The Los Angeles Rams own eight victories for the first time since 2006. If they can win one more game, it will mark their first winning season since 2003. There are still five games left to go in the year. Dare we say it: should we should start looking forward to the playoffs?
Believe it, old Ben. The Rams are back. I’ll be answering a couple frequently asked questions about the Rams path to the playoffs.
Can the Rams secure the overall #1 seed in the NFC?
It would be tough, and they would have to win out. For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume the NFC South plays itself out of contention for the No. 1, since the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, and Carolina Panthers all play each other over the coming weeks.
First, look at the Minnesota Vikings. Think of the scenario where the Rams win out, the Philadelphia Eagles lose to the Rams and either a trap game against the Giants or the Cowboys. If Minnesota drops a game against the Falcons or Panthers, the Rams would sit behind the Vikings in the two seed. Barring a complete collapse from either team, the Rams need the Vikings to drop two games down the stretch, which is possible. The Vikings play on the road against the Falcons and Panthers in back-to-back weeks. Even if they split those games, a Week 16 matchup in Green Bay, which could feature Aaron Rodgers, screams trap game.
All the Rams would need if the Vikings fall out of favor is for the Eagles to lose one more game besides their head-to-head matchup with Los Angeles. Like with the Vikings, it could happen. The Eagles face Seattle on the road this week, travel to New York in Week 15 for a potential trap game, and face off with Dallas to end the season in a game that could have playoff implications for Dallas. The Eagles could drop a game.
The problem for the Rams is that they would need both of these to happen to get the one seed. They don’t own the tie breaker with Minnesota, so they would need to have a better record than the Vikings. Simply put, if the Vikings and Eagles each finish 4-1, the Rams can’t win the NFC. They need each of them to lose two games.
How about the #2 seed and a first round bye?
Obviously, the easiest way for this to happen would be for the Vikings to finish 12-4 and the Rams to finish 13-3. The Rams could also get the No. 2 seed if the Eagles finish 13-3 and the Vikings finish 14-2.
Let’s say that the Rams, Vikings, and Eagles all finish 13-3. If the Eagles lose to the Raiders and the Rams, they would finish in first due to conference record. The tie-breaker would then go to head to head, which the Vikings would win over the Rams. If the Eagles lost to the Rams and anybody else but the Raiders, the Vikings would win the tie-breaker due to conference record, and the Rams would be the two seed due to head-to-head record. The Eagles game is a must-win for the Rams if they want a bye.
Throw in the NFC South
Let’s get crazy here and throw the NFC South back into the mix. The Rams maintain the two-seed if the Eagles lose to somebody other than the Raiders and the Vikings lose to either the Packers, Bears, or Bengals. If the Vikings lose to either the Falcons or the Panthers, the Saints would become the #1 seed, followed by the Vikings at #2, the Rams at #3 and the Eagles at #4. If the Panthers win out instead of the Saints, they would have to go through the Vikings to do it. With all four teams at 13-3, the Rams are locked in the #3 seed. If the Vikings drop a second game, the Rams would still maintain the No. 2 seed.
To get the No. 2 seed at 12-4, the Rams would need the Vikings to finish at 11-5 and either the Saints or Panthers to win the NFC South. They own all tie-breakers with both the Saints and the Panthers. The Falcons, however, would finish with an 11-1 conference record should they win out. For that to happen, they would have to beat the Saints twice, the Panthers, and the Vikings. I wouldn’t bet on it.
I’m not going to get into the tie-breakers that would happen should the #1 seed finish 12-4. If the NFC starts to look like it is heading down this path, I promise I will do another one of these.
What does the NFC West race look like?
This race is mainly between the Rams and the Seahawks. However, let’s just look at a few scenarios that could happen should Arizona win out and finish 10-6. If the Rams, Seahawks, and Cardinals all finished 10-6, Seattle would win the division due to a tie-breaker that would come down to strength of schedule. If the Rams and Cardinals both finished 10-6, the Rams would win the division only if their two wins came against Seattle and San Francisco. The Cardinals would need to win out and see an utter collapse from both the Seahawks and the Rams to win the NFC West. I wouldn’t bet on them being in the picture.
The only way for the Rams to win the division over Seattle is to finish with a better record. The Seahawks own virtually every tie-breaker over the Rams even if the Rams win the remaining matchup. They will finish with a better division record in any scenario should the two teams finish with the same record.
More NFC West
Even if it doesn’t matter for tie-breakers, winning the Week 15 showdown in Seattle is the easiest path to the division title. This win would give the Rams some breathing room. The Eagles and Seahawks play the Rams back to back in Weeks 13 and 14. If both teams lose to the Eagles, the Week 15 matchup will send one team to the wild card bubble. If both teams win, the Week 15 game may push one team to a first round bye. However, the most important aspect of this matchup is that it would push the Rams ahead a game and the Seahawks back a game. A win here would all but clinch the division.
The ideal scenario for the Rams is that Seattle loses tough back-to-back matchups with the Eagles and Jaguars leading up to their matchup. In this scenario, the Rams would just have to finish 3-2 in their next five games to win the NFC West. Losing to the Seahawks wouldn’t be as important.
Can the Rams finish 11-5, but miss the playoffs?
Only if the Lions win out. The Rams will make the playoffs if they find themselves in a three-way tie for the wild card with any of the NFC South teams. If the Rams lose two games to any remaining opponents except for Tennessee and the Lions win out, the Rams find themselves on the outside looking in of any three or four-way tie scenario that involves the Lions. If it comes down to a head-to-head tie-breaker with the Lions, Detroit wins based on common opponent win percentage.
However, if the Rams manage to finish 11-5 and one loss comes against Tennessee, they are a lock in any 11-5 tie-breaker scenario.
Can the Lions actually win out?
Absolutely. If they win a tough game on the road in Baltimore this week, they finish the season with Tampa Bay, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Green Bay. Those are almost locks assuming Aaron Rodgers does not play.
Can you explain the potential 10-6 tie-breaker scenarios?
Ugh, no, I can’t. I don’t want to imagine the frustration I would go to if the Rams lost three games to finish the season and one of them wasn’t the Tennessee game, since a loss there wouldn’t affect the tie-breakers at all.
Honestly, there isn’t really a need to unless we factor in six loss teams that win out. The 11-5 tie-breakers pretty much all work the same.
How does 9-7 get you to the playoffs?
I can only see the Rams making the playoffs at 9-7 if the NFC West completely implodes. I have a feeling at least three of the four teams competing for these wild card spots are going to finish 10-6. The only realistic teams to finish 9-7 are Detroit and Atlanta. They both would win the tie-breakers with the Rams. If both teams finished 8-8, then sure, a 9-7 Rams team might get in if a single other team in the conference doesn’t have a winning record. Any playoff hoping team needs to shoot for at least 10 wins.
Do you think the Rams are going to make the playoffs?
Yes! I can’t believe I’m actually saying it, but yes, the Rams will be playing in January. I don’t expect an 11-5 team to miss the playoffs this season. I’m not convinced the Rams will win the NFC West. But I’m not expecting any of those nightmare 11-5 tie-breaker scenarios to actually come to life. The Rams can lose to both the Eagles and Seahawks and still find themselves in the playoffs. Winning one of those games would basically make the Rams a lock.
Steve Rebeiro is a staff writer and podcast host for Rams Talk. He graduated from Marquette University in 2016. For more of his opinions, follow him on Twitter here.