Coming out of Week 12 the Los Angeles Rams had just lost three games in a row after starting 7-1, and the team’s hopes of winning the NFC West division title seemed dashed. The new marriage between quarterback Matthew Stafford and head coach Sean McVay was off to a beautiful start in the first eight games, but the duo were now struggling. Fortunately for Los Angeles, what could have become a mid-season collapse turned into a mid-season slump - and in Week 16 the Rams earned an advantage over the Arizona Cardinals in the race for the NFC West crown.
The entire regular season can now be distilled into four final games that will decide the outcome of the divisional race. Los Angeles controls its fate and stands to benefit from hosting the first playoff game at SoFi Stadium. Arizona needs LA to stumble in the season’s final two weeks, and the Cardinals are working through a three-game slide themselves.
How will the battle for the NFC West shake out over the next two weeks?
Los Angeles Rams:
Week 17: at Baltimore Ravens
This is an interesting matchup, particularly for McVay. The last time the Rams played the Ravens, Baltimore beatdown LA 45-6 and Lamar Jackson sailed on to the league’s MVP trophy.
Now, the Ravens are coming into this game after getting blown out by the Cincinnati Bengals 41-21. McVay’s former student, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, just put out a lot of film on how to take advantage of an injury-riddled Baltimore secondary - Joe Burrow threw for 525 yards and 4 touchdowns in the win.
The Ravens are also struggling offensively - Jackson has missed the last two games with an ankle injury but still wasn’t playing up to his MVP status prior to that.
On the surface this seems to be a favorable matchup for LA, but Baltimore is a well-coached team that is still fighting for their own division and a spot in the playoffs.
Week 18: vs. San Francisco 49ers
It is well-documented that McVay’s Rams have dropped their last 5 contests against San Francisco, but they need to exorcise their demons in the final week of the season in order to hold onto the division title. The 49ers will probably end up a playoff team in 2021, but a win in Week 18 would significantly help their chances - do they have more to play for in this game?
Week 17: at Dallas Cowboys
The Cardinals have dropped three games in a row and the Cowboys are coming off a big 56-14 win over the Washington Football Team.
The Cowboys at this point are jockeying for playoff seeding, as they have the same record as the Rams but it’s unlikely they will catch up to the Green Bay Packers to take the number one seed in the conference.
The Cardinals are in danger of a late-season collapse, which would be a continuation of a troubling trend from 2020. They need to win this game to right the ship and remain competitive in the division race.
Week 18: vs. Seattle Seahawks
The biggest storyline heading into this game likely will be the potential that this is Russell Wilson’s final game as a Seahawk. At 5-10 this season has gone off the rails for Seattle, but a win would send Wilson off on a good note.
For the Cardinals, four of their five losses this season have come at home, which is probably more of a coincidence than a troubling trend.
Can Kyler Murray and the Cards pick up a win to head into the playoffs on the right foot?
Let us know your prediction for each of these games in the comments below. Who finishes the season with the NFC West crown?