It’s officially Week 17 of the NFL season and the Los Angeles Rams have their first playoff clinching scenario of the season. After an offseason of “tanking” talk and the Rams being 3-6 at their bye, it seems almost crazy that we are now talking playoff clinching scenarios. However, if one of two scenarios go the Rams’ way, they will be in the postseason.
The Rams can clinch a spot in the postseason one of two ways this week. In both scenarios, Los Angeles must win on the road against the New York Giants. The first and most likely scenario is that the Seattle Seahawks lose at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The second scenario would be the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers tie in their Sunday Night game.
There are two Week 17 clinching scenarios for @RamsNFL:— J.B. Long (@JB_Long) December 26, 2023
1) Win + SEA loss to PIT
2) Win + MIN-GB tie
If either of those two results were to happen, the Rams would clinch the playoffs and only have seeding to worry about in Week 18 on the road against the San Francisco 49ers.
While the Rams are so close to the postseason that they can taste it, there is still a realistic chance that they could miss the postseason altogether. The end of the season is setting up much like the final week of 2011 in which the Rams traveled to Seattle to play the Seahawks in a win-or-go-home divisional game. However, instead of the San Francisco 49ers playing for their playoff lives like the Rams would be, they could be playing to lock up the number one seed.
Following wins by the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks wins on Sunday in Week 16, there is a realistic chance that the season still ends with the Rams on the outside looking in. The Seahawks could finish 10-7 while the Packers and Rams finish 9-8. If that scenario were to happen, the Rams would miss the playoffs.
The last-minute wins from the Seahawks over the last two weeks could end up having a huge impact. While the Rams do have the tiebreaker over the Seahawks, there is a good chance that they finish 10-7. Next week, they will play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Seattle. The Steelers aren’t an easy out by any means, but they’ve been very inconsistent this season. In Week 18, the Seahawks have the Cardinals in Arizona. Division games aren’t easy, but the Cardinals simply don’t have the horses to win right now. The Seahawks will be favored in both games.
On the other end of this is the Packers. This week, they’ll play a very important game against the Vikings. With that said, the Vikings will play playing with Nick Mullens as their starting quarterback. Mullens has thrown six interceptions over the past two weeks and it’s almost frightening that the Rams will have some of their playoff hopes in his hands. Right now, the Vikings are favored by a point and a half. In Week 18, the Packers finish the season against the Chicago Bears at home. The Bears haven’t won at Lambeau Field since 2015.
This isn’t to be negative about the Rams’ playoff chances. At the end of the day, they are in control of their own destiny and have a 68 percent chance at the postseason. There’s no place the Rams would rather be. The Steelers could beat the Seahawks this week and the Vikings or Bears could beat the Packers.
Of course, none of that matters if the Rams take care of their own business. The lone wrinkle in that is that Los Angeles has the 49ers on the road in Week 18. As it stands, the Rams have lost nine straight regular season games to their division rival. Is that really the team you want standing in your way of the postseason?
There is a chance that the 49ers already have the one seed locked up. However, that would require the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions both to lose in Week 17. The Eagles play the Cardinals and Lions play the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles haven’t been playing well, but they will be favored against the Cardinals. That win alone would give the 49ers enough reason to play their starters in Week 18.
With that said, there’s no guarantee that the 49ers would even rest their starters. A loss in Week 18 would be handing a playoff spot to the Rams, their biggest division rival. Would Kyle Shanahan really hand a playoff spot to McVay?
Resting their starters could also be a risky play as they potentially lose momentum and get rusty after not playing for two weeks. Teams that rest their starters and then also have a bye week don’t have a good history in the divisional round with their record being close to .500. Comparatively, teams that don’t rest their starters and then have a bye week in the playoffs perform significantly better. At the very least, the Rams would likely get the 49ers starters for at least the first half.
It’s also not as if the Rams would be going up against Nick Mullens or CJ Beathard at quarterback as they would have in the past. However, it is worth noting that the Rams lost to Mullens in 2020. Still, Sam Darnold is a very capable quarterback in the Shanahan offense. Other starters to rest would probably be Trent Williams, Christian McCaffrey, Brock Purdy, Deebo Samuel, and Nick Bosa with others simply getting less snaps.
At the end of the day, the Rams have a scenario in which they can clinch the postseason in Week 17. For those that have Kevin Greene jerseys collecting dust in the back of your closet, it might be a good time to dust those off and cheer for a Steelers win on Sunday.