by Barry Waller
The Rams chances of winning the West Division went down the drain with the loss Sunday, but those who are counting the team out of the playoffs already are really jumping the gun. At 4-5, the Rams could still mathematically finish 11-5, surely a playoff record.
Realistically, the chances are slim that can happen for this team, especially based on [UTF-8?]it’s poor road performance levels the past two years.
However, a look at the remaining schedules of not only the Rams, but the other possible wild card contenders as well, gives reason for hope for Rams fans and the team. The Rams schedule was among the easiest in the NFL this year, and now that the Seahawks and Colts, arguably the elite of each conference, are behind them, the schedule differential now really keeps them in the hunt. Getting to play the Cardinals, Texans, Niners, and Vikings really helps their chances. The Rams [UTF-8?]aren’t very good, but they have enough to sweep that slate of NFL patsies.
The Rams two toughest opponents appear to be the Eagles and Redskins, and the Rams get both at home, a T.O less Eagles squad that [UTF-8?]can’t seem to run the ball, and a Washington team that is two long bombs at the end of the win over Dallas away from having the same 4-5 record as the Rams. The Eagles look like a beaten team already, after [UTF-8?]tonight’s debacle.
The other tough contest is at Dallas in the last game, but the Cowboys could be out of the playoffs by then, facing teams that are 38-25 right now. They face a string of games against Denver, at the Giants, the Chiefs, at Washington, and at Carolina before meeting the Rams on New Years day. Even if the Cowboys win the game they should other than those, at home against Detroit, they would still have to win three of those five tough games to be 10-5 going into the Rams game. More likely they could be 9-6. That could well make that final game the one the Rams must win to make post season.
The Eagles, at 4-5, have an easier schedule, opponents who are 32-31, and travel to The Meadowlands to face the Giants, to Arizona, and the Rams, and hosting the Seahawks, Packers, Redskins, and Giants. The Eagles should split with the Giants, handle the Packers, Giants, and Redskins at home, and beat Arizona. I think the Seahawks, looking to get home field advantage, will go there and beat them, however, as long as Alexander is healthy.
That would make them 8-7, plus the Rams game. [UTF-8?]It’s really shaping up for that game to be the biggest for the Rams hopes. Of course, the Giants could sweep the Eagles and Washington could beat them as well if they are mediocre without T.O, or McNabb is truly hurt bad enough to be ineffective. They just lost their starting center, and a practice squad guy is starting the rest of the year.
The Redskins, also 5-4, will beat Oakland, but probably will lose to the Chargers at home, sending them into the Rams game tied at 6-5, if the Rams beat Houston and Arizona, two of the worst teams in the NFL. That will be the first big test for the Rams to salvage a playoff spot, and they must find a way to beat an average Redskins team. After that game, the Redskins play the Cardinals, Cowboys and Giants at home, and the Eagles on the road.
Assuming the Rams beat them, as well as the Chargers and Eagles, the Rams would win ties with the Redskins at 9-7. There is no guarantee that the Giants [UTF-8?]won’t beat Washington on the road, however.
The Rams should root for the Giants, not only because they play the Eagles twice, plus the Cowboys, Redskins, and Panthers, all teams the Rams must catch and pass to make post season, but also because the Rams already lose tiebreakers head to head with the Giants, so [UTF-8?]it’s best that they win the NFC East, as far as the Rams are concerned. Realistically, they should be 10-6 or 9-7 shen the smoke clears, making their game against Dallas the key matchup to win the division.
So what about all those teams bunched together in the NFC South? The thing they all have against them is that they [UTF-8?]haven’t played one another much at all thus far. The Falcons, at 6-3, play the Bucs twice and Carolina twice. They also play at Detroit, at home against the Saints, and at Chicago, late in the season, when it will be cold and windy in Soldier Field for the dome team.
If the Falcons lose twice to Carolina, lose to the Bears and split with the Bucs, they end up
joining the pack at 9-7.
Carolina looks to have the inside track to win the division, at 7-2, and facing the Bears, Bills, Saints, and Falcons on the road, and the Falcons, Cowboys, and Bucs at home. Even with three losses, the Panthers end up 11-5.
The 6-3 Buccaneers saved their hopes by beating Washington Sunday, but other than the two games they have against the Saints, they face opponents that are 30-15 right now. They play two against the Falcons, two against Carolina, against the Bears at home, and at New England. If they cover against the Saints, lose to New England, and lose three of four against the Falcons and Panthers, as one could predict, and can beat the Bears, they too end up 9-7. Splitting the Falcons and Panthers series but losing to the Bears would bring the same result.
Neither the Vikings now Detroit, tied with the Rams right now, appears to be capable of going 9-7, and face schedules that make it improbable that they will.
Of course, there will be upsets that will make all of these predictions a bit skewed, but [UTF-8?]it’s clear that the teams well ahead of the Rams for a wild card spot look to come back to the pack, giving the Rams a chance if they take care of business against the Redskins and Eagles at home, and just do what they should do against the Cardinals, Texans, and Niners, among the worst in the league.
It all begins against Arizona and Kurt Warner next week, and any letdown by the Rams would almost certainly spell doom for their hopes. As of now, however, [UTF-8?]it’s far from over.