Dec 2, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers (2) misses a 51 yard field goal attempt during overtime against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams defeated the 49ers 16-13 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

NFC Wild Card Hunt: Re-Factoring The St. Louis Rams Route Into The Playoffs

 

With Monday Night Football finally past, Week 13 of the NFL season has come to a close, meaning there is only one quarter of the season left. The AFC playoff picture is sewn up pretty tight outside of the AFC North, with Houston, Denver, and New England all clinching their divisions with wins this weekend. However, the NFC is still wide open, especially the NFC East with the New York Giants loss and wins from both the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins. So, where do the Rams stand after their win over the division rival San Francisco 49ers.

 

Change You Can Believe In

Well sadly, the win did not elevate St. Louis as much as many had hoped, namely because of the particular teams that won and lost this week. However, do not let the Rams slight shift in the standings fool you. The Rams are in much better position than they were last week, at least in respect to moving more easily up the rankings. Here is the change from last week:

6. Seattle (+1) 7-5

7. Washington (+1) 6-6

8. Dallas (+1) 6-6

9. Tampa Bay (-1) 6-6

10. Minnesota (-1) 6-6

11. St. Louis (+1) 5-6-1

12. New Orleans (-1) 5-6

By losing to Green Bay and Denver, respectively, the Vikings and the Buccaneers erased their one game cushion on the St. Louis Rams in the standings. So, in effect, there are now four teams with a slight, single-game advantage over the Rams. Should St. Louis win against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, and all of the six-win teams in the NFC lose, the Rams would automatically jump to the 7th slot in the NFC, in good position to fight for one of the two wild card spots.

 

What Hurts The Most

Yes, Dallas and Washington won this weekend, but those were not the biggest “losses” of the weekend. The Seattle Seahawks were able to comeback against the Chicago Bears and take the win over the potential NFC North champions in overtime. With that win, the Seahawks maintain their two game advantage over the Rams in the NFC wild card hunt.

With Green Bay’s win, they firmly take the lead in the North, pushing the 8-4 Bears down into the a wild card spot. Ideally, the Rams would have liked for the opposite to happen, with the Bears moving up to 9-3 and the Packers falling to 7-5. However, the situation in the North this past weekend was a lose-lose situation, considering both of those teams were playing NFC teams ahead of the Rams in the hunt for the wild card.

 

The Icing…

The flip side of the muddling in the NFC North is that the Bears loss slightly opens the door for other teams to steal the wild card. While the Green Bay Packers have clearly been a team on the rise in the second half of the season, the Bears have lost 3 of their last 4 games. Many assuming that the Bears could at least maintain their lead, which would inevitably give the Pack the first Wild Card slot. With the cheeseheads in the lead, Chicago could potentially fall out of the playoff picture completely if they continue their down spiral. At 8-4, St. Louis would need to the Bears to lose, at least, 3 of their 4 remaining games, which sounds a tad absurd. However, a quick glance at their schedule reveals they have games against the Vikings, Packers, and Lions, all of which are “loseable” games for Chicago.

That isn’t the only previous playoff “lock” that should be worried about making the playoffs this season. With the Washington Redskins win over the New York Giants, the G-men are now within two games of the St. Louis Rams, and within one-game of both the Dallas Cowboys and the ‘Skins. The Cowboy will undoubtedly fizzle out, having barely beaten the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, but the Redskins could definitely make things interesting if they were to overtake New York in the NFC East. Aside from their Week 17 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants still have to play the New Orleans Saint at home, and the Falcons and Ravens on the road. Although it would be much easier to surpass the Redskins, in terms of record, the Giants, much like the Bears, are on a losing skid. With that said, it is never good to bet against Eli Manning in December or when his team’s back is against the wall. But, drastic falls by the Bears and Giants could sneak the Rams into the playoffs. Not likely, but possible…

 

So, What Happens Next?

Well, like Coach Fisher mentioned during his presser after the big win over the 49ers, the team should be focused on the Buffalo Bills this week. We will take the same approach here, taking a look at how the upcoming week could play out to help the Rams. Here are the upcoming matchups for each of the teams ahead of the Rams, including the Bears and Giants:

New York Giants @ New Orleans Saints

Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings

Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks

Baltimore Ravens @ Washington Redskins

 Dallas Cowboys @ Cincinnati Bengals

Philadelphia Eagles @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

 

It will likely be too much to ask for the Arizona Cardinals to play NFL-caliber football and overtake the Seattle Seahawks, and the Bucs should stomp all over the weltering Eagles.

However, the  ‘Boys and ‘Skins might have their hands full taking on the Ravens and Bengals who are fighting for a playoff spot in a wide-open AFC North. Baltimore will likely be extremely frustrated heading into Sunday, given that they just lost a game to the Pittsburgh Steelers who were forced to start Charley Batch for the second game in a row, with Roethlisberger and Leftwich out with injury. Meanwhile, the Bengals have quietly won four straight games, including a win over the New York Giants.

Given how the Giants looked on Monday Night Football last night, the New Orleans Saints should have a legitimate shot to overtake the likely favored New York team. If all three NFC East teams lose, the Rams would surpass both the Cowboys and Redskins, and sit one game behind the New York Giants.

The Bears versus Vikings game is the most intriguing for the Rams to keep an eye on, assuming the St. Louis Rams win. If Minnesota can snag a game from Chicago, then they will maintain their one game lead on the Rams, but they will pull the Bears down within two games of the Rams. If they Bears win, they will likely secure themselves a playoff birth , but would push the Vikings beneath the Rams in the NFC standings.

 

In the End…

Right now, all the St. Louis Rams need to do is go out on Sunday and beat the Buffalo Bills. There is still plenty of season left to play and, at least for now, plenty of potential roads that are still possible for St. Louis to take to squeak into the playoffs. This will likely be the only remaining game that the Rams are favored in this season. If they cannot win this week, they do not deserve to be in the playoffs this year.

 

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Tags: Chicago Bears Dallas Cowboys Minnesota Vikings Seattle Seahawks St. Louis Rams Tampa Bay Buccaneers Washington Redskins

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