The NFC and the NFC West are very unforgiving this year and Sean McVay’s team is playing catchup in both, heading into the bye at 5-3. Can the Rams make the playoffs for a third straight season? An in-depth look ahead shows that it will be quite difficult.
Will Sean McVay Make Playoffs For Third-Straight Season?
The best way for a team to make the playoffs is by winning their division. Currently, the Rams sit at third in the NFC West — one game behind Russell Wilson‘s Seahawks (6-2) and three games behind Jimmy Garropolo’s 49ers (8-0). Actually, when factoring in the fact that the Rams have already lost to both of these teams earlier this season, the Rams are basically two games behind Seattle and four games behind the 49ers. This is due to the fact that the first tiebreaker between divisional opponents with identical records at the end of the season is their head-to-head record. With eight games to play, the writing is on the wall. The Rams have a very tough task ahead of them.
In order to win the division, Jared Goff and Co. need to pass the 49ers and Seahawks in total wins. Mathematically, the Seahawks are currently on pace to finish the season at 12-4 and the 49ers are on pace to go 16-0. Of course, the odds of the 49ers having a perfect season are microscopic but, nevertheless, they are in great shape to finish with 12 or more wins.
Considering the NFC West has two teams that are on pace for a great season, the odds seem to be extremely high that at least one of those teams will finish with at least 12 wins. Due to this circumstance, the Rams will likely need to go 7-1 or better in their last eight games, including a victory over the eventual top competitor for first place in the division. Of course, it would be safer for the Rams to beat both the 49ers and Seahawks to ensure they win the West. This task is extremely difficult but not technically impossible for the team on a two-game win streak who played in the Super Bowl last year.
A look at the upcoming schedule solidifies what the Rams are up against. Their final eight games are at the Steelers, at home against the Bears and Ravens, at the Cardinals, at home versus the Seahawks, at the Cowboys and 49ers, and finally at home versus the Cardinals.
Assuming there are no huge injuries down the stretch, Sean McVay’s toughest remaining games are against the Bears, Ravens, Seahawks, Cowboys, and 49ers. Out of these games, assuming that the Rams win the other easier games against the Steelers and Cardinals (twice), they can only lose to one of the toughest opponents outlined above excluding the Seahawks and 49ers. If they lose to either of these teams, their odds of winning the division shrink immensely. If they fail to follow this roadmap, they will be likely out of the running for the division.
While it looks bleak now, Sean McVay’s team is still not mathematically out of the equation yet.
By Wild Card
While winning the division might be a bit of a stretch at this point, it is much more likely that the Rams make it in as the fifth or sixth seed. The NFC leaders are the Saints (7-1), Packers (7-1), Cowboys (4-3), and the 49ers (8-0). When it comes to the Wild Card, the Rams do not need to worry about these teams as the division winners cannot be fifth or sixth seeds. However, the second-place teams in each division are the true threats. Those teams currently are the Seahawks (6-2), Vikings (6-2), Panthers (4-3), and Eagles (4-4). With there only being two Wild Card spots, the biggest threats truly are the teams in front of the Rams. This means the Seahawks and Vikings, who are both on pace for 12-4. Thus, once again, the Rams could need to finish at least 12-4. Otherwise, they will need extra help from other teams. Basically, there are two wild card spots and the Rams are on pace to be third in line.
In most years, a 10-6 record gives a team a great shot at making the playoffs. However, that might not be the case this year, considering where teams in the NFC are currently sitting.
Imagine that the Seahawks and Vikings slow down in the second half of the season and finish with 10-6 records or worse and the Rams only need to go 10-6 to make the playoffs like in most years. This outcome assumes that the Rams needed a little help from other teams and got it. What are the odds that Sean McVay is able to reach that vaunted 10-6 record?
As stated above, the Rams are 5-3 and have to play at the Steelers, at home versus the Bears and Ravens, at the Cardinals, at home against the Seahawks, at the Cowboys and 49ers, and at home versus the Cardinals. If the Rams are to finish 10-6, they will need to go 5-3 in their final eight games. In this scenario, Jared Goff and Co. would only need to win the easier games against the Steelers and Cardinals twice as well as any two of the games against the Bears, Ravens, Seahawks, Cowboys, and 49ers. However, it would be in their best interest to not lose to Seattle and ideally not against the 49ers, just in case they slip out of first place in the NFC West.
Overall, this requirement doesn’t seem nearly as lofty as the others. That being said, if the Rams were to lose one of the easier games against the Steelers or Cardinals, Sean McVay would need to win three of the four hardest games left on the schedule which is much more difficult. If the Rams were to lose two of the three easiest games, then they would need to be perfect against the hardest teams, which would put the Rams in serious jeopardy of not just missing the playoffs, but also finishing under .500. Also, this scenario assumes that Kyler Murray and the Cardinals get swept by the Rams, which is more difficult because of their close relationship as divisional opponents.
Put simply, in order to go 10-6 and make the playoffs with only a little help, the Rams cannot lose to the Seahawks, Cardinals, or Steelers (and ideally not the 49ers either, just in case) and must win two of the other games.
Can The Rams Make The Playoffs?
Of course, the most ideal scenario for Sean McVay and Co. is to win the division outright but it is also the least likely as it would require going 7-1 or better in the last eight games.
Behind winning the division, sneaking into a Wild Card spot without help would be the next hope. This also would be very difficult but not impossible as the Rams would need to go 12-4 in many scenarios in order to hope to overcome the Seahawks and Vikings or the teams that slip down from first place in their divisions.
The most likely and the easiest outcome for the Rams would be to finish 10-6 and sneak into the playoffs after getting help from other teams knocking down the competition. This would be the least ideal but most possible. This scenario also allows for a healthy margin for error for the Rams.
Overall, the Rams are in solid shape to make the playoffs, as long as they repeat their record through the first eight games in order to finish at 10-6. In the end, the way it is shaping up, Rams fans should at least look forward to meaningful football in Week 17.