Can the Rams finally prove they’re for real?
julian rogers asked me a question about Sunday’s big NFC West game.
Will the Seattle Seahawks pass the torch on Sunday?
The Los Angeles Rams are poised to take over the NFC West
I think this is not a question of whether the Rams are poised to take over the NFC West, as much as if the Seahawks will finally collapse under the weight of all their defensive injuries and their terrible offensive line.
Fumbling away greatness
The Rams have been on the precipice of greatness three times this season, and literally fumbled away each opportunity, losing to Seattle (fumble at the 1 that would have contributed to a 17–0 lead), Minnesota (fumble at the 1 that would have resulted in a 14–7 lead going into the 4th quarter) and Philadelphia (fumble at Rams 35, while protecting a 4th quarter lead). Winning any one of these games against quality opponents would have clinched their division and given them a chance for home field advantage.
Now, the Rams travel to one of the toughest home field environments for a game that will probably decide the divisional champion, as both teams will be favored in their last two games. Barring a collapse by either team, they will each tie for the division lead at 11–5 if Seattle wins on Sunday, but Seattle will win by virtue of their head to head record against Los Angeles. On the other hand, a Rams win gives them the faintest hope of getting the #2 seed.
Here’s what we know about the two teams:
- When the Rams were bad, they still had a knack for playing well in divisional games. The Rams are 4–3* against Seattle since 2014, including a road win. ADVANTAGE RAMS
- When the Rams play great, they make too many unforced errors to blow away the Seahawks. In October, the Rams completely dominated the game, but came away with ZERO points out of four possessions in the Seattle red zone: the unlucky bounce when the Gurley tried to stretch into the end zone; a dropped pass by an untouched tight end in the end zone; a missed field goal by the best kicker in the NFL; and a dropped pass in the end zone on the last play of the game. Aside from the Thomas strip, Seattle played no part in preventing points. If the Rams made just one of those plays, they either win the game, or kick a field goal to go to overtime. ADVANTAGE SEATTLE
- The Rams defensive line is elite (#3 in the NFL in sacks), but not quite good enough to contain mobile quarterbacks. As I recall, they hit Wentz on 19 of his 32 drop backs, but only got one sack and one interception. Against Keenum, they pressured him constantly, but he escaped the rush every time and was fortunate not to throw three picks. In the first Seattle game, the Rams shut down Wilson for the first 20 minutes of the game, then he started to make plays with his feet. I look for Wilson to frustrate the Rams again. ADVANTAGE SEATTLE
- Jared Goff has been very good this year, but still holds the ball too long on enough plays that he is susceptible to the strip sack (the only reason Philadelphia won last week). The Rams are the second worst team in the league in losing fumbles (11) which kills their ability to be a dominant running team. Seattle’s defense is not dominant, but they still can make a few big plays. ADVANTAGE SEATTLE
- The Rams are healthier, and are getting back their best receiver, which will match Watkins and Cupp on Seattle’s replacement cornerbacks. And if Bobby Wagner doesn’t play well for Seattle, maybe this is the game where Todd Gurley has a huge day. ADVANTAGE RAMS
- The Rams are a top 5 team in interceptions, but they’re down to a 5th string cornerback who gave up a big play against the Vikings. With Wilson scrambling around, he is bound to blow an assignment or two. ADVANTAGE SEATTLE
- Seattle needs this game more than the Rams. If Seattle loses, the best record the can get is 10–6. I fully expect three teams from the NFC South to have records of 10–6 or better, and perhaps the Packers. Atlanta and Green Bay both have head to head wins over Seattle, so Seattle has almost no chance of making the playoffs if they lose on Sunday. ADVANTAGE SEATTLE
- The Rams have some of the best special teams in the league. In defensive, field-position games, they should have an edge with a great punter (#2 in net yards), an accurate kicker (#2 in field goal percentage), returns (#2 in average kickoff return, #12 in average punt returns) and blocked kicks (#1 in punts). Seattle is only better in downing punts inside the 20. ADVANTAGE RAMS
The Rams are a very good team but not outstanding in the areas that would give them a decisive edge against Seattle. They don’t have a powerful O-line that can run the ball down Seattle’s throat (Titans), or have an incredible secondary that can survive Wilson scrambles (Jacksonville). They don’t have an unstoppable wide receiver that can make enough big plays to outscore Seattle (Atlanta). And they don’t have a mobile quarterback who can make a couple of game changing plays, even when Seattle plays great defense (Green Bay).
Viewed from the perspective of how turnovers affect a game, the Rams are the better team. The Rams barely lost games against Washington (-2), Seattle (-3), and Philadelphia (-1), but won against New Orleans (-1). Seattle barely won games when they won the turnover battle, including the Rams (+3), Houston (+2), and San Francisco (+1) While every NFL game is affected by whoever wins the turnover battle, it is imperative for Seattle to be +1 or +2 in takeaways.
Predictions (538.com style)
- The Rams offense will move the ball early. If they finally finish drives in the end zone, they will build a big early lead and hold on while Wilson mounts a furious comeback. (20%)
- The Rams special teams score a touchdown or give the offense a short field on multiple occasions, allowing the Rams to build a big early lead, followed by the usual Wilson comeback. (5%)
- Wilson threw three interceptions against Jacksonville, and I don’t think lightning will strike twice. But in the unlikely event it does, the Rams could build a big lead. Los Angeles could actually earn a win. (5%)
- Seattle and Pete Wilson have made a career of winning ugly. However, your team has to stay calm no matter the situation and be better under pressure. Their behavior in Jacksonville shows a lot of frustration, and the emotional stress they’ve been battling all season might finally cause the team to implode. (5%)
- Sunday’s contest will be another one of those ugly affairs where the Rams shoot themselves in the foot just enough for one defensive touchdown by Seattle helps them win a close game. (65%)
Seattle 17, Rams 13
(But Lord, do I want to be wrong.)
- The Rams out uglied Seattle 9–3 in high heat at the Coliseum. Seattle fumbled 3 times and lost 1, while the Rams recovered their only fumble. (9–18–16)
- The Rams scored on a fumble return and built a 16–0 second quarter lead, and then a 23–10 fourth quarter lead, holding on to win 23–17. The Rams were +3 in turnovers, with Seattle fumbling 5 times, losing 2 and having 1 interception, while the Rams fumbled twice and recovered both. (12–27–15)
- The Rams were up 24–13 to start the fourth quarter and had to come back to tie the game in the last minute before they won in overtime (9–13–15)
- The Rams almost blew a 21–3 halftime lead. The Rams were able to run out the clock with a successful fake punt on 4th and 3 from their own 18 with 2:55 left in the game to hold on 28–26. (10–19–14)