Rams now control playoff destiny, proving NFL wrong one week at a time

Ric Tapia - The Sporting Tribune
With Rams on a hot streak, they now look to shock the NFL and get back into the big dance.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Not too long ago, the Rams were sitting at 3-6, and their leader Matthew Stafford looked like he would be out for a significant period of time with a thumb injury. Things looked bleak for a team that had already exceeded some expectations in terms of their play, with many saying that they should sit players and tank the season. 5 games later, the Rams are sitting at 7-7 and in the 7th and final wild card spot in the NFC. So what sparked the resurgence? Let’s dive into it.

With this 2023 Rams team, the story all year has been about resilience and their ability to never give up and fight against teams that are touted as some of the best in the league. Although they did lose to teams such as the 49ers, Eagles, Bengals, and Ravens, they stayed close throughout and even had the lead in some of those matchups. Sean McVay and Raheem Morris have been at the peak of their powers this year, turning lower draft picks and unknown talent into stars and solid, contributing pieces to a playoff hopeful team. 

Puka Nacua now has over 1,000 yards receiving and broke the all-time single season rookie receiving record for the Rams, while Kyren Williams is putting up stats comparable to Todd Gurley’s best years in the blue and gold. Williams has been one of the main reasons why this Rams team has been on a roll after their bye week, providing at least 100 total scrimmage yards in each of the least 5 games. The Rams are 6-4 when Kyren Williams plays, are 4-1 since the bye, and only 1-3 when he does not suit up. Having a solid running back to take the load off of Stafford and the passing game, while also chewing up the clock, has done wonders for the offense. 

A lot of credit has to go to the coaching staff and the front office for some of these draft picks lately. The Rams have not had a first round draft pick since Jared Goff, and even so, they absolutely killed the 2023 NFL draft. Byron Young looks like a promising young edge rusher, Kobie Turner has been fantastic next to Aaron Donald, Ethan Evans has been one of the best punters in the league, and Tutu Atwell has turned his label of “bust” into a dynamic deep threat receiver. Ahkello Witherspoon was a minimum veteran signing who has been graded as one of the best corners in all of football. That is just a few of the names that have made impacts, while others have not even had a chance to get an opportunity yet with such great talent ahead of them. Les Snead and the front office caught a lot of flack for their operations during the off-season, but they have done an incredible job of finding talent with what they had to work with. 

Of course, you can’t win big games and keep your composure without veterans. The three Super Bowl champion superstars have played a huge role in this underdog story of a team. Matthew Stafford should be in serious consideration for Comeback Player of the Year, throwing for 20+ touchdowns, with 9 interceptions and over 3,000 receiving yards at the Week 16 juncture of the season. While Aaron Donald may not have the stats he had in his prime Defensive Player of the Year days, he still causes havoc on the line, and has shown flashes of his old self and dominance at many times throughout the season. Cooper Kupp has had an injury-riddled season thus far, but even he has gotten back to being elite as of Week 16. He has been over 100 yards receiving in multiple games and has been a huge influence on the emergence of Puka Nacua. 

Nobody wants to see this team in the playoffs, and as of Week 16, the Rams have an over 50% chance of getting there. They have already exceeded the line of 6.5 wins set before the season, and although there could have been more wins tallied on to the record by now, this team has been an incredibly fun watch. Even if they don’t make the playoffs or are a “one and done,” this team has an enormously bright future, with over $40 million in cap space and their first round pick in the offseason. I think it’s safe to say that the “Tank for Caleb” campaign is over, and the “Are the Rams back?” narrative is set for a return.