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The Rams and the Risk of ‘All-But-Clinching’

December 18th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, NFL, Rams

The moment the danger hit home was about halfway through the fourth quarter in Seattle, when a bunch of rowdy/giddy Rams posed on their sideline, celebrating what would finish as a 42-7 rout of the Seahawks.

The expression “all but clinched” the NFC West ricocheted around the NFL, on Sunday, when mentioning the game.

And anyone who has followed an emotion-driven sport like football knows the enormous dangers surrounding 1) premature celebration of the sort we saw on the Rams sideline, as well as 2) the “all but” in the “all-but-clinched” designation.

The Rams have a 96 percent chance of winning the division and a 97 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to the The New York Times’s NFL Playoff Machine, but I am thinking they run a real risk of being run down on the final weekend of the season and ceding the NFC West to Seattle.


–Any team that expends the sort of emotional energy that carried the Rams to a decisive victory almost inevitably suffers an ebb in the following week. The Rams just had a peak, playing a near-perfect game against a divisional rival. We can expect a regression to the mean — as well as many of the players suffering from a Victory Fever infection.

–The “all but” involving the Rams and the NFC West title can be easily explained. If the Rams lose at Tennessee and at home versus the 49ers, and the Seahawks win at Dallas and home versus the Cardinals … the Seahawks win the division over the 10-6 Rams, based on a superior (5-1 to 4-2) record in divisional games.

–Taken individually, do any of the outcomes, above, seem ridiculous? No, they do not. As for Seattle, that is a proud team that has made the playoffs five consecutive seasons and won the NFC West three of the past four years. Dallas will not be easy, given that the Cowboys also are scrambling to make the playoffs and are reinforced by the return of running back Ezekiel Elliott. But if the Seahawks win that one, Arizona at home will seem like light work.

–The Rams certainly could lose twice — because one of their opponents is pretty good, and is playing at home, and the other is their greatest rival. Tennessee currently sits fifth in the AFC playoffs rankings, despite losing last weekend. The Titans bid for the playoffs pretty much requires a victory over the Rams. As for the 49ers, the Rams’ historic rival, they are the team that beat Tennessee last Sunday … and are 4-10 but have won three consecutive games … and they came within a missed two-point conversion of taking the Rams to overtime, back in Week 3, when the Niners looked like the worst team in the NFL … and they now appear to have a franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppoloand they could crown a better-than-expected season with a victory over the Rams.

I think we all see the danger, now.

One final important aspect to this: The Rams have been really lucky with injuries this season.

As far back as the New Orleans game, the Rams’ 11th, they were the only team in the NFL to have started the same five interior linemen in every game. All five of those individuals, who certainly play a big part in the transformation of quarterback Jared Goff, now have started all 14 games the Rams have played. But all five are one play away from a season-ending injury and a raw backup taking the field.

Further, the Rams seem thin at several positions, but especially at quarterback. Sean Mannion threw his second and third passes of the season, in Seattle, and he looked anything but ready for prime time, particularly on the botched handoff to Tavon Austin. An injury to Goff would reduce the Rams offense to Todd Gurley left, right, and center, and we remember how that turned out last year.

The danger of not winning the division, and missing the playoffs entirely, is out there. It does not shrink because the Rams have “all but clinched”. Actually, those three words seem like the NFL’s version of “watch the hell out” … a blinking red light for teams who perhaps can’t help but believe the hard work is all behind them.




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