The desperation of over a decade without consistency in the playoff hunt has driven some St. Louis faithful to become increasing skilled in the art of devising some route for the Rams to make the playoffs, even if only a narrow road. Granted, when a team is 2-14 or 1-15, there are no roads to be traveled, but with 4 wins, only 6 losses, and a tie… now that, we can work with. There are a lot of pieces that go into this puzzle, which is both a good thing and a bad thing, but you will understand that more as we continue down this path.
First off, there are currently 11 teams ahead of the St. Louis Rams in the NFC, six of which will make the playoffs. For this particular simulation of events, and likely the way it will play out in actuality, we can go ahead and crown three out of the four divisional winner: New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, and Atlanta Falcons. Additionally, unless something catastrophic happens to either Aaron Rodgers or the entire Bears defense, one of those two teams will win the NFC North, and the other will claim the first of two Wild Card spots in the NFC. That leaves only one more playoff spot open in the NFC, and here is where things get interesting…
As it stands today, every team in the NFL has had their bye week, meaning that there should be no additional configuring required when looking at the standings. Aside from the five teams that are “locked” into a playoff spot, there are six teams currently ranked above the St. Louis Rams: Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, and the New Orleans Saints.
The ‘Hawks, Bucs, and Vikings are all two games ahead of the Rams in the standings, essentially meaning those teams have a one-game losing cushion on the Rams. For example, if St. Louis were to beat the 49ers this coming week, and Minnesota loses to Green Bay, the Vikings would still be up by one game on the Rams in the rankings. However, the last three teams on the list, the ‘Skins, Cowboys, and Saints, are only up one game on the Rams. Using a similar example, if the Rams were to take home the victory over the ‘9ers and Washington loses to the Ravens, the Rams would surpass the Redskins in the overall rankings.
The one caveat to the whole “rankings” system is that there are built in “tiebreakers” that decide which team gets the advantage when their records are the same at the end of the season. In the NFL, the first of those is the head-to-head tie breaker, meaning that whoever won when the two teams played one another gets the advantage heading into the playoffs. If the tied teams have not play each other during that season, the breakers range anywhere from win percentage within the conference to whoever has the most letters in their team’s name (joking!)… However, the Rams are “lucky” enough to avoid all of that mess, shoud they break back into the playoff hunt. Why? That little “#-#-1″ at the end of the record essentially gives St. Louis the automatic advantage, like a joker in a stack of cards ot the “Draw Four” card in UNO. While the tie with the San Francisco 49ers did not count as a win for the Rams, it also, subsequently, did not count for a loss either. Thus, when the Washington Redskins and the St. Louis Rams are (hypothetically) tied with eight wins each at the end of the season, the Rams will have only seven losses, while the ‘Skins have eight losses. #Winning
Looking Out For Number One
Now, on to the fun part! The St. Louis Rams cannot make it into the playoffs simply by other teams losing games; they, the Rams, will have to do most of the work. The remainder of the St. Louis schedules looks like this: San Francisco 49ers, @Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, @Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and, finally, @Seattle Seahawks. All of these games are “winnable,” although taking on Tampa Bay and Seattle on the road will likely be the most challenging of the five matchups. However, winnable has not translated into winning on a number of occasions already this season, take the New York Jets game as a perfect example. The positive side of the tough schedule is that the St. Louis Rams can, somewhat, control their own fate heading into the playoffs., with wins over the Seahawks, Vikings, and Buccaneers destroying their opponent’s one game cushion on the Rams.
Help From Other Contenders
There are several other factors that will increase the Rams chances of breaking the cushions and surpassing teams for that last playoff spot. Luckily, each team in the hunt is not playing within a vacuum, they are playing within divisions that will inevitably face off with on another towards the end of the season. There will be several matchups in the remaining five games that will force several of the six teams ahead of the Rams in the playoff picture to lose. Here are those matchups:
Dec. 16: Tampa Bay Buccaneer @ New Orleans Saints
Dec. 23: Dallas Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints
Dec. 30: Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
At a minimum, two of of the six teams that are currently above the Rams will have to lose at least one game. Considering that three out of four teams playing in the previously mentioned games are only one game up on the St. Louis Rams in the standings, it is likely that the Rams will move up, at least, a couple of spots before the end of the season.
Bumpy End Of The Road
One the other important factors that will, hopefully, play into the St. Louis Rams favor is the tough schedules that a majority of the teams will have to play to finish off the year. It is also helpful that, aside from, maybe, the Atlanta Falcons, there is no team in the NFC that is in a good enough position to “rest players” in the final one or two games of the season. That means that where won’t be any “charity wins” at the end of the year, with Robert Griffin III going up against fourth-string defensive backs in Week 17.
There is no “easy” schedule for any of the teams in the “playoff hunt,” especially if your team colors happen to include purple. Here are the remaining schedules for the six teams above the Rams in the rankings:
Seattle: @Chicago, Arizona, @Buffalo, San Francisco, St. Louis (28-25 record)
Tampa Bay: @Denver, Philadelphia, @New Orleans, St. Louis, @Atlanta (30-24 record)
Minnesota: @Green Bay, Chicago, @St. Louis, @Houston, Green Bay (36-18 record)
Washington: New York (Giants), Baltimore, @Cleveland, @Philadelphia, Dallas (27-28 record)
Dallas: Philadelphia, @Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, @Washington (25-30 record)
New Orleans: @Atlanta, @New York (Giants), Tampa Bay, @Dallas, Carolina (31-24 record)
By no means do the St. Louis Rams have an easy schedule to finish off the season, with the opposing teams hold a 31-24 record. However, the St. Louis Rams have already beaten the Seahawks and “should have” beaten the 49ers, who make up a solid 14-7 chunk of that oppositional record. St. Louis will also get a couple of “breaks” as a result of the schedules of the other teams:
1) The Rams take on the Vikings after “the Purple” have played Green Bay and Chicago in back-to-back weeks
2) St. Louis will play the Buccaneers the week after they have to travel to New Orleans and play the high powered Saints offense in the Dome
3) The Seahawks will play the Rams following their matchup with the newly revived San Francisco 49ers defense, and will likely have their top two cornerbacks suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy
In The End…
At the end of the day, the chance for the Rams to slip into the playoffs are still slim, but they are not completely obliterated just yet. To make it into the post season, the teams below the Rams on the standings will need to remain at the bottom, and the teams at the top of the NFC will need to beat up on the Rams pre-playoff competition, especially in the NFC North and NFC East. St. Louis has a chance to somewhat control their own fate, and with a little help from some of the other teams in the NFC, could definitely slice-and-dice their way into that last remaining Wild Card spot. The one thing that the St. Louis Rams have going in their favor is health, which can be make-or-break at this point in the season. Last Sunday, we saw what a fully health Steven Jackson can do behind a fully healthy St. Louis Rams offensive line. Assuming Danny Amendola can recoup from the heal injury, the offense looks fit, and there are no injuries to speak of on the defensive side of the ball or on the special teams unit. The Super Bowl defending, New York Giants snuck into the playoffs last season with a 9-7 record, and that looks to be about the mark that St. Louis will need to hit if they want to be playing football into January.