The Los Angeles Rams are in the drivers seat heading into the 2018 NFL Playoffs. After ending a 13 year playoff draught last season, the Rams are looking to win their first playoff game in 14 years and potentially finish with the best record in franchise history. Let’s break down what the team needs to do to clinch various playoff scenarios.
Clinching the NFC West
The only way the Rams can’t win the NFC West is if they lose the remainder of their games and the Seattle Seahawks win out.
This isn’t going to happen. Seattle has an outside chance of winning out, but the Rams aren’t going to drop every game for the rest of the year. A win for the Rams this week clinches the NFC West. Alternatively, they simply need Seattle to lose another game. The Rams own the tie-breaker thanks to a season-sweep of the Seahawks.
Doomsday Scenario: If the Rams lose out, the Seahawks win out, and two different wild-card contenders finish with 10 wins, the Rams will miss the playoffs outright. If you can get any betting odds against this happening, bet your life savings on it. Even Sean Mannion would be able to lead us to at least one win against the remainder of our schedule.
Clinching a First-Round Bye
There are only three teams in the NFC that can win 12 games this year: the Saints, the Rams, and the Bears. Since both the Saints and Rams are already at 10 wins, there’s essentially no chance that any other team competes for a first-round bye this season. The Bears are the only hope to knock the Rams and Saints out of the top-two seeds.
The Rams will travel to Chicago in Week 14 for a crucial showdown with the Bears on Sunday Night Football. If the Rams take care of business in Detroit this week, a win against Chicago would essentially clinch a first-round bye. The Rams would be 12-1, the Bears would only be able to reach 12 wins, and the Rams would own the tie-breaker.
If the Rams were to lose in Chicago, they would need to finish with a better record than the Bears to claim a first-round bye. It’s an easy scenario to imagine. Chicago is by far the toughest remaining game on the schedule. If the Bears win out and the Rams win the remainder of their games besides this matchup, the Rams would finish at 14-2 and the Bears at 13-3. Expect the Rams to have a first-round bye regardless of the outcome of the Chicago game.
Doomsday Scenario: The Rams lose any three-way tiebreaker with the Bears and Saints. If all three teams finish either 13-3 or 12-4, the Rams won’t have a bye regardless of the outcome of the Chicago game. I’d be surprised if at least one of the Rams or the Saints didn’t finish 14-2. Don’t anticipate this happening.
Clinching Home-Field Advantage
Thanks to a tough loss in New Orleans in Week 9, the only way the Rams can have home-field advantage in the playoffs is by finishing with a better record than the Saints.
This isn’t impossible. New Orleans is set to embark on a three-week road-trip this week. They head to Dallas, then Tampa Bay, and will cap it off in Carolina. Dallas has won three straight, Tampa Bay is (somehow) the only team to beat New Orleans this year, and Carolina is a division rival that will be fighting for a playoff spot. Following the road trip, the Saints will host the Steelers and wrap up the year with another matchup against Carolina,.
That’s four games against teams with a winning record, and the fifth is the only team to hand the Saints a loss this season. The Saints are a good enough team to win all five of these games, but I’d bet on them to drop a game and finish 14-2. If they do, the door is wide open for the Rams. The only difficult game left on the schedule is Chicago. Philadelphia and Detroit aren’t cakewalks, but the Rams should take care of business in these matchups. Both Arizona and San Francisco seem too depleted to have the potential of a trap game.
The Rams are going to have a very solid chance of finishing with home-field advantage should they finish 15-1.
Doomsday Scenario: Finishing 15-1 without home-field advantage would be devastating, but I’ll lay out a true doomsday scenario. The Saints suffer a stunning upset in Dallas this week, setting the stage for an even more pivotal matchup in Chicago in Week 14. The Rams take care of business, man-handling the Bears on their home turf. They head into the final week of the season with a one-game lead in the NFC. All the Rams need to do is take care of business against the San Francisco 49ers… and they don’t.
11/30 update: with the Saints falling in Dallas last night, the Rams now control their own destiny. The road to the Super Bowl will run through Los Angeles if the Rams can finish 15-1.
Best Record in Franchise History?
No Cleveland/Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams team has ever finished with 15 wins. The world champion 1945 Cleveland Rams finished with a 9-1 record, the only time the Rams have ever finished with one loss and no ties. The 2001 St. Louis Rams won the most games in franchise history, finishing with a 14-2 record. The 2018 Los Angeles Rams would be the best regular season team in the history of the franchise if they can finish 15-1.
Head here to create your own playoff scenarios.