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There’s just one week left in the regular season and the playoff picture is becoming clearer in the NFC. Six of the seven spots have been secured already, with the 49ers and Saints battling for the final wild-card slot.
The Packers have clinched the No. 1 seed and both the Cowboys and Bucs already won their divisions, leaving the NFC West as the only division still up for grabs.
As a result, the Rams – who are currently the No. 2 seed – could finish anywhere from second to fifth in the conference. A win over the 49ers on Sunday secures the No. 2 seed, but a loss and a Cardinals win drops Los Angeles all the way to fifth.
With so much still to be determined in the NFC, the Rams have five potential opponents in the wild-card round. Not all of them are easy, though, with two of the five being divisional foes.
Here are those five potential first-round matchups ranked from easiest to toughest.
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Scenario: Rams earn 2nd seed, Saints finish 7th
There’s no doubt the Saints would be the Rams’ most favorable matchup in the first round. They’ve won just three games since the start of November, beating the Jets, Buccaneers and Panthers. During that stretch, they lost to the Falcons, Titans, Eagles, Bills, Cowboys and Dolphins.
Their defense is playoff-worthy but the offense simply doesn’t have what it takes to win in January. New Orleans has scored a total of 30 points in its last three games, and though some of that is due to constant shuffling at quarterback, there just aren’t enough playmakers to keep up with better teams.
The Rams probably wouldn’t have much trouble with New Orleans in the first round as long as the offense could manage to score more than 20 points.
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Scenario: Rams earn 2nd seed, Eagles finish 7th
The Eagles really haven’t beaten anyone this season. Their nine wins came against Washington (twice), the Giants, Jets, Broncos, Saints, Lions, Panthers and Falcons. It’s possible none of their victories will have come against playoff teams, depending on whether they beat the Cowboys on Sunday.
What makes the Eagles slightly tougher than the Saints is their style on offense. They don’t turn it over very often, they run the ball well and have a mobile quarterback who could give the Rams trouble.
Los Angeles has struggled against the 49ers’ offense and it’s not unreasonable to think the Eagles could pose similar challenges. Their defense is playing relatively well, too, allowing the sixth-fewest yards and eighth-fewest points this season.
San Francisco 49ers
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Scenario: Rams earn 2nd or 3rd seed, 49ers finish 6th or 7th
You might be surprised that the 49ers aren’t higher on this list, given the fact that they’ve beaten the Rams in each of their last five meetings. However, winning in the playoffs often comes down to quarterback play, and neither of San Francisco’s QBs are terribly threatening.
Jimmy Garoppolo holds this team back with poor decisions and inaccuracy, while Trey Lance could potentially have his third career start in the NFL come in the playoffs – depending on Garoppolo’s health.
The 49ers are beatable if the Rams simply take care of the football and contain Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. Their defense isn’t as good as it was during their Super Bowl run, and their quarterbacks are limited.
The Rams should fear the Cardinals and Cowboys more than San Francisco.
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Scenario: Rams finish 5th, Cowboys earn 4th seed
The Cowboys looked great against Washington last week. They looked terrible against the Cardinals this week. They’ve been inconsistent throughout the year, losing to the Broncos and Raiders but also beating the Chargers and Patriots. They still don’t have a signature win, but they’re not a team you really want to face in the playoffs.
They’re the highest-scoring offense in the league and boast a defense that leads the NFL in takeaways. Not to mention, if the Rams do wind up facing the Cowboys, it would be on the road in Dallas.
The Rams would still probably be favored against the Cowboys, but this is an offense that can put up points in a hurry when it’s clicking, and the defense has playmakers at all three levels.
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Scenario: Rams earn 4th seed, Cardinals finish 5th
Yes, the Rams beat the Cardinals comfortably in Week 14 despite being shorthanded due to COVID-19. Yes, they’ve won nine of their last 10 games against Arizona.
No, the Cardinals are not a team you want to face in the playoffs. Assuming they get back DeAndre Hopkins for the postseason and their health overall improves in the next two weeks, the Cardinals are a difficult opponent – even for the Rams.
They dismantled the Rams back in Week 4, dominating them 37-20 at SoFi Stadium. Their offense isn’t playing as well as it was earlier in the season, but this would be a tough matchup for Los Angeles.
Kyler Murray is a game-changer, Hopkins is a star receiver, Jame Conner and Chase Edmonds are a dynamic running back tandem and Byron Murphy Jr. has had a great season in the secondary. Chandler Jones is a premier pass rusher, too.
The Rams should hope they don’t have to face one of the best teams in football to open the playoffs.