In Sean McVay’s second season as the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, he has Rams fans hopeful for a Super Bowl run. In 2017, the Rams finished with a record of 11-5, losing in the Wild Card round to the Atlanta Falcons. Hopefully, the outcome is different this year as the Rams have secured a first-round bye in the playoffs. With a record of 13-3, the Rams have the second-seed in the NFC—with the New Orleans Saints being the one-seed.
Of course, both teams squared off in a phenomenal game in Week 9—with the Saints coming out on top 45-35. If these two teams meet again, there’s no doubt well be in for another offensive battle.
Since that game, both teams have decelerated a bit—with both offenses showing signs of slowing down in a sense. Many have questioned who the top team in the NFC is between the Saints, Rams, and even Chicago Bears.
Of course, the NFC will need to go through New Orleans, as they have home-field advantage throughout the post-season. Anything is possible in the playoffs though—just look at the Philadelphia Eagles from last season.
With the post-season right around the corner, here are three reasons why the Rams are still the team to beat in the NFC.
3. Todd Gurley Will Be Fresh in the Playoffs
Todd Gurley was off to a hot start in 2018, before suffering a knee injury in Week 14 against the Chicago Bears. He played in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles but was limited throughout the game. According to Gurley, he suffered a serious knee injury in Week 1 that made him “consider giving back the Rams their money”.
“Felt like (expletive). It was bad,” Gurley said in his press conference Thursday. “I was contemplating on giving the Rams back their money and everything. It was bad. It was real bad.”- Gurley talking about his knee injury he sufferd in Week 1 against the Oakland Raiders.
With the Rams just needing to win their last two games against the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ersto lock up the second seed in the NFC, the Rams decided to rest Gurley in both games. Sean McVay has come out and said he’d be “surprised” if Gurley isn’t playing in the divisional round of the playoffs.
On RB Todd Gurley, #LARams HC Sean McVay says, “I would be very, very surprised” if the RB isn’t ready for the divisional round matchup on Jan. 12.
— Myles Simmons (@MylesASimmons) December 31, 2018
This is good news for the Rams heading into the post-season. The good thing is C.J. Anderson prominently filled in for Gurley in the last two games. He rushed for a total of 299 yards on 43 carries and two scores.
He played very well considering the circumstances and could see a share of the carries in the first playoff game if Gurley needs a breather. Gurley is key to the Rams success when he is healthy, so it will be important to get him involved once more.
After getting two extra weeks of rest, Gurley will be fresh come next week. This makes the Rams that more dangerous in the playoffs and the team to beat in the NFC.
2. The New Orleans Saints Defense is Struggling
If the Rams hope to reach the Super Bowl, there’s a chance they will come up against the New Orleans Saints. The good news is, the Saints defense has mightily struggled in recent weeks.
In Week 16, the Saints faced the Pittsburgh Steelers, where they allowed 28 points in a win. They won off of a late-game fumble by JuJu Smith-Schuster after the Steelers managed to drive downfield.
The big problem with their defense all season has been their pass defense. Just in the last two weeks, the Saints have allowed 608 passing yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions. Although one game came against Ben Roethlisberger, the other came against Kyle Allen—the Carolina Panthers third-string quarterback.
This season, the Saints have allowed 269 passing yards per game (tied for 30th in the NFL). Their run defense is solid, allowing just 80.2 yards rushing yards per game (second best in the NFL). Most teams realize they can attack the secondary of the Saints, especially Eli Apple.
Apple has a grade of 62.4 (80th among cornerbacks) according to Pro Football Focus. When you have a guy as talented as Marshon Lattimore on one side, you have to expect a ton of targets if your Apple. He hasn’t shown any signs of being capable of stopping any wide receiver, let alone ones as talented as Brandin Cooks or Robert Woods.
The Rams offense has seemingly found its groove again, using their rushing attack to help the passing game again. A mixture of the Rams offense hitting their stride again and the Saints defense looking sluggish makes the Rams the team to beat in the NFC.
1. The Rams Have Aqib Talib Back
After the Rams defense got off to a blistering start, their defense sputtered when Aqib Talib went down with an ankle injury. He was placed on injured reserve but has since been activated since Week 13 against the Detroit Lions.
Through the first three games of the season—the games that Talib played in, the Rams allowed an average of 12 points per game. They also only allowed just 21 receptions for 245 yards and two touchdowns to opposing wide receivers. The duo of Talib and Marcus Peters was working to perfection.
In the following eight games without Talib, the Rams allowed an average of 30.8 points per game. Since Talib returned in Week 13, the Rams have allowed 20.4 points per game and only two wide receivers have caught touchdowns against the Rams.
Both of those came in Week 17 in garbage time when Talib was no longer on the field. His presence and ability to shut-down wide receivers with his physicality is a nice weapon to have for the Rams. The first time that the Rams faced the Saints, Talib was on injured reserve.
Talib will be huge if the Rams this playoffs against any team they face. With the return of Talib, the Rams are the team that teams will need to beat in the NFC Playoffs.
Source: “Los Angeles” – Google News