At the top looking down. This is a bizarre place for Los Angeles Rams fans.
Over the last decade rarely even sniffed the playoffs, let alone participated in the road to the Super Bowl. But this season, Los Angeles is sitting pretty with the New Orleans Saints and has the privilege of peeking at what lies ahead in the playoffs.
Looking forward is always dangerous, but with a dead heat between several teams in the NFC to make the Wild Card round, Tevin and Brennan rank their top three and a dark horse of teams the Rams would least like to see in January that currently have a 75 percent or less chance to make the postseason field according to FiveThirtyEight. Ruling out fellow top division dogs with decent leads (the Saints and the Chicago Bears), we make sense of the rest of the landmines the Rams would be lucky to avoid:
Dark horse - Green Bay Packers: 6% chance to make the playoffs
Boy, this isn’t how Aaron Rodgers and company likely envisioned this season would go. Sitting at 4-6-1 through Week 11, the Packers are in danger of missing the postseason with only a 6 percent playoff chance according to FiveThirtyEight and likely have to win out to make it. Still, any team with Rodgers is never truly out of it. The Rams would do well to avoid any chance of meeting Green Bay if he gets hot and runs the table, especially after the Packers pushed Los Angeles to the brink of a loss in the regular season. Davante Adams is the most underrated receiver in the NFL right now, Jaire Alexander is a genuine star at cornerback, and Aaron Jones would gash a shaky Los Angeles run defense.
#3 - Carolina Panthers: 31% chance
The Rams are hoping Carolina does them a favor by beating New Orleans in the last few weeks of the regular season. From there, Los Angeles would be lucky to avoid Cam Newton in the postseason. Newton’s combination of size and athleticism would spell trouble for the Rams’ uneven linebackers. Coupled with the versatility of Christian McCaffrey to do damage in the passing and running game, plus a couple of speedy receivers in DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel, the Panthers offense has a potent mix of talent. Carolina’s linebacker corps is also among the best in the league and have the ability to frustrate Todd Gurley.
#2 - Minnesota Vikings: 63% chance
Minnesota has an outside shot to unseat the Bears at the top of the NFC North and has the type of defense that could cause Los Angeles fits. Danielle Hunter is a pass rushing terror, Xavier Rhodes could shadow Robert Woods, Sheldon Richardson could crash Todd Gurley rushing lanes and Harrison Smith would lurk to pick off a Jared Goff pass. On the other side, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are dangerous - even with a healthy Aqib Talib - and Dalvin Cook is looking as explosive as he has since his ACL injury last season. On top of all of that, Kirk Cousins put up 422 yards and three touchdowns against LA in the regular season.
#1 - Seattle Seahawks: 75% chance
One victory by two points, another by five. But three times? The Seahawks are among the league’s hottest teams with a lights out Russell Wilson leading the charge. Chris Carson is running hard and the retooled Seahawks defense built around Bobby Wagner is gaining strength as the year wears on. Seattle gets four of its five remaining games at home and would come into the playoffs with serious momentum. Beating any team three times in a season is challenging, but the Seahawks are a special case of resiliency and familiarity that would push Los Angeles in the playoffs. So just like Joe, Rob and the Professor in the latest episode of Turf Show Radio, I’m goin with the Seahawks as the #1 team I don’t want the Rams to face in January.
Dark horse - Atlanta Falcons: 4% chance
The Falcons probably won’t make it to the big dance and that will be good news for the Rams. Although the Falcons defense has been terrible with all of the injuries that have plagued them, the offense is still rising high with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and talented rookie Calvin Ridley. This game would have been a tough one to win if it became a shootout, but it appears to be a game that will not occur.
#3 - Dallas Cowboys: 60% chance
The so called “America’s Team” has experienced a resurgence on offense after the trade for Amari Cooper. The Cowboys are on a three game win streak and it would be a surprise if they don’t win their division.
Dak Prescott has looked like a solid QB connecting with Cooper and with the passing game flourishing, Ezekiel Elliott has totaled more than 160 total yards since the Cowboys lost to the Tennessee Titans. Also the defense has been good this season as well. It is tough to imagine the Rams losing to the Cowboys, but anything could happen.
#2 - Carolina Panthers: 31% chance
The Panthers are an interesting up-and-down team. Surprisingly after starting hot, the Panthers are on a three game losing skid - starting with an embarrassing 51-21 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and losing their last two games by a combined four points. The Panthers defense can slow down Todd Gurley and secondary could come up with some defensive plays. Cam Newton is still a threat scrambling to make a play or finding wide receivers Devin Funchess, D.J. Moore or tight end Greg Olsen in the passing game. Also, Christian McCaffrey is a dynamic back that has produced 757 rushing yards averaging 4.9 yards a carry and he has 608 receiving yards. The Panthers have players that could give the Rams problems on defense and if the Rams offense isn’t firing on all cylinders, it could be a long day at the office.
#1 - Seattle Seahawks: 75% chance
The Seahawks are the storybook underdogs that should not be underestimated and they have been a thorn in the Rams side for years. With the Rams sweeping them, but winning both matchups by less than a touchdown, this could be a team that could beat the Rams before they make it to the NFC Championship game. The Seahawks have one of the best quarterbacks, a defense that has gotten better each week, an offense that appears to have found their identity and the scariest factor is that they are on a hot streak.