The Los Angeles Rams have clinched a playoff spot, but now they will be waiting for the Week 18 results to see where they will be traveling and who they will play. Depending on who wins or loses in the final week of the NFL regular season, the Rams will play one of the Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, or Philadelphia Eagles. The most likely scenario is that the Rams face off against the Lions, but the Cowboys and Eagles are still possibilities.
While the team may not admit it, they will have a preferred option out of those three teams. With that said, who should the Rams want to face on Wild Card Weekend?
Scenario 1: Detroit Lions
- Rams Win + DAL/PHI Win = 3. Lions vs. 6. Rams
- Rams Loss + DET Win + GB Win + DAL/PHI Loss = 2. Lions vs. 7. Rams
- Rams Loss + GB Loss + DAL/PHI Win = 3. Lions vs. 6. Rams
According to analytics, the Rams have a 61.1 percent chance to face off against the Lions in the wild card round of the playoffs. That would also probably be the preferred opponent for the Rams over the other likely alternative.
Coming into the season, the Lions were seen as one of the top NFC contenders along with the Eagles and 49ers. They are still up there, but since starting 8-2, they are just 3-3 since with their three wins coming against the New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, and Minnesota Vikings.
Right now, the Lions are vulnerable. Their defense ranks just 24th since Week 11 and 28th against the pass in EPA. Aidan Hutchinson remains the only true difference-maker on that defense. Brian Branch and Ifeatu Melifonwu have been playmakers in the secondary, but it’s also a secondary that can be exploited with the lack of a pass rush. The Lions rank just 27th in pass-rush win rate and are dead last in run-stop win rate on defense.
The Rams don’t necessarily matchup well with the Lions on offense, but it’s also better than the alternative. This season, 58.6 percent of Amon-Ra St. Brown’s targets have come from the slot. His 64 receptions and 720 yards rank second. Quentin Lake has been one of the better defenders from the slot. His 85.4 passer-rating allowed ranks sixth and has allowed 28 receptions on 42 targets. Lake’s 0.87 yards per snap is the fourth-best and he also ranks fifth in coverage snaps per target. Sam LaPorta would give the Rams the most issues as they’ve struggled to defend tight ends this year. Jahmyr Gibbs could also get some favorable looks in the passing game on Michael Hoecht.
At the end of the day, these are two very evenly matched teams. The Lions have home losses against the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks. Hosting their first playoff game in 30 years, it may be too much pressure for a growing team.
Scenario 2: Dallas Cowboys
- Rams Loss + GB Win + DAL Win = 2. Cowboys vs. 7. Rams
- Rams Win + DET Win + DAL/PHI Loss = 3. Cowboys vs. 6. Rams
This is the sixth most likely scenario according to the analytics. If the Rams rest their starters and lose to the 49ers, it becomes a lot more likely. It’s also a scenario that Los Angeles should be looking to avoid. Every game is different, but playing in Dallas earlier in the season, the Cowboys beat the Rams 43-20.
The Cowboys are undefeated this season at AT&T stadium and are a completely different team at home than they are on the road. They’ve won 16 straight home games with their last home loss being in Week 1 of 2022 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dallas has scored 30 points or more at home in all but one game. They average 37.4 points per game at home on offense while allowing just 15.9 points on defense. Home field means more to the Cowboys than it does many other teams in the NFL. Their +172 point differential at home is tied for the sixth-most in the Super Bowl era along with the 2007 New England Patriots.
In the Week 8 matchup, Matthew Stafford was pressured on 37.5 percent of his dropbacks and ended up leaving the game with a hurt thumb. He completed just two of his eight passes under pressure in that game. Micah Parsons leads the NFL with 102 pressures this season and leads edge rushers in pass-rush win-rate. Osa Odighizuwa ranks second among defensive linemen is pass-rush win-rate. The Cowboys are a team that can get after the quarterback. While Dallas is a team that can be run on, DeMarcus Lawrence has been great as a run defender this season. Daron Bland is a playmaker in the secondary capable of game-changing plays
On offense, Dak Prescott has thrown 22 touchdowns to three interceptions at home this season. CeeDee Lamb provides a mismatch for most defenses, but back in Week 8 he had 12 receptions for 158 yards. It’s somehow just his third-best game this season.
Simply put, the Cowboys are a bad matchup for the Rams. As seen against the Baltimore Ravens, the Rams can compete with anybody. This isn’t the same team that lost 43-20. With that said, this is still a matchup that the Rams should look to avoid.
Scenario 3: Philadelphia Eagles
- Rams Loss + DAL Loss + PHI Win
As it stands, the Eagles are an opponent that teams will want to see in the postseason. They are currently a team facing an identity crisis and after going to the Super Bowl last season and losing, they have finally burned out. Their most recent loss came at home to the Arizona Cardinals, 35-31.
This isn’t the same Eagles team that the Rams played early in the season when they lost 23-14. They’ve changed defensive coordinators with Matt Patricia now calling the defensive plays. Their offense at times seems broken and without an identity. Defensively, they rank 30th in the NFL in EPA per play over the last four weeks. The secondary is getting attacked and they’re giving up a lot on the ground. James Connor just rushed for 128 yards against them last week. The Eagles linebackers can be exploited and they aren’t getting a pass rush to help their secondary.
The Eagles are still a team with talent and AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith. Dallas Goedart is also a mismatch for the same reason LaPorta is with the Lions. With that said Brown has just one catch of more than 25 air yards over the last eight games. Smith is also dealing with an ankle sprain suffered last week. The Eagles aren’t running the ball consistently which is hurting their offense.
If Sean McVay had his way, this is likely the matchup that he would want. Unfortunately, a Commanders win over the Cowboys is a long shot and the Eagles could lose to the Giants anyway.