When the LA Rams prepared for the 2023 NFL Draft, little did anyone suspect that the names of players called out during that two day event by the Los Angeles Rams would have so much burden them in the final week of the 2023 NFL schedule. But, here we are, and the Rams must face the NFC's best team, the San Francisco 49ers, on the road. To make matters worse, the Rams have decidedly and deliberately sat seven veterans for this game, with only two absences related to a medical injury.
It's the equivalent of boxing in a prize fight with one hand tied behind your back.
If you view the outcome of the Week 18 season finale that pits the LA Rams against the host San Francisco 49ers merely from the significance on the upcoming NFL Playoffs, this is a relatively benign football game. For the LA Rams, the outcome, plus the outcome of the Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers game, will ultimately determine whether the LA Rams enter the NFC Playoffs as the sixth-seed or the seventh seed team.
For the 49ers, today's game is nothing more than a tune-up. It's the same importance to their team having a final preseason game. The 49ers want players to stay football-ready and play well, but above all, they want to avoid injuries. Have the 49ers coaching staff emphasized that there will be no cheap shots, and no injuries upon LB Dre Greenlaw, a player with a reputation for being a dirty player? Don't ask me, ask the fans of the Minnesota Vikings or fans of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Somehow, the rookies on the LA Rams roster must compete in a game that they truly need to win, without their veteran 'weight-bearing walls' on the football field, and play against an NFL opponent who routinely is fined by the NFL for his style of playing outside of the rules and after the whistle sounds.
It's just another week of football for the LA Rams, a team bursting with young players who love the game of football. It's that passion for the game that gives me hope when my mind tells me that the Rams won't stop their regular season losing streak to the 49ers today.
The time is now for young players on the Rams roster to step up
Eventually, all of the veterans known by LA Rams fans will step away from the game, and the baton will be handed off to younger players to carry on. But it won't happen in an instant, nor will it be obvious when it does occur. In some ways, that process is beginning already.
Rookie WR Puka Nacua led the LA Rams receivers this season, including All-Pro WR Cooper Kupp. Rooke NT Kobie Turner led the LA Rams in quarterback sacks this season, even more than All-Pro DT Aaron Donald. For that matter, rookie OLB Byron Young is just one quarterback sack behind his veteran teammate, and could match or surpass 8.0 QB sacks by getting 1.5 sacks in Week 18.
This is a physical team. This is a passionate team. Best of all, this is a competitive team that has overcome overwhelming odds just to get to this spot, this scenario. Even if the LA Rams lose the game in Week 18, the downside is relatively harmless.
In the end, the Rams have nothing to lose today. This is a team that deserves our respect and applause for a season that nobody envisioned turning out as well as it has. So the rest of the way is simply icing on the cake. The Rams don't have to fear losing any of the games that they will play the rest of the way. In the minds of NFL analysts and pundits, the Rams should never have gotten this far in the first place.
And with nothing to lose, the Rams are a very dangerous team from now until their season fully ends.