The St. Louis Rams hit the road looking to extend their current winning streak, and win three games in a row for the first time since 2006 while keeping their slim playoff hopes alive. The Rams haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, while the Bills have the leagues longest playoff drought of 12 years. The Rams and Bills have shown improvement over their last four games as they have gone 2-1-1 and 2-2 respectively. The Rams and Bills are actually fairly similar teams, each of them being built around a strong running game and excellent defensive lines. Unfortunately I haven’t seen much of the Bills this season so a lot of this evaluation will be based upon statistical analysis and what I have read from other experts. So how do the Rams and Bills matchup?
St. Louis Rams Offense vs. Bills Defense. The Rams offense hasn’t been very consistent this season, which isn’t that surprising considering how many first or second year players are starting for the Rams. Health along the offensive line was also an issue earlier in the season, although the original starting 5 is finally back on the field again and playing pretty well. That will be important for the Rams as they face one of the better defensive lines in the NFL on Sunday. The Bills currently rank 30th in the NFL against the run allowing 139.2 yards per game at 4.9 yards per carry, but they have put in some dominant performances over the last 4 weeks although they came against some of the weaker running teams in the NFL. Still this defense added several new players in the offseason and the finally appear to be playing well together. Four weekends ago the Rams went on the road and put up 458 yards and 24 points against the number 1 defense in the NFL, so we know the offense can play well on the road. One thing to watch out for is whether Danny Amendola will be available for this game, the player who has been Bradford’s favorite target was a huge part of that offensive explosion in San Francisco and would figure to have a huge game against a much weaker Bills secondary. Even if Amendola doesn’t play rookie Chris Givens has shown the ability to fill that type of role as well, although it would be nice for him to be available to stretch the field as Amendola occupies the short and intermediate routes. Weather conditions may require a more run heavy offense, and the Rams are ready for it with Steven Jackson playing the best football of the season over the past 4 weeks as he continues to plug away towards his 8th consecutive 1,000 yard season. One are the Bills have struggled this season is on 3rd down as teams are converting 44% against them good for 30th in the NFL. The Rams offense should find success against the Bills after facing 2 of the NFLs top 10 defenses over three of the past four weeks.
St. Louis Rams Defense vs. Bills Offense. The Buffalo Bills are coming off of a huge performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars rushing for 232 yards. Jacksonville has one of the worst overall defenses in the NFL and allows an average of 144 yards at 4.3 yards per carry a game so those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Buffalo has a great running game, but they have also been very casual with ball security as they have a combined 24 giveaways this season good enough for 4th worst in the NFL with 11 of those being fumbles. The St. Louis Rams have finally broken out of their turnover drought as they have forced 5 turnovers over the last 2 weeks and if they can continue to stay on the plus side of the turnover margin they should have success on Sunday. The Rams will have to continue to be successful against the run in order to stop the Bills offense, and should be very alert of the screen game which is among the best in the NFL. Since Michael Brockers has been in the lineup the Rams have been much better against the run, and he just seems to keep getting better as the season progresses. Buffalo converts on 38.9% of third downs while the Rams allow 38.5% third down conversions, third down defense could be huge in a game that may be a low scoring battle for field position. The Bills offensive line has been devastated over the past month or so as they have recently placed both starting tackles on IR and will have two lineman making their first ever NFL start. If the Rams can slow down the run game enough to force the Bills to throw, the defensive lineman could have a huge game. Overall I expect the Rams defense to have the advantage in this game as they have really played well almost all season long.
Special Teams. This could be the most important phase of the game as early December weather conditions in Buffalo may dictate a very conservative field position oriented gameplan. The Rams have the advantage in both kicking positions as rookies Hekker and Zeurlein have had outstanding seasons, while the Bills have the leagues 30th ranked net punt average. The Bills do have a decided advantage in the return game though as the Rams continue to find themselves towards the bottom of the league in return and field position averages. The Bills may be a little shorthanded as Leodis McKelvin has been listed as questionable, although they have other capable return men available if he can’t go. As for the kicking game Lindel’s longest field goal of the season was from 50 yards and the conditions in Buffalo probably factor into the coaching staffs conservative approach as Lindel has only attempted 18 field goals all season. Special teams is practically a push in my view and as long as neither team has an explosive return should make for a very slight advantage for the Rams.
Overall this is an incredibly difficult game to predict as both teams have been so inconsistent this year, although each appears to be finding a groove as they fight for a playoff spot down the stretch. The Rams ability to shut down the top ranked run game of the 49ers last weekend gives the Rams reason to believe they can do it against the Bills this weekend. Earlier in the week we here at Ramblin’ Fan predicted a 23-13 St. Louis Rams victory and I can’t see any reason to go back on that now. It should be a great game between two relatively evenly matched teams, but look for the Rams to come out on top and extinguish the Bills slim playoff hopes and as always Go Rams!!!