Although you would be hard pressed to find an ESPN reel prior to Sunday that mentioned the St. Louis Rams being in the NFC playoff hunt, that is exactly where the team stands today. Although the Rams are not as high up in the rankings as most would have hoped following a three game winning streak, the Rams are still in prime position to bust through the door into one of the two wild card spots.
Where We Started
Ramblin’ Fan started dropping playoff breakdowns after the win over the Arizona Cardinals, before the Rams faced off against the San Francisco 49ers for the second time. At that point in the season, the St. Louis Rams were ranked 12th in the NFC. The Rams were two games behind the Vikings, Buccaneers, and Seahawks, meaning that those teams would have to lose twice, assuming St. Louis continued to win, to drop below the Rams in the rankings. The Cowboys, Saints, and Redskins all had a one game advantage over the Rams. One interesting note from the original playoff outline was that we had given the NFC East to the New York Giants, while assuming that the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers would continue to win their way into the playoffs. However, Chicago and New York both have failed to capitalize on their divisional leads, sinking them back in the Wild Card mix. We will get to that later though…
Although the St. Louis Rams have continued to win, a majority of the other “original six” teams have done the same. The Rams are currently ranked 10th in the NFC, jumping the Saints in Week 13 after their loss to the Atlanta Falcons, and surpassing the Buccaneers this week following their two game losing streak. More importantly, the Rams are within one game of bypassing the Vikings, Cowboys, and Redskins, which would put St. Louis in the 7th spot in the rankings. The Rams are now only two games behind the Seahawks, Bears, and Giants, and three games behind the Packers and 49ers.
The Road Ahead
From the very beginning of the playoff talks, we have said that the Rams control their own destiny in the playoff hunt, and that is still very much true… to a point. The St. Louis Rams have always needed some of the other teams to lose in order for them to climb up the standings, naturally. Now, St. Louis needs much more specific teams to start losing, and quickly. Luckily, there are some tough game for the remaining teams that are boxing the Rams out of the 6th spot in the NFC. Here are their remaining schedules, including Chicago and New York:
New York Giants: @Atlanta, @Baltimore, Philadelphia
Chicago: Green Bay, @Arizona, @Detroit
Seattle: @Buffalo, San Francisco, St. Louis
Minnesota: @St. Louis, @Houston, Green Bay
Washington: @Cleveland, @Philadelphia, Dallas
Dallas: Pittsburgh, New Orleans, @Washington
Realistically, there is no telling how the final three games of the season are going to play out. Personally, I didn’t see Chicago taking a loss to the Minnesota Vikings, especially the way that Christian Ponder has been playing in the last two quarters of the season. No one outside of the Tampa Bay area, and likely no one there either, saw the Buccaneers dropping one to Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. And, with RGIII sidelined with a nasty-looking leg injury, who would have thought Kirk Cousins would rally the Redskins to a win over the Baltimore Ravens?
However, for the most part, you can make some fairly educated guesses to how the rest of the season might play out. Starting from the bottom of the list, it is not hard to see Dallas losing to any one of their remaining three opponents, any of which would drop them below the Rams, assuming St. Louis can “win out.”
Washington will have a tough time playing in Cleveland, believe it or not, against a team that has quietly won three straight games and looks to be coming together on offense behind three rookies at the key skill positions (QB Weeden, RB Richardson, WR Gordon). The game against Dallas could easily swing either way, with the Redskins scraping by in a 38-31 win in Week 12. And, a loss in either of those would likely see their way out of the playoff race.
Minnesota, clearly, has the toughest road into the playoffs, having to play St. Louis and Houston on the road before returning home to play Green Bay. The St. Louis Rams could, and should, finish off the quarterback-less Vikings on Sunday, having played well against run-oriented offenses so far this season. If not, the Texans and Packers should both hand Minnesota a loss, although if the Rams can’t take home a win this week, their playoff dreams are all but over.
Seattle is the most interesting of them all, especially considering there is a potential repeat of the 2010 Week 17 game between the Seahawks and Rams. That season, the 7-8 St. Louis Rams, lead by rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, flew in to face the 6-9 Seattle Seahawks. Seattle would go on to win that game, taking home the NFC West divisional crown, and upsetting the New Orleans Saints in the first round before exiting the playoffs in the second round. This season would be the, almost, reverse scenario, with a 8-6-1 Rams squad heading into Seattle to play a 9-6 Seahawks team. The winner would not take home the division, but would likely earn one of the two Wild Card spots. In order for the to happen, St. Louis will need either Buffalo or San Francisco to beat the ‘Hawks before the Rams get a swing at them in Week 17. Clearly, the 49ers have the best shot at helping the Rams, having already beat Seattle 13-6 in a Week 7 defensive showdown. By that time, Seattle will likely be without both Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, their top two corners, which may bode well for San Francisco and, consequently, the St. Louis Rams.
In The End…
Just like last week, the Rams need to take the remainder of the season week-by-week. The Rams will need a little bit of help to get into the playoffs, but, for the most part, St. Louis can control it’s own destiny by continuing to win games. The Vikings are the next obsticle for the Rams, and with Adrian Peterson having an MVP-esque year, St. Louis should have more than enough to think about this week without worrying about the potential playoff routes.