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Playoffs and Point Differentials: How Close Are The Rams?

Since 2010, there have been six teams (out of seventy-two) that have made the playoffs with a negative point differential (none in 2015). It's not an easy task to not score more than your opponents and make the playoffs.

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Under Jeff Fisher, the Rams have actually had a respectable point differential from year to year, even when they were trotting out QB's such as Shaun Hill, Austin Davis, Kellen Clemens, Case Keenum and your Uncle Rico:

2012: -49 (22nd)

2013: -16 (17th)

2014: -30 (21st)

2015: -50 (19th)

So, the key questions are: will a rookie Jared Goff, a healthy Todd Gurley, a developing Tavon Austin, a young but talented OL and a healthy defense be what takes the Rams over the top, or will they need more? And can rookie OC Rob Boras help the Rams' offense take another step?

Let's look at the point differentials of the Rams vs. that season's playoff teams, and see if we have cause for optimism for the 2016 LA Rams making the playoffs for the first time in foreverrrrrr (Anna from Frozen voice).

2012 Rams

Jeff Fisher's Rams of 2012, with a healthy Sam Bradford and an emerging defensive unit, made an enormous jump in their point differential (-214 to -49). This was cause for optimism, such their points per game (PPG) differential increased by over two possessions (+10.3125).

Only two playoff teams in 2012 had an increase of over 10 PPG between 2011 and 2012: the Broncos and the Seahawks.

Only one playoff team (the Colts) had a negative point differential (-30), after going -187 in 2011.

2013 Rams

Following 2012, the Rams were off to another positive start before starting QB Sam Bradford tore his ACL and the Rams abandoned their new spread offense after seven games.

QB Kellen Clemens took over, and the Rams finished with a -16 point differential (PPG increase of 2.0625 from 2012). "If only the QB could stay healthy" became the narrative, and the data backed it up to this point.

The defense was becoming formidable, particularly the emergence of DE Robert Quinn and the playmaking ability of CB Janoris Jenkins.

Only one playoff team (the Packers) had a negative point differential (-11), after going +97 in 2012. At -16, clearly the Rams were not far off from the "worst" playoff team.

But, in a division that boasted a +186 (Seahawks) and +134 (49ers) the Rams were not yet capable of battling for a playoff slot.

2014 Rams

The season felt like it was over even before it started, as QB Sam Bradford tore the same ACL in preseason, prompting many Rams fans to put heads in the sand.

QB's Austin Davis and Shaun Hill valiantly led the Rams to a -30 point differential (PPG decrease of -0.875 from 2013), while the defense added DC Gregg Williams, All-Pro Aaron Donald and a breakout rookie CB in EJ Gaines.

The Rams still appeared primed to make the leap in 2015, if they could stabilize the QB position and the offense could develop consistent playmakers.

Only one playoff team (the Panthers) had a negative point differential (-35), after going + 125 in 2013. It shows you some of the randomness of divisional play when a team can have a -10 PPG differential and still make the playoffs that year.

2015 Rams

This was supposed to be "the year", statistically speaking from a trend perspective, where the Rams finally made a big jump in points differential. A lot of pieces appeared to be in place, on paper.

Some of the offensive playmakers were maturing, the defense was becoming experienced and featured several All-Pro caliber players, and the Rams moved on from beleaguered OC Brian Schottenheimer, who took the OC job at University of Georgia.

The Rams then traded Sam Bradford for Nick Foles, gaining a draft pick and a (once) Pro Bowl caliber QB. Foles had had ups and downs while with Philadelphia, and was coming off an injury of his own (collarbone).

There was much preseason excitement that Foles would provide a much-needed upgrade and long-term stability to the position and the Rams would finally put points on the board.

However, Foles struggled with consistency and was benched for "journeyman" Case Keenum. The Rams flip-flopped on Foles/Keenum (even letting Keenum play through this) before deciding Keenum was "the guy" for the final stretch of the season.

Over six games, Keenum led the Rams to a total of four passing touchdowns and 138 passing yards per game. Also, K Greg Zuerlein struggled with consistency from long distances, raising into question his value.

The Rams still managed to finish with a -50 points differential (PPG decrease of -1.25 from 2014). This was better than only 2 of 72 teams that made the playoffs since 2010.

No playoff teams finished with a negative points differential, and the Seahawks (+146) and the Cardinals (+176) continued to be formidable on offense and defense.

Conclusion

The 2016 Rams don't have a steep hill to climb, based on the data of the last six years' playoff teams. However, they will need to create a positive point differential this year to have a reasonable chance. It's that simple.

There have been a total of 16 teams (since 2010) that made the playoffs after posting a negative point differential the previous year. The 2013 Chiefs went from -214 to +125 (a PPG differential of +21.1875), after trading for QB Alex Smith and bringing over HC Andy Reid.

Rarely do teams with a negative point differential make the playoffs (6 since 2010), and when they do, it is usually because of a poor division.

The Rams have the perennial favorite Cardinals and Seahawks to outplay within their own division, so they need to continue to beat them AND other teams. It's not enough to just beat those in your division anymore.