For the Los Angeles Rams, the 2021 season was always about getting to the bye week. If they could set themselves up with wins against lesser teams in the first half, it would put them in good position at the Week 11 bye. Well, the Rams did just that.
Through 11 weeks, the Rams hold the fifth seed in the NFC. If it weren’t for the Arizona Cardinals, they would be playing for the top seed in the NFC this week at Lambeau Field. Still, the Rams have to feel pretty good about where they’re at despite losing their last two games.
The Green Bay Packers have lost two of their last three games – yes, one of those was without Aaron Rodgers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have also lost two of their last three games, losing surprising games to the New Orleans Saints and Washington Football Team. After their loss to the Raiders on Thanksgiving, the Dallas Cowboys have lost three of their last four.
The NFL is often about peaking at the right now. As it stands, everyone in the NFC seems to be in a valley. There is one dominant team right now and it’s the Cardinals. You know a team is complete when you’re winning games with Colt McCoy at quarterback.
Everybody else has lost multiple games they shouldn’t have. Dallas has now lost two games to average teams in the AFC West. The Buccaneers have lost to a below average Washington Football Team and average Saints team on the road. The Packers came up short last week on the road against Minnesota.
Teams in the NFL are usually good and capable of winning every Sunday. There may be one exception like the Detroit Lions this year. However, for the most part, if you don’t play your ‘A-game’, teams can usually take advantage. That was the case before the bye against the Titans and 49ers for the Rams.
Losses in Week 9 and 10 don’t usually decide your end of season fate. The Los Angeles Rams sit right where the did a season ago, but last year they stumbled down the stretch, going 3-3. Two of those losses came to a Nick Mullens-led 49ers team in Los Angeles and a 0-13 New York Jets team. Those losses cost the Rams playoff seeding.
The real season begins this week and for the most part, the Rams are in control of their own destiny. They’ll need some help with the Cardinals. Due to division record, even if the Rams beat Arizona in Week 13, the Cardinals would still hold the NFC West lead. The Rams will need to hope for an extra Cardinals loss or for the Seahawks to steal a win in Week 18.
Aside from that, the Rams play the Packers this week and can get a much needed advantage in head to head. A win against the Packers would give the Rams a tiebreaker over Green Bay and Tampa Bay. That could go a long way if the Rams can manage to jump the Cardinals.
As mentioned, the Rams play the Cardinals in Week 13, host Seattle in Week 14, and then will have a highly touted game at Minnesota in Week 15. Depending on how games go, that Week 15 game could go a long way for wild card seeding as the Vikings trail the Rams by two games and play just one team with a winning record before then.
The Los Angeles Rams finish the season at Baltimore before hosting San Francisco in Week 18. That final game against the 49ers could have a lot riding on it. San Francisco’s playoff hopes could very likely ride on winning that game.
Whether the Rams host a playoff game at SoFi Stadium or whether or not they get an all-important bye week hinges on how the team performs over these next seven weeks. Last season, both teams who got a bye week ended up in the conference championship game. Only one of the four teams came from the wild card round and that team went on to win the Super Bowl.
Getting that bye is extremely important. At the very least, the Rams don’t want to be traveling for three straight weeks in the playoffs.
This season was all about winning games when they mattered most. That’s why the team traded for Matthew Stafford. It’s why they gave up second and third round picks for Von Miller. Signing Odell Beckham Jr. can also be factored into that equation as well. With the Super Bowl in Los Angeles, the Rams want to be in that game. Making their road easier to get their starts this week in Green Bay.
Five Los Angeles Rams Players to Watch
1. DL Aaron Donald
It doesn’t get talked a lot about because it’s Aaron Donald, but we have yet to see a classic “Aaron Donald game” this year. Donald only one multiple-sack game this season and six sacks. Both are his fewest through 10 weeks since 2017. We all know Donald’s effect doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet. He creates a lot for other players on the defense. Still, the Los Angeles Rams need a big second-half from their three-time defensive player of the year.
Donald wasn’t 100% during the playoff game last season against the Packers. It was obvious the injury had an effect. This year he’ll be healthy and Aaron Rodgers will be dealing with a hurt offensive line and injured toe. Donald should be looking to feast.
2. QB Matthew Stafford
These next seven games are why the Rams traded for Matthew Stafford. They traded for him to make big plays down the stretch in November and December. Stafford is coming off of his worst two games with the Rams. They’ll need him to get back to his early season form.
It won’t be easy. The Rams are dealing with some injuries of their own on the offensive line and at wide receiver. They’ve been in a funk offensively with no identity or semblance of a run game. Stafford needs to put the offense on his shoulders and take them where they need to go.
3. EDGE Von Miller
We saw Von Miller take the field against the 49ers. However, he only played in 66% of the defensive snaps. It was clear that the Rams were trying to save Miller and get him to 100% for after the bye week. Expect Miller to play a lot more on Sunday and have an effect on the game.
The Packers will be without David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins. That should provide a boost for Miller and give him favorable matchups throughout the afternoon. If the Los Angeles Rams defense is going to play up to their potential, they need a big second half from Miller.
4. CB Darious Williams
The Rams need more out of their young players in the secondary and that starts with Darious Williams. Williams had four interceptions last season and the most important turnover in the playoffs. He has yet to have a turnover this season. Jalen Ramsey is special, but he can’t do it all. It’s important for a player like Williams to step up.
On Sunday, it’s very possible that the Rams use Jalen Ramsey in the slot and move him around as they have all season. That will likely put Williams on DeVante Adams. If the defense is going to get stops, they’re going to need Williams to step up in a big way.
5. LB Ernest Jones
Troy Reeder went into the bye week struggling on all fronts. The linebacker out of Delaware missed tackles and was poor in coverage. The Los Angeles Rams traded Kenny Young to the Denver Broncos because of their confidence in Jones. Coming out of the bye week, it would not be surprising to see Jones get more involved.
With an less than 100% Aaron Rodgers, the Packers will likely rely on the run game. This is going to require the Rams linebackers and defensive backs to make tackles, specifically in the run game. Doing so won’t be easy in 37 degree temperatures.
Five Keys to Victory for the Los Angeles Rams
1. Make Aaron Rodgers Uncomfortable
The Packers have lost just one game with Rodgers under center this season. In that game, Rodgers was sacked twice and under duress by the Saints defense which forced him into two turnovers. Rodgers makes a lot of plays because of his athleticism and ability to escape the pocket. With a hurt toe, that could effect him and his ability to make those types of plays.
If the Los Angeles Rams want to beat the Packers, getting to Aaron Rodgers is the top priority. Winning a game on the road in Lambeau Field won’t be easy. Green Bay has lost just two games at home in the regular season under head coach Matt LaFleur.
2. Tackle on Defense
With a less than 100% Aaron Rodgers, the Packers could look to rely on Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Jones is also less than 100%, but he practiced on Thursday. If he doesn’t go, Dillon is more than capable of carrying the load. On a cold day in Green Bay, even with a hurt offensive line, hurt quarterback, and hurt running back, the Packers could rely on the run. The Packers are going to force the Rams defensive backs to come up and make tackles they don’t want to make.
3. Adjust on Defense
Like Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur is going to come out with a gameplan to take Jalen Ramsey out of the game. The 49ers utilized pre-snap motion to move the play away from Ramsey and it worked. Last season, Aaron Rodgers recorded a league-high 37 touchdowns, just four interceptions, and a league-high passer rating of 128.2 with pre-snap motion.
After playing the 49ers, the good news is that the Rams have seen it. However, they’re going to need to be able to adjust on the fly. If they can’t, even on a hurt toe, Rodgers can still do plenty with his arm.
4. Utilize the Downfield Passing Game
The Green Bay Packers would once again be without Jaire Alexander and Kevin King is also injured. The Packers will be relying on young cornerbacks to cover a dominant Rams passing attack. Kirk Cousins played aggressive last week and it paid off with Justin Jefferson having 169 yards.
The focus will be on Cooper Kupp, but it’s hard not to see the Rams receiver being able to have that type of game against a banged up Packers secondary. The Los Angeles Rams need to be able to utilize the downfield passing game that worked early in the season to create big plays.
5. Win The Physical Battles
For the Rams, this begins in the run game. The Rams need to be able to take the physicality to the Packers. According to Football Outsiders, the Green Bay Packers rank 26th against the run in DVOA. The Packers are allowing 4.4 yards per carry which is tied for the eighth most in the NFL.
The Packers give up a first down on a league-high 29.2% of carries. There’s been a lot of talk about the Rams run game this week and they’re going to need it in Green Bay. In a game with a high of 35 degree temperatures, running the football is going to play a big role. McVay needs to work the rushing attack into the offense and stick with it.
Five Matchups To Watch
1. Raheem Morris vs. Matt LaFleur
This is going to be the coaching matchup that all eyes will be on during Sunday’s game. The Los Angeles Rams need a good performance by their defense if they’re going to win this game. Meanwhile, LaFleur has been one of the best offensive play callers during his time in Green Bay.
LaFleur likely watched what happened against the Rams taking on Kyle Shanahan’s offense. It’s likely the Rams see a lot of the same type of stuff to take Ramsey out of the game. Morris needs to be able to adjust.
2. Cooper Kupp vs. Chandon Sullivan
Cooper Kupp has dominated from the slot this season. The Rams wide receiver leads the NFL in receiving yards and is having a Pro Bowl year. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 71% of their passes against Sullivan. Sullivan also struggles in limiting yards after the catch. The Packers cornerback has allowed 190 yards in YAC, which is the 16th most among cornerbacks.
3. Von Miller vs. Yosh Nijman
The Packers are without their top two left tackled. David Bakhtiari is out and Elgton Jenkins who moved over from guard tore his ACL. That leaves the Packers with Nijman. With that said, Nijman has actually performed well at left tackle. In his first career start against the 49ers, Nijman did not allow a single pressure. This is a matchup the Rams need to be able to exploit if they’re going to get to Aaron Rodgers.
4. David Edwards vs. Kenny Clark
The interior of the Los Angeles Rams offensive line has struggled over the last two weeks. They’ll need to clean that up in the second half of the season. Much like 2019, if teams can get pressure up the middle, it’s difficult for the Rams to create on offense. Even with a more mobile quarterback like Stafford, he still needs a pocket to step into.
Clark has 30 total pressures this season which ranks third in the NFL. The Rams let Jeffrey Simmons disrupt the game against the Titans. They can’t allow Clark to have the same effect. This is a matchup that the Rams have to win.
5. Rams Secondary vs. DeVante Adams
DeVante Adams had nine receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown in last season’s playoff game. The Rams need to be able to limit Adams as best they can. He’s a star player and therefore, he’s going to make plays. However, the Rams just can’t allow him to make the play that kills them.
We’ve seen enough of the Rams defense to know that it won’t simply be Jalen Ramsey on Adams. With that said, guys like Darious Williams, Dont’e Deayon, and others need to step up.
Five Bold Predictions for the Los Angeles Rams
1. The Los Angeles Rams Sack Rodgers Four Times
Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 20 times this season. That’s an average of twice per game. However, on a bad foot with an injured offensive line, the Rams could have success getting to Rodgers. The Rams defense ranks fifth in sacks and have constantly gotten to the quarterback this season.
2. Aaron Rodgers Has a Passer Rating Less Than 90
The Los Angeles Rams defense for the most part this season has given opposing quarterbacks fits. Even Ryan Tannehill only had a passer rating of 79.7. Rodgers has had a passer rating over 90 in all but two games this season. Two of his three worst passer ratings have come against NFC West teams. Holding Rodgers to a passer rating less than 90 doesn’t guarantee a win, but it certainly gives the Rams a chance.
3. Cooper Kupp Outperforms Justin Jefferson
Last week, Justin Jefferson had eight receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a tough stat-line to beat. However, the Packers secondary will be banged up once again and Kupp has over 100 yards in four of his last five games. Against the 49ers he had 122 yards on 11 receptions.
The Rams are going to need a big afternoon from Kupp if they’re going to beat the Packers. If Justin Jefferson had a big day last week, Kupp has a chance to have similar or more success.
4. The Rams Defense Holds Green Bay to Under 20 Points
While the Packers have a good offense, they haven’t exploded offensively this season. Last week’s performance against the Vikings was their best this season and only marked the second time they’ve exceeded 30 points. The Rams defense, meanwhile, outside of the Cardinals and 49ers games, have limited opponents points. The Packers have the 24th ranked red zone offense scoring touchdowns just 55.8% of the time. With that being the case, the Rams should be able to limit points.
5. The Rams Offense Gets Back on Track
Over the last two weeks, the Los Angeles Rams offense has lacked an identity and scored just 12 points outside of garbage time. Sean McVay has had a week to self scout and work out the issues that were giving the offense troubles. The Packers defense has played well in moments, but with a banged up secondary, the Rams should have some success. Expect McVay to get back to the basics and get the run game working as well.
Five Storylines to Follow
1. Playoff Rematch
The Los Angeles Rams took on the Packers last season in the divisional round and fell just short, 32-18. Aaron Donald wasn’t 100% and the Packers offense moved the ball at ease. It was by far the worst performance from Brandon Staley’s defense. Donald will be healthy and the Rams will have a new quarterback under center in Matthew Stafford.
2. Master vs. Apprentice
In 2017, Sean McVay hired Matt LaFleur as his offensive coordinator. LaFleur left after 2017 to call plays for the Tennessee Titans and has since put together back-to-back 13-3 seasons and NFC Championship appearances. This will be just the second time that the two teams have played since LaFleur took over.
3. A Battle of NFC Juggernauts
The Packers and Rams are two of the best teams in the NFC. The Packers sit at 8-3 while the Rams are 7-3. It wouldn’t be surprising if these two teams go head to head once again come playoff time. These are two of the NFL’s best teams for a reason and they’ll be ready to put on a show on Sunday.
4. Matthew Stafford vs. Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers has an 11-4 head-to-head record against Stafford with Stafford last edging Rodgers in 2018 in Detroit. Stafford’s lone win at Green Bay against Rodgers came in 2015. It’ll be a toasty 35 degrees on Sunday at Lambeau. In cold weather games, Stafford is 6-8 with two wins in Green Bay – none against Rodgers.
Stafford’s best game in cold weather came in a 502 yard, five touchdown performance in a 45-41 loss in Green Bay in 2021. He threw for 402 yards and three touchdowns in a win against Chicago last year. These two quarterbacks have a lot of respect for each other and this will be the first time Stafford will face Rodgers in a Los Angeles Rams uniform.
5. LaFleur Has Never Lost Two Straight Games
Matt LaFleur has never lost two straight games in the NFL. Under LaFleur the Packers have always followed a loss with a win the next week. The Packers come into this game after a loss against the Vikings on the road. The Rams have lost five of their last six games at Lambeau Field and haven’t won in Green Bay since 2006.
I’ve been conflicted about this game for two weeks. Following the 49ers game, I saw this as another loss for the Los Angeles Rams. However, earlier in the week, I was feeling optimistic. It’s not always about who you play, but when you play them. It feels like the Rams are catching the Packers at the right time. Green Bay will be without several significant players. Still, the Rams need to be able to execute.
If this game were in September or early October, I might be more optimistic. The temperature will be at around 35 degrees on Sunday which doesn’t bode well for a team from Los Angeles. Lambeau Field is a tough place to play, and the Packers have lost just two games at Lambeau Field under LaFleur. That record is 7-0 after Week 10.
It wouldn’t be surprising for the Rams to win this game. There’s a reason that the Rams are favored by a point. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t practiced all week and this is a team that is dealing with injuries. I haven’t picked the Rams to lose yet this season, but this might be the one.
Packers 23, Rams 20