No one expected the Los Angeles Rams to go undefeated this season, but the expectations of the defending NFC Champions were much higher than 3-2. After going 3-0, it looked as if the Rams would be rolling right into Super Bowl LIV only to lose the subsequent two games. Losing a heartbreaker in Seattle is one thing, but getting pushed around in all aspects of the game at home by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is just embarrassing.
It’s a long season but in the NFL every game matters. Especially in the NFC West, with three of the four teams looking like playoff contenders. This week is pivotal to the Rams’ chance of winning the NFC West, leaving them to scrap for a wild card spot. To determine just how much trouble the Rams are in we will preview this week’s game and break down their remaining schedule into “must-win games,” and “should win games.”
Should Win Games
Atlanta, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Arizona
The Buccaneers were in this category, so just because a team should win a game doesn’t mean they necessarily will. That being said the combined record of four of these five teams is 3-16-1. The Rams have two games against the Cardinals, one of which is the final game of the season, meaning it may have playoff implications. This may put this game in a category of its own, a must-win-should-win.
Chicago has the best chance at an upset, with a truly dominant defense, but that is only one side of the game. Atlanta has an off chance to beat the Rams because Matt Ryan is having a statistically spectacular season. But for hypothetical theorizing, let’s put these six games (two against Arizona) in the win column for the Rams.
Must Win Games
Seattle, San Francisco
Divisional opponents always give each other a run for their money, they know each other better and hate each other more. The NFC West is a battlefield this year. The case can be made for the Rams, 49ers, and Seahawks to win the division. If any of these teams complete a sweep of the other two, it will put that team at the top of the West. The Rams have already lost one, but if they sweep the 49ers and get revenge on the Seahawks, the Rams will win the division, theoretically.
Of course, this is no easy task. Russell Wilson tends to get better as the season progresses and a healthy San Francisco is a very good team.
There are no two ways about it. The 49ers are surging after dominating Baker Mayfield and the rest of the Cleveland Browns, and San Francisco looks to carry that momentum into Los Angeles.
But that momentum may be stalled even before the teams take the field. The 49ers will be missing both starting tackles, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk is not only a ball mover but a key in San Francisco’s blocking game.
In addition to these injuries, George Kittle is questionable. Kittle has been Jimmy Garoppolo‘s favorite target this year. These injuries should expose the 49er offense to attacks from a loaded Ram defense.
Aaron Donald is a force of nature when going up against the very best linemen. Rookie Justin Skule will be put to that test all game trying to stop the Rams’ edge rushers, while also helping stop Donald. On the other side, Daniel Brunskill will make his NFL debut. That being said, Aaron Donald has been neutralized in the two losses, posting no sacks and one QB hit.
In their two losses, the Rams defense allowed Russell Wilson and Jameis Winston to complete more than 70% of their collective passes, average 10.2 yards per attempt, and throw eight touchdowns against just one pick.
Las Vegas is giving the Rams a -3 point line over the 49ers despite the injuries. This doesn’t show a lot of confidence in the Rams defense. The Rams’ playoff odds will drop below 50% if they lose, so they better find a way to jump-start the defense.