The Los Angeles Rams finished the season 7-1 down the stretch and are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. A serious case can be made that the Rams are one of the better team in the league since coming out of their bye in Week 11.
With that said, it’s very possible that because of that the Rams are being overrated my the general NFL fanbase and media. The ESPN Live panel of Dan Orlovsky, Marcus Spears, Laura Rutledge, Ryan Clark, and Mina Kimes all picked the Rams to beat the Lions on Sunday Night. Other panels are more even, but despite being the six seed, the Rams are still gaining a lot of support. As Charles McDonald wrote for Yahoo Sports, they are the team that “nobody wants to play in the playoffs”. Said McDonald,
“The Rams put a firm grasp on their playoff chances, moving to the sixth seed in the NFC with a red-hot offense and a defense that’s coming into its own. The Rams were a wild card coming into the year, considering Matthew Stafford’s health and Sean McVay’s near retirement, and now they could be the most dangerous team in the wild-card round.”
Offensively, the Rams might be one of the hottest teams in the NFL, but they still have their issues from a talent perspective on defense. They still lack the horses in the secondary to be able to compete consistently.
Los Angeles has certainly earned the title of “team nobody wants to play.”. The question remains, how much does that title actually matter. According to the data, not very much. There is very little, if any correlation to late-season momentum leading to a Super Bowl win. In a recent study by Peter Keating andJordan Brenner at The Athletic, the numbers didn’t show any cause-and-effect relationship.
“Since 2000, 93 NFL playoff teams have improved by 16.4 points or more late in the season. And 14 of them, or 15.1 percent, went on to make the Super Bowl — hardly different from the proportion of other playoff teams (16.9 percent) that got to the championship game...Of the 10 teams that jumped the most in EPA per game after November, none made the Super Bowl.”
In the study, the the squad that took the biggest late leap forward was the 2014 Panthers who started 3-8-1 and then won four straight to make the postseason. That team improved by 23.8 EPA per game won a wild-card game before losing in the divisional round.
The closest example to this current Rams team may actually be the 2021 San Francisco 49ers. That 49ers team was 3-5 after nine weeks and went 7-2 down the stretch on their way to the NFC Championship game. Both teams entered the postseason as the six seed. At the end of the day, winning in December and increasing your EPA significantly, doesn’t matter. Playoff football is much more complicated than momentum and “being the hot team”.
If the Rams do well in the playoffs it will be because they were a young team to start the year and grew into the season as it progressed, not because they ‘got hot at the right time.’