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Expectations weren’t exactly high for the Los Angeles Rams when the season began. They weren’t even in the top half of the NFL in terms of preseason Super Bowl odds. Yet, here they are in the divisional round, getting ready to face the top team in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers.
Once again underdogs, the Rams are hardly expected to advance to the NFC Championship Game. But if they need an example of another underdog story that eventually led to a Super Bowl title, they only need to look back 13 years to the New York Giants.
Like the Rams, the 2007 Giants also went 10-6, were a wild-card team and had to face the top-seeded team in the NFC in the divisional round; New York faced the Cowboys that year. The Giants won three straight road games and made it to Super Bowl XLII, where they stunned the undefeated Patriots.
The Rams are still a long way from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, but they share similarities to that 2007 Giants team that shocked everyone and was the last team standing. Could this be a sign of destiny for Los Angeles? Or are these merely coincidental resemblances to the Eli Manning-led Giants from more than a decade ago?
Turnover in every game
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The Rams turned the ball over at least once in every game this season, yet they still went 10-6 and made the playoffs. The Giants are the last team to also turn it over in every game and still make the playoffs, which is the first major similarity between these teams. Granted, the Rams didn’t turn it over nearly as much as the Giants did – 25 giveaways by L.A. compared to 34 by New York – but turnovers were still a major issue for both teams. Jared Goff committed 17 of the Rams’ turnovers, while Eli Manning threw 20 picks and lost seven fumbles for a total of 27 giveaways. Only four teams since 1994 have made the playoffs after turning the ball over at least once each week, and the Rams and Giants are two of those teams.
Finished season 1-2
(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Neither team entered the postseason playing their best football. The Rams were 9-4 after 13 games, but they finished the season by losing two of their last three games against the Jets and Seahawks. It wasn’t the way they wanted to go into the playoffs, but at least they were able to make the postseason, even as ugly as the finish was. The Giants had a similar story. Also 9-4 through 13 games, the Giants finished their season 1-2 with losses to Washington and the Patriots. They also finished second in their division and were a wild card, but the underdog status didn’t bother New York. Hopefully that also proves to be the case for the Rams, who will have to win three road playoff games to reach the Super Bowl, just as the Giants did.
Averaged exactly 23.3 points per game
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The NFL has become much more offensively centric, which shows in the statistics. The Rams and Giants each scored exactly 23.3 points per game in their respective seasons. Los Angeles finished 22nd in the NFL, while New York was 14th. Neither offense performed particularly well, though in context, the Giants’ was better than the Rams’. It’s just coincidental that they each averaged 23.3 points per game in very different eras of football.
Won wild-card game by 10 with no turnovers
(AP Photo/Scott Eklund)
As big a problem as ball security was for both the Rams and the 2007 Giants, they each won in similar fashion in the wild-card round. The Rams beat the Seahawks 30-20 and didn’t turn the ball over a single time. The Giants beat the Bucs 24-14 and also had zero turnovers for the first time that year. The Giants held Tampa Bay to only 271 yards of offense and took the ball away three times. The Rams limited the Seahawks to just 278 total yards and forced two turnovers, including a pick-six. For two teams that struggled to protect the football, they each did a good job of that to open the playoffs.
Underwhelming QB play
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Neither the Rams nor the Giants got great play out of their quarterbacks. Manning started all 16 games and threw 23 touchdown passes with 20 interceptions. Goff missed Week 17, but his numbers were also disappointing: 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Goff was the more capable quarterback and had better numbers, but you could argue that quarterback play is what held both of these teams back. Still, they each got to the playoffs and at least in Manning’s case, played much better when the postseason began; Goff had 155 yards and a touchdown in his first playoff game this year, in relief of John Wolford.
Dominant defensive fronts with 53 sacks each
(AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
One of the major strengths of each of these teams was their defensive front. The Giants were led by Osi Umenyiora, who had 13 sacks and 21 QB hits to go along with five fumbles and 52 total tackles. New York also had Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan in a rotation at defensive end, recording 10 and nine sacks, respectively. Fred Robbins was a key contributor on the interior, as was Barry Cofield. For the Rams, their depth is also exceptional. Aaron Donald is obviously the anchor with 13.5 sacks, 27 QB hits, four forced fumbles and 45 tackles, but he got plenty of help from his friends. Leonard Floyd had a career-high 10.5 sacks with 19 QB hits, Morgan Fox had six sacks, Michael Brockers recorded five and even Samson Ebukam recorded 4.5 of his own. The Giants led the league with 53 sacks in 2007, and the Rams finished second this season, also with 53 sacks.
Strong RB committee
(AP Photo/Mike Fuentes)
Though the Rams have finally found their workhorse in Cam Akers, it was a running back committee for most of the season. They had three players with more than 400 yards rushing, with Akers leading the way by gaining 625 yards compared to Darrell Henderson’s 624; Malcolm Brown rounded out the group with 419 yards. For the Giants, it was a similar story. Brandon Jacobs was the workhorse for most of the year, but he only played 11 games and had 202 carries for 1,009 yards. Derrick Ward rushed for 602 yards himself, while Reuben Droughns had 275 yards and six touchdowns. Ahmad Bradshaw also mixed in 190 yards and a touchdown, too. The ground game was valuable for both teams throughout the year. The Rams finished 10th in rushing with 2,018 yards, while the Giants were fourth in the league that year with 2,148 yards on the ground.
Good on third down
(Keith Birmingham/The Orange County Register via AP)
Third-down offense and defense are critical parts of having success in the NFL, and both the Rams and Giants were solid in each area. The Rams converted 43.4% of the time on third down this season, which ranked 12th in the NFL, and held opponents to a 35.4% conversion rate on third down, third-best in football. The Giants also ranked 12th in third-down offense with a rate of 41.6%, and finished fifth in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert only 34.6% of the time. Of course, the Giants didn’t have the absolutely dominant defense that the Rams did, with Los Angeles ranking first in most defensive categories this year, but New York was seventh in yards allowed, 11th in passing yards allowed and eighth against the run. Like the Rams, it was their offense that struggled to pull its weight.