It’s worth remembering how irrational it was to forecast this just four months ago. We’re looking at what might be the biggest year-to-year improvement in history. Not the history of the Rams. The history of the NFL. It’s inconceivable. Look at these odds from July. That the Rams are on pace to not just make the playoffs but do so well above the line with one of the best offenses in the NFL is flat out ridiculous. When I posted those odds, I wrote, “The Rams might need a miracle to get to the playoffs six months from now.”
I think that’s a fair way to categorize this season.
It’s been a miracle.
The Los Angeles Chargers are hanging on to playoff hopes by the slimmest of threads. Having lost their second game to their AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs, they need to win out just to stay in the mix. They’ve got the schedule working in their favor, but here’s the layout for the AFC after Week 15.
1.) New England Patriots (11-3)*
* - New England has clinched the AFC East
Given the razor thin margins of the sport, it’s worth getting ourselves ready for what that means in the playoffs. Imagine a play like this deciding the outcome of a Rams game next month. Think of Dez Bryant’s no-catch in 2015 and how that still haunts the Dallas Cowboys.
These are the margins the Rams will be tested by. And if even the 2017 Steelers can get cut, it’s worth getting our minds right now.
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3)*
* - Pittsburgh has clinched the AFC North
Given the outcome, I’m not sure the Pats want a rematch of yesterday’s game if they can avoid it. For all the quotes we heard from the Rams about how they wanted to avenge their Week 5 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and how yesterday played out in Seattle? I’d think there are plenty of Steelers who feel the exact same way.
3.) Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4)*
* - Jacksonville has clinched a playoff berth
The Jacksonville Jaguars have clinched a spot in the postseason and could clinch the AFC South crown for the first time in franchise history with a win next week.
4.) Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)
The Chiefs held off the surging Chargers with a big win on Sunday to just about seal up the AFC West. Finishing the season against the Dolphins and Denver Broncos should ensure they do just that.
5.) Tennessee Titans (8-6)
The Titans really needed to get an easy out against the San Francisco 49ers yesterday. Instead, they ran into 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo who guided the Niners to a third-straight victory setting up big hopes for 2018 in San Fran.
Now, Tennessee is looking at a TOUGH finish to get to the playoffs. First, they’ll invite the Rams to Nashville after losing two straight to the NFC West dregs in the 49ers and Arizona Cardinals. Then, a Week 17 clash with the AFC South-leading Jaguars looms.
There’s a legit fear that the Titans could miss out on January after having marched out to an 8-4 record.
6.) Buffalo Bills (8-6)
The Buffalo Bills. How?
Making things interesting is that in Week 16, they’ll take on the Patriots in Foxboro. That game could have the most playoff implications of any in the AFC next week.
In the hunt
7.) Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
Baltimore had the benefit of playing the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The win pushed the Ravens up to 8-6 while keeping the Browns winless at 0-14. They then have the benefit of the 3-11 Indianapolis Colts coming to town before the 5-9 Cincinnati Bengals head to B’more.
While the schedule is certainly doing them a favor, it’s worth noting the Ravens have won four out of five games since their Week 10 bye with the only loss a one-point loss to the Steelers in which the Ravens surrendered 19 points in the fourth quarter.
Suffice to say, Baltimore is playing pretty well right now.
8.) Los Angeles Chargers (7-7)
The Bolts have to win out to get in the mix. Games against the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders make that possible, but there’s just no margin of error anymore. They’ll also need some help from those 8-6 teams unless the Chiefs collapse over the final two weeks...which is certainly possible.
We clipped the AFC from 10 down to 8, but the NFC playoff picture bid adieu to the Green Bay Packers after nearly pulling off a miraculous win over the Carolina Panthers in Aaron Rodgers’ return game.
Otherwise, we’ve got a five-team group at the top with four teams in the second tier fighting for survival.
1.) Philadelphia Eagles (12-2)*
* - Philadelphia has clinched the NFC East and a first-round bye
The Eagles held off the New York Giants to become the first team in the NFL to secure a first-round bye.
The question is if QB Nick Foles will prove enough to help the Eagles survive thereafter following the injury to QB Carson Wentz.
2.) Minnesota Vikings (11-3)*
* - Minnesota has clinched the NFC North
While Rodgers’ return was nearly enough in Week 15, next week the Vikings will play the Packers on national television on Saturday night. If the Packers decide not to shelve Rodgers for the remainder of the season, that could make things very interesting.
That decision might well hinge on tonight’s MNF matchup. If the Falcons win, that would eliminate the Pack from the postseason.
3.) Los Angeles Rams (10-4)
It was just a massive, massive win by a massive, massive margin. It leaves a slim, slim window open to miss the playoffs, but for all intents and purposes the Rams are playing in January.
Now it comes down to seeding. The Rams have a road game against the Titans and a home game against the 49ers left on the schedule. To get the #2 seed and a first-round bye along with home field against any opponent aside from the Eagles, they’d need to win both and have Minnesota lost both against the Pack and against the Chicago Bears thanks to the Vikings’ tiebreaking win from Week 11.
On the flip side, the Rams’ Week 12 win over the New Orleans Saints and their season sweep of the Panthers means the Rams win any tiebreakers if the three maintain the same number of wins. As it stands, the Rams would own the tiebreaker over the Panthers with the better record within the NFC, though that’s obviously subject to change. The Rams’ final NFC game would be against our NFC West rivals in San Francisco while the Panthers play the Bucs and the Falcons in the next two weeks. Beyond NFC record, the tiebreaker would be broken next by record against common opponent and then strength of victory, which the Rams would lose by a large margin.
4.) New Orleans Saints (10-4)
5.) Carolina Panthers (10-4)
6.) Atlanta Falcons (8-5)
The NFC South is a hot one. With the Saints and Panthers both getting wins in Week 15, the Falcons sorely need to keep pace with a win tonight.
Though I’m kind of hoping they don’t, because the 8-6 team race is gonna be pretty fun to watch.
In the hunt
7.) Detroit Lions (8-6)
Detroit has won their last two games to get back in the fight. They’ve got the early tiebreaker with seven NFC wins, but the other two 8-win teams have two NFC games remaining so that’s not a huge tiebreaker to own. They hit the road to meet the Cincinnati Bengals and then come home to deal with the Packers.
What really hurts them is that their strength of victory is the lowest among all NFC playoff potentials.
8.) Seattle Seahawks (8-6)
The Seahawks are hardly eliminated, but the tough reality for them is that they’re forced to seek help elsewhere. Unless the teams ahead of them cede ground, they’ll miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
They finish the season at home against the Arizona Cardinals, but it’s their Week 16 elimination game against the Dallas Cowboys that really intrigues. Especially if a certain running back is back on the field for the Boys...
9.) Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
Yes, RB Ezekiel Elliott has served his six-game suspension and is eligible to return on Sunday against the Seahawks. I predict that we will hear/read that fact at least once in the next six days.
After the Seahawks, it’s a NFC East headliner against the NFC #1 seed Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys, like the Seahawks, need help from the group ahead of them right now ESPECIALLY Detroit, but they’ll need to do their part with two tough wins if they’re going to get in.
It’s a wild playoff picture as we bring Week 15 to a close. Monday Night Football matters a hell of a lot tonight.
The bottom line for the Rams is that yesterday’s huge win just about locks them into football in January. A win will do just that, but two wins could be incredibly valuable with home field making such a huge difference in the postseason.
Overall, the playoff picture is clearing up and the Rams are sitting pretty.