Not only do the 1-2-1 Philadelphia Eagles lead the NFC East after four games, but they are one last second touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals away from being in a three-way tie atop the division at 1-3. The LA Rams helped send the Eagles to one of their two losses and they are a Week 5 win against Washington from sweeping the division.
Even though it has only been four weeks, the Rams have gained a significant advantage in the 2020 postseason race thanks to a handful of unexpected bad starts in the NFC.
This is why no less than a wild card berth is looking much more probable as we enter the second quarter of the schedule:
- The entire NFC East has three wins, as many as the Rams do. Even if one of those teams emerged as a title contender, that wouldn’t impact LA’s postseason chances because it would mean that they win the division. Right now the East barely deserves to send one team to the playoffs, let alone two. Last season, eight teams started 1-3 or worse and the best of those by the end of the year was 8-8 Pittsburgh. 10 teams started 1-3 or worse in 2018 and two of them, the Texans and Colts, rebounded to make the playoffs. The odds of a team in the NFC East going 10-6 or better are slim. The odds of two teams doing it is exponentially more improbable. And even in that case, the Rams are one win away from having a head-to-head advantage over all four teams in the NFC East.
- The Falcons, Vikings and Lions also have three losses. Atlanta has to beat 3-0 Green Bay on Monday night to avoid 0-4. The Falcons, along with Minnesota, were meant to be more competitive than this entering the season so it automatically puts a huge dent into two of LA’s roadblocks to the playoffs. The Vikings are 26th in points allowed and face the Seahawks, Falcons and Packers over their next three games. They could be 32nd in points allowed soon. Atlanta is 31st in points allowed and dueling with a few other teams for “worst pass defense.”
- As things currently stand, outside of the NFC West, the 3-1 Bears, 2-2 Saints and 2-2 Panthers present the most immediate challenge for wild card berths. Chicago benched Mitchell Trubisky with a 3-0 record and then scored 11 points in a loss to the Colts with Nick Foles as the starter; to their credit, Indianapolis held Kirk Cousins and the Vikings to 11 points only two weeks earlier and are first in defense through four games. The Bears face the Bucs, Panthers, Rams, Saints, Titans, Vikings and Packers in the next seven games. Carolina has won the last two but lost to the Raiders in Week 1. They face the Falcons twice in the next four weeks, plus the Bears, Saints, Chiefs and Bucs upcoming. New Orleans isn’t as dominant without Michael Thomas but they are 2-2 and nevertheless feature enough stars to stay in the race with Tampa Bay.
- The Cardinals have lost the last two and rank 22nd in scoring, nowhere near where they expected when Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray were added last year. A Week 1 win against the 49ers seems like a long time ago. San Francisco was presumably stronger then, but injuries caught up to them in a Week 4 loss to Philadelphia and they won’t be getting Nick Bosa back this season. The Niners defense has good numbers, but has played the Cards, Jets, Giants and Eagles and they’re now 2-2. San Francisco’s upcoming schedule after facing Miami in Week 5: Rams, Patriots, Seahawks, Packers, Saints, Rams, Bills.
- There are three wild cards now, not two.
- The Rams have an opportunity to put distance between themselves and any possibility of finishing fourth in that wild card race. This is not to count them out for the NFC West division or even the number one seed — with two games against Seattle and a favorable AFC East schedule ahead it is also more attainable than before — but only some additional assurance that Sean McVay has a chance to get LA right back into the postseason regardless. The Rams face Football Team, 49ers, Bears and Dolphins in the next four, headed into a bye. A 3-1 record in that stretch puts them at 6-2 and a 4-0 record gets them to 7-1 when they host the Seahawks in Week 10. Even the idea of 7-1 is impossible for every NFC team except Seattle, Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Chicago and LA. The Rams can directly keep the Bears behind them in the standings in Week 7 on Monday Night Football at home. Only four other NFC teams are perfection away from getting to 6-2. When you start hypothesizing what the NFC wild card records will even be, 9-7 or even 8-8 could be the third wild card.
- The Rams final eight games includes five at home, two against the AFC East (Patriots, Jets both at home), two against Arizona, two against Seattle, one against San Francisco and one against the Bucs. If LA was 6-2 in the first half, even 4-4 in the second half is good for a 10-6 record. By the way they’ve played so far, the Rams seem to be better than 4-4 against that schedule. And the bar to clear has only gotten lower after four games.
It’s early to be talking about playoffs, but never too soon to discuss quality. And in the NFC, the Rams have been a significantly higher quality team than almost all of their competition in the conference.