The Los Angeles Rams are the “rags to riches’ story of the year.
After a decade of wallowing in mediocrity, a new head coach energized the franchise, took the talent he was given, and carved out an elite team that is strong in every aspect of the game.
Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in NFL history, took last year’s losers (4-12) to the top of the NFC West (11-5) for their first playoff appearance since 2004.
McVay showed some tactical savvy uncommon to his years.
McVay also showed some tactical savvy uncommon to his years.
He understood that a win against the San Francisco 49ers in their regular season finale would not change the Rams seed position (#3) or give them any advantage.
However, a loss to the Niners, coupled with a victory by one or more of the strong and favored teams, would drop the Rams into the #4 seed and set them up to play the Philadelphia Eagles, in the #1 seed.
That seems counterintuitive on the face of it, but the Eagles recently suffered the loss of their star quarterback, and now pose much less of a threat than the #2 seeded Minnesota Vikings.
So McVay rested his starters for their last game, and things played out as expected…kind of.
San Francisco received the kickoff and red-hot replacement QB Jimmy Garoppolo stitched his way across the field to set up a field goal.
The Rams went three and out.
Garoppolo then mowed 82-yards of lawn for a touchdown.
The Rams went three and out.
Do you see a pattern developing?
The teams exchanged field goals before the 49ers scored on an 8-yard rush and Los Angeles put up a field goal off of an interception to end the half, 20-6.
Back from the locker room the pattern continued.
L.A. went three and out (twice) before the Niners scored a TD, recovered a Rams fumble, and scored another TD, 34-6.
The Rams put up points on their next possession with their only TD of the game, and a final score of 34-13.
McVay kept his starters safe and took the loss…but that was the only part of his scheme that came to fruition.
In one of the worst cases of “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” not one of the teams that were “expected” to win, came through.
The Eagles lost (at home) to the Dallas Cowboys on a single TD scored in the 4th Quarter, 6-0. Jerry’s kids didn’t even make the point after try.
That game had no effect on the playoff brackets; but it did reinforce what McVay was thinking.
The Seattle Seahawks lost to the Arizona Cardinals, and were eliminated from the playoffs.
The Atlanta Falcons whipped the Carolina Panthers, 22-10.
Panthers QB Cam Newton was held to a single TD, his jersey got ground in the dirt twice on two sacks, he fumbled twice, and he threw three interceptions.
But the real shocker was the game in Tampa Bay that gives credence to the idiom “on any given day.” The highly favored New Orleans Saints could not pull away from the Buccaneers and suffered a 31-24 upset.
This sent McVay’s blueprints up in smoke.
It rearranged all the seeding around the Rams so that Los Angeles was still the #3 seed.
The Panthers play the Saints on Sunday, in next weekend’s Wild Card Round. And coming off of a short week the Rams will host the Falcons on Saturday.
If the Rams can get past Atlanta they will face the Vikings in Minnesota in the Divisional Round, on January the 14.
God Bless and a special Happy Birthday to my beautiful niece Shawna!
Mark Felicetti is no longer welcome at yet another New Year’s Eve venue. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.