepwalked into the second seed

The Los Angeles Rams have had a crazy journey

By Chinmay Kulkarni

The NFL is a weird place. Teams that peak at the right time don’t make the playoffs, while others getting ‘struggle wins’ sneak into contention. Somehow finding themselves winning games without performing to their top potential, the LA Rams are currently the epitome of this select group. As of week 17, the Rams stand at the 2-seed in the NFC playoff race and likely locked into the spot with a Jimmy G-less Niners team in week 18. However, their road to the 2nd seed was one fraught with inconsistency and begs the question – ‘is this lackadaisical play a sign of playoff struggles this season?’

It’s clear that the buck starts and stops with QB Matthew Stafford, throwing 6 INTS and 5 TDs over the past 3 weeks – wins against Seattle, Minnesota, and Baltimore. His average passer rating of 83 over this stretch furthers the narrative of his unideal play – likely meaning that the incompetence of Kirk Cousins and Tyler Huntley (though he didn’t play that bad) was the key contributor to the victory. When it comes to the Rams against the spread, they stand at 8-8, the clear odds makers darling, losing in this category against weak teams like the Lions, Texans, and Ravens. Clearly, the Rams play down to their competition, and really wake up for high-level competition.

Though stats may not be in favor of the Rams – one of the worst rushing teams and frequent turnovers – LA’s losses come against stiff competition. Their first loss was a week 4 home loss to Arizona, a 3-game losing streak in weeks 9 to 12 (bye week 11) against the Titans, Niners, and Packers. The only suspect competition is likely SF, but Kyle Shanahan has owned Sean McVay’s since coming to the NFC West and may even make the playoffs given their starting QB situation. Surprisingly, Stafford threw for 3 TDs and 1 INT against the Packers at Lambeau in what likely brought back NFC North memories, but it remains whether he can turn the tables come January.  

An interesting stat should be highlighted in favor of Matt Stafford – his success at home versus on the road. Stafford has thrown only 4 INTs at home versus 11 INTS on the road, while completing roughly the same number of TD passes for both home and away games. Should the Rams stay in the 2nd seed in the NFC, the road goes through So-Fi stadium barring a trip to Lambeau Field in the NFC championship game, faring well for the potential future hall of fame quarterback.

As we look ahead to the playoff picture, a first-round playoff matchup against the Saints seems likely, one that the New Orleans will surely wake up for just to avenge the 2019 NFC championship game pass interference debacle. Unfortunately, Taysom Hill is not the QB of the future, especially considering how clunky Saints the offense fared over the past month. Assuming a first-round victory, the Rams likely host Tampa, another team that surely will wake up for the second-round matchup given their loss to the Rams in the early regular season. This should be the true first test for the Rams, but as injuries and COVID run wild on the Buccaneers, the LA will likely be favored in the second round. Lastly, should they reach the NFC championship game, their road likely ends in Lambeau. A team from southern California has no business winning in Green Bay in January.

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