With the NFC wild card race shaping up to be a battle royale, stakes are ramping up for every matchup of playoff hopefuls.
The loser of Sunday night’s tilt between the Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears — a game that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app — risks being left behind.
Both the Rams (5-4) and Bears (4-5) entered the season with reasonable expectations of contending for the NFC championship. While both are still alive in the playoff hunt, neither can be confused for a top-tier team heading into the second half of the NFL season.
The Bears are far from where they want to be coming off a 12-4 campaign that saw them claim the NFC North crown in 2018. Their defense is good but not playing up to the elite level of the 2018 unit that ranked third in yardage allowed and led the league with 2.2 takeaways per game.
Many predicted the high turnover rate forced by the Bears defense would regress to the mean this season. And it has. Through nine games, Chicago is averaging 1.3 takeaways per game — good for 15th in the league — while it ranks ninth in average yardage allowed.
About that Bears offense
But it doesn’t take long checking in with Chicago sports radio to find out what the real problem is: the offense. Expected to take a leap in his third season after a sophomore effort that saw him earn a replacement Pro Bowl nod, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky barely resembles an NFL starter in 2019.
The Bears offense is stagnant behind Trubisky, who’s averaging 173.8 passing yards — a 56-yard drop-off from his 2018 campaign — and one passing touchdown per game.
Meanwhile head coach Matt Nagy, hired for his offensive prowess, has failed to optimize what appeared to be a dynamic backfield featuring Tarik Cohen and rookie David Montgomery. Montgomery’s averaging a meager 3.6 yards per carry as the bellcow back, while Cohen is managing 2.7 yards per carry and 5.7 yards per reception.
It adds up to to an offense that ranks 29th in the league in yardage and trails only Washington in the NFC with 18 points per game.
Rams still suffering Super Bowl hangover
The Rams, meanwhile, have not looked like the same team since the New England Patriots stifled them in February’s Super Bowl.
The offense that outscored the Kansas City Chiefs in last season’s epic 54-51 shootout can be described as inconsistent at best as the stars that made it hum are shells of their 2018 selves.
Quarterback Jared Goff has flashed a few glimpses of last season’s prolific passer, but largely bounced between mundane and ineffective in an up-and-mostly-down 2019 campaign.
His last outing saw him commit three turnovers without a touchdown in a 17-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The last time he faced a high-level defense — like he will on Sunday against the Bears — he threw for 78 yards without a score in a 20-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
With knee issues apparently lingering, the once-electric Todd Gurley is plodding through 2019 much like he did the 2018 playoffs, tallying 509 yards of total offense in eight games played, well below the production that made him arguably the league’s premier running back in past seasons.
The lack of regular output from the Rams offense has some wondering if the NFL has caught up with the innovative mechanizations of head coach Sean McVay.
Tough road in NFC wild card race
The Rams sit three games behind the first-place 49ers in the NFC West while the Bears trail the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers by 3.5 games. If either team plans to make the playoffs, a wild card berth is their route.
With the Seattle Seahawks (8-2), Philadelphia Eagles (5-4), Minnesota Vikings (7-2) and Carolina Panthers (5-4) all also vying for the same two wild card spots, there’s little room for error to sneak into the playoffs.
Sunday’s loser could very well end up watching the playoffs from home.
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