The score pools and onion dip will be replaced by pens and notepads – or at least some astute watching – when the Rams settle in to watch this weekend’s wild-card round playoff games.
Their next opponent is out there. If Chicago beats Philadelphia on Sunday, the Bears will come to the Coliseum next Saturday for a divisional-round game. If the Bears lose, the Rams will face the winner of Saturday’s Dallas-Seattle game. The Rams, rightfully, say they don’t have a rooting interest.
That’s because all three teams are tough. The Bears beat the Rams last month. The Cowboys, after a 3-5 start, have won seven of their last eight. The Seahawks reinvented themselves midseason and finished 6-1.
Still, they’re not equal. Playoff games largely are about matchups. The Rams, for instance, ran into a bad one last year when they lost to Atlanta in the wild-card round.
As this weekend’s games near, it’s instructive to take a look at the Rams’ three possible opponents, rank them in terms of offense, defense and special teams, and attempt to figure out which team would be the most advantageous for the Rams to face the following weekend.
1. Seattle; 2. Dallas; 3. Chicago
The best team here, by far, is Seattle 2.0, the team that saved its season with a rededication to the run game and to Chris Carson, who finished the season with 447 yards in his last four games. The grit and improvisation of quarterback Russell Wilson make him difficult.
Dallas’ attack starts with Ezekiel Elliott, who was the NFL’s leading rusher, and that’s bad news for a Rams defense that allowed the highest yards-per-carry average in the NFL this season. Quarterback Dak Prescott also is a threat, but the Cowboys allowed the second-most sacks in the league this year (56).
The Bears benefit from an extraordinary defense that creates turnovers and gives them the ball with great field position. They aren’t particularly dynamic in any one area, but they’re at their best when they can get running back Jordan Howard going. He had 101 yards against the Rams last month.
1. Chicago; 2. Dallas; 3. Seattle
This isn’t particularly close, and nobody who watched the Rams-Bears game would be surprised. The Bears’ fierce pass rush and opportunistic secondary make it tough to throw the ball with any consistency, and they also allowed an average of only 3.8 yards per rush this season.
Throwing the ball on Dallas doesn’t seem particularly scary, other than Demarcus Lawrence’s 10.5 sacks, but the Cowboys are stout on run defense and allowed 3.8 yards per carry this season. The Cowboys also were surprisingly poor when it came to allowing teams to convert on third down (42 percent).
The Rams put up a total of 69 points in two games against the Seahawks this season, so it’s hard to make an argument they should be concerned. Rams coach Sean McVay seems to enjoy scheming against a Seattle defense that hasn’t been stellar in any one particular area this season.
1. Chicago; 2. Seattle; 3. Dallas
Chicago has the biggest return threat of the three, in Tarik Cohen, and a strong punter in Pat O’Donnell, who has a 45.0 average and has dropped 28 of his 62 attempts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Sebastian Janikowski, Seattle’s veteran kicker, made 22 of 27 field-goal attempts this season, and the Seahawks have a punting star in Michael Dickson, who had a 48.2-yard average this year.
Well-traveled Dallas kicker Brett Maher isn’t very consistent – he missed 7 of 36 field-goal attempts this year – but he made 6 of 7 attempts from 50 yards or beyond. Chris Jones put only 17 of his 60 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
1. Dallas; 2. Chicago; 3. Seattle
Conventional wisdom might be that the Rams want to play the Seahawks, given that they’ve beaten Seattle three consecutive times. Perhaps not, and never mind that law-of-averages stuff.
Both of the Rams-Seahawks games were close this season, and in the last meeting, Seattle didn’t have Carson. He’s a bruiser and the Rams have had great difficulty this season in stuffing runs at the line of scrimmage. The nightmare scenario for the Rams is that the Seahawks control the ball, wear them down with Carson and then occasionally beat them with some Wilson magic. This is plausible.
A rematch against the Bears wouldn’t be the worst thing. The Rams looked all out of sorts the first time they played, on a frigid evening in Chicago. It’s a good bet McVay wants this matchup, to get a second chance at the team that held his offense to two field goals. Of the three quarterbacks the Rams might face, Mitchell Trubisky is the least scary.
That leaves Dallas as the best-case scenario for the Rams, and that’s not a knock on the Cowboys. The Rams, if they’re smart, will want to establish their run game, and that wouldn’t be easy against the Cowboys. Of the three teams, though, the Cowboys have the least-dynamic offense, the worst turnover ratio and have allowed the most sacks. That could give the Rams’ defense a chance to win the game.
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