With the Los Angeles Rams locking in the second seed in the NFC as a 13-3 football team, they’ll have the luxury of a playoff bye week.
The Wild Card round will feature two fantastic NFC matchups between the Dallas Cowboys versus Seattle Seahawks, and the Chicago Bears versus the Philadelphia Eagles. Since the New Orleans Saints won the tiebreaker versus the Rams, they locked up the first seed in the NFC. That means whoever the lowest seed remaining after the Wild Card round is, that’ll be the Saints opponent. The Rams will be left with the remaining opponent (highest seed). This means that the Rams cannot possibly face the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round, so that leaves one of the Cowboys, the Seahawks, and the Bears.
Let’s take a look at the three potential opponents:
Of the potential opponents, the Cowboys are the only team the Rams haven’t actually played this season, but they’d still be first in preference for me.
Their offense simply isn’t that good. They rank 22nd in points per game (21.2), they’re 28th in converting redzone opportunities into touchdowns (48%), 22nd in yards per game (343.8), and 22nd in yards per play (5.4). It’s clear their offense isn’t a big-strike and explosive offense, the numbers tell us that. What they do well is chip away with long drives controlling the ball and staying ahead of the chains. They’re 5th in third down conversions per game (5.6), 8th in average time of possession (30:44), and 10th in third down conversion percentage (41.4%). The key to stopping the Cowboys will be to stop the run early, get them behind the chains with long second and third downs, and pressuring QB Dak Prescott into making quick decisions and inaccurate passes.
The Cowboys defense ranks 6th in points per game (20.2), 7th in yards per game (329.2), 8th in yards per play (5.4), 7th in red zone touchdown scoring percentage (51.02%), 25th in third down conversions per game (5.3), 18th in sacks (2.4), and 18th in takeaways per game (1.2). The Cowboys defense is good, that much is known. On all three levels they have impact players, which is exactly why they’re 6th in points-per-game allowed. The bright spots for opponents is that the Cowboys defense allows a ton of third down conversions, and is downright average in the takeaways and sacks departments. The most crucial part for the Rams (if they play the Cowboys) would be to play their game, move the ball often while staying ahead of the chains and converting third downs, but most importantly would be to convert opportunities in the redzone into touchdowns. The Cowboys will win and lose games within their 20-yard line.
The Cowboys will be no easy battle, but Dak Prescott is arguably the worst QB they can face (outside of Mitch Trubisky), the least explosive offense, and the weakest coaching staff. That is why they’re the ideal opponent of the one’s available.
The divisional rival Seahawks are obviously the most familiar opponent as the Rams swept them in the regular season with a 2-0 record. The games were both close in score though, as the Rams won the contests 33-31 and 36-31.
The Seahawks’ offense is 8th in points per game (26.8), 8th in converting redzone opportunities into touchdowns (65.5%), 18th in yards per game (353.3), 16th in yards per play (5.6), 15th in third down conversions per game (5.1), 6th in average time of possession (31:18), 17th in third down conversion percentage (38.94%), 1st in rushing yards per game (160), and 5th in yards per rush attempt (4.8). The Seahawks are clearly a dominant rushing attack who use the strength of their running game to run play action and attack defenses with a complementary deep passing game. QB Russell Wilson also has a ton of playoff experience as well as a Superbowl ring. The Rams are not a defense who prioritize in stopping the run, so the Seahawks’ offense is built perfectly to challenge the Rams’ defense, and that’s evidenced by two games in which the Rams won by a combined 7 points.
Their defense ranks 11th in points per game (21.7), 16th in yards per game (353.3), 25th in yards per play (5.9), 4th in red zone touchdown scoring percentage (49.02%), 2nd in third down conversions per game (4), 11th in sacks per game (2.7), and 12th in takeaways per game (1.6).
These numbers are all interesting, but at the end of the day, we all know what to expect from the Seahawks if a rematch is coming. We have two games of reference to look at. In the first matchup in Seattle, their offense couldn’t be stopped as their rushing attack had nearly 200 yards on the ground and their passing game was extremely explosive with Wilson reaching 200 yards and three touchdowns on only 13 completions. Their defense wasn’t great though, as the Rams had 468 yards of offense and 33 points. The second contest was much of the same as the Seahawks had over 200 yards on the ground and the Rams had another offensive performance with over 450 yards total.
The reason the Seahawks land at #2 and not #1 even though the numbers aren’t noticeably different is because divisional rivals know you better than anyone else. The Rams and Seahawks have already had two close encounters, and although the Rams came out on top in both, the opposite could have happened if the ball bounced the Seahawks’ way those days. I still think the Rams would surely be favored, but the less explosive Cowboys, the less dangerous rushing attack, and the massive downgrade at QB from Wilson to Prescott makes the difference for me.
Like the Seahawks, the Rams and the Bears do have some familiarity with each other as the teams faced each other in week 14. The result was a Bears win with a score of 15-6. Ugly.
The Bears’ offense ranks 9th in points per game (26.3), 6th in converting redzone opportunities into touchdowns (66.7%), 21st in yards per game (343.9), 20th in yards per play (5.4), 14th in third down conversions per game (5.1), 3rd in average time of possession (31:59), and 11th in third down conversion percentage (41%). The offense isn’t particularly more dangerous in either the run or pass. What makes the Bears offense effective is their ability to convert third downs, hold the ball from opposing teams, converting in the redzone, and using trickery and matchups to create positive plays.
Their defense is the best in the league as they rank 1st in points per game allowed (17.7), 3rd in yards per game (299.7), 1st in yards per play (4.8), 5th in red zone touchdown scoring percentage (50%), 12th in third down conversions per game (4.7), 3rd in sacks per game (3.1), and 1st in takeaways per game (2.2). The Bears defense is by far and away the best in the league. They’re star-studded on all three levels, they suffocate offenses, they pressure them, they force them to make mistakes, and their Defensive Coordinator in Vic Fangio is a masterful game planner.
The Bears are undoubtedly the team we should want to see the least. The defense is downright amazing, they’re actually one of the historically great defenses by all measures which is incredible considering how offensive the game has become. Luckily for NFC opponents, their offense is average and they boast arguably the worst QB in the playoffs in Mitch Trubisky. It’s well known how much the Rams struggled against the Bears in their week 14 game, and although I’d expect a better performance if they meet again, I’d rather not find out.
(All stats were used from www.teamrankings.com)