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NFL Playoff Picture: Rams 2 games up, 2 games back with 5 games left

It’s not as complicated as that sounds

NFL: OCT 03 Cardinals at Rams Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The LA Rams are 8-4 but have five games remaining, not four, in this crazy mixed up world that we now live in. Speaking of society in flux, because of a seven-team playoff format the Rams also have fewer reasons for concern this morning as it would take a dramatic tumble for Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford to miss the playoffs.

But whether the Rams should be swimming to shore or simply trying not to drown comes down to a Week 14 road game against the 10-2 Arizona Cardinals.

The Rams now hold a two-game advantage over Washington Football Team and San Francisco 49ers in the wild card, a two and a half game lead over a Philadelphia Eagles team that is on the outside looking in, and a three-game lead over four NFC teams who are desperate to turn their seasons around.

When LA faces the Cardinals next Monday night, they will have already known the fate for all of these teams; but if the Rams can manage a revenge victory against Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray in a week then the only matter of concern is finding a way to close the one game that separates them in the NFC West with four weeks left on the schedule.

As far as I’m concerned, each conference now has two playoff teams: The number one seed and then six other teams. That doesn’t mean that the number one seed is guaranteed a huge advantage, but being the only team with a bye week is a significant leg up on the competition.

Short of getting the number one seed, I will not spend a second being concerned with whether the Rams are on the road or at home (has that really felt like a difference making factor recently? LA is 4-2 at home, 4-2 on the road) and I won’t hash out debates regarding the merits of facing “this team” or “that team” because we’ve seen the Rams surprisingly beat “this team” just as we’ve seen them surprisingly fall to “that team”.

For that matter, the Rams “playoff picture” right now is this: Beat the Cardinals. Or don’t. That will say everything.

Following Arizona, the Rams must play the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens, and San Francisco 49ers. None of those games feel like a win or a loss (though Seattle’s struggles against McVay and Aaron Donald are well documented and losing would feel especially deflating) and so at this point it’s just about taking it one week at a time...

It’s just 18 weeks now instead of 17.

Elsewhere in the NFC:

  • The Cardinals are 10-2 and hold a one-game lead over the 9-3 Tampa Bay Bucs and Green Bay Packers.
  • The Cowboys lead the NFC East at 8-4, but they have two games in the next three weeks against 6-6 Washington.
  • Football Team has such an unusual schedule: All five remaining games are against the NFC East, including two games against Dallas and two games against Philadelphia over the next four weeks. If Ron Rivera leads Washington to a 10-7 record and a division title, not only will Football Team become the first team to win the NFC East two years in a row since the 2003-2004 Philadelphia Eagles, he should also be a lock for Coach of the Year. Kingsbury has done a shockingly good job in Arizona but he has talent there; a Taylor Heinicke-led team with no weapons on the roster besides Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson beating out the Cowboys for the division? That’s gotta be an award-winner.
  • If Washington does catch the Cowboys, it puts Dallas back into the wild card race and means that LA needs to win its games if they want to keep in the lead for the five seed...however, that’s what I really don’t care about. What’s the difference between 5 or 7? Would playing an NFC East team be such a huge advantage in the first round over playing Tampa Bay or Green Bay? If you want to win the Super Bowl, you gotta get through good teams. If you play pinball, you can’t hope to avoid all the things that do ‘dings’.
  • After falling to the Seahawks on Sunday, the 49ers dropped to 6-6 and that gives LA a two-game cushion in the NFC West. San Francisco’s final five: Bengals, Falcons, Titans, Texans, Rams.
  • Cardinals final five: Rams, Lions, Colts, Cowboys, Seahawks.
  • Seahawks final five: Texans, Rams, Bears, Lions, Cardinals.
  • In the AFC, all four division-leaders are 8-4 and the current playoff standings are: Patriots, Titans, Ravens, Chiefs. The wild card teams are: 7-4 Bills, 7-5 Chargers, 7-5 Bengals.
  • On the outside: 6-5-1 Steelers, 7-6 Colts, 6-6 Raiders, Browns, and Broncos.