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Could Rams clinching playoffs cost Puka Nacua chance at major NFL record?

Will Rams rest starters, including Puka Nacua, against 49ers?

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Will Puka Nacua set the single season receiving yardage for a rookie in Week 18? If he plays, probably. But if Sean McVay decides to rest his starters after the L.A. Rams clinched a playoff berth on Sunday, then Nacua will finish his rookie season with several other records and a part of history, just not that one. The big one.

Whether McVay will play the Rams starters against the San Francisco 49ers backups in Week 18 with only a small chance that L.A. could slip from the six to the seven seed in either case if they lose, or how much that would even matter if they did, will be a talking point going into the finale. However, the player who stands to lose the most by not playing another game is Nacua.

Not that Nacua is worried about it. It’s just a fact that Nacua is less than 30 yards away from breaking one of the more sacred rookie records that there is and he’s almost guaranteed to get there if he starts. He may not even need to play more than one snap.

Do Rams gain anything by winning?

The Rams clinched a playoff berth with a win and a Seahawks loss, so they are the six seed right now with no chance of moving up. The Packers are the seven seed at 9-7. So if L.A. wins, they’re the six seed. However, if the Packers lose to the Bears, then the Rams could still lose to the 49ers and get the six seed.

If the Rams win, they don’t move, but they could also lose and not move down either. Winning may carry no meaning whatsoever and losing could be equally meaningless.

There is a 97% chance that the Lions will be the three, so if the Rams don’t move, they’ll go to Detroit. In the event that the Rams lose and the Packers win, then Green Bay will go to Detroit and the Rams would go to face the winner of the NFC East. Right now, there’s an 80% chance that will be the Cowboys. And the 49ers, who have clinched the top seed, won’t likely be playing starters so that means that L.A.’s backups could be better than San Francisco’s backups anyway.

But if McVay does decide to rest his starters, it is not unrealistic to think that one of L.A. most important players will be an exception because of a potential record.

Nacua has 1,445 receiving yards in 16 games, which is 10 yards behind Ja’Marr Chase’s Super Bowl era record for rookies that he set two years ago. And Nacua is 29 yards from passing Bill Groman, when he had 1,473 in 1960. He is also four catches shy of passing Jaylen Waddle for the rookie receptions record.

And for anyone who thinks that Nacua will get an asterisk because he played in 17 games, I ask you: Why didn’t you get mad that there wasn’t an asterisk next to Chase’s name? He did it in 17 games.

And Groman did it in only 14 games. There would have had to be an asterisk next to Puka’s name when he got to 15 games, not 17.

Setting records isn’t about asterisks because history won’t care. There’s only one question and one answer. “Who has the single season major league home run record?”

Barry Bonds. People literally called him the asterisk. But if you google that question, the answer is simply “Barry Bonds”. No asterisk.

By playing another game, Nacua could also give people one more reason to consider him the Offensive Rookie of the Year. And really the best rookie on either side of the ball.

Nacua has been as about as dominant as any player in the NFL this season, regardless of experience. Chase won Rookie of the Year over Mac Jones, is it that much different? Jones won more games as a rookie than C.J. Stroud has, he was a Pro Bowler, he had a higher completion percentage and several other stats, the Patriots went to the playoffs. Maybe the biggest difference is that Stroud had a monster game in the middle of the season that Jones didn’t have.

Nacua might also be having a better rookie season than Ja’Marr Chase. Nacua has way more receptions and he could end up with over 1,500 yards if he played another game. He’s been consistent and has served as more of a dual threat, not to mention his run blocking prowess.

He may not need another game to prove his case as an Offensive Rookie of the Year or a great player. He only needs it for two significant NFL records. Is that enough?