It is hard to believe that a team based in Los Angeles can fly under the radar, but with a certain 24-hour all-sports network’s unhealthy obsession with the Dallas Cowboys, plus the rather-eventful offseason of reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, plus the buzz surrounding champion Tampa Bay becoming the first team during the Super Bowl era to return all 22 offensive and defensive starters, it was easy to ‘lose’ the Rams.
When division-rival Arizona drew first blood with a decisive victory at Los Angeles in Week 4, and a few weeks later LA stumbling to three straight losses, the odds of the Rams being a Super Bowl team began to tumble.
Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Dallas are no longer playing, and the Rams are favored to make it to the Super Bowl. At +200, only the Kansas City Chiefs (=125) have lower odds to win the Super Bowl.
With the Rams not only in the NFC title game, but getting to play at home, let’s take a look at how the Rams got into this position.
Rams In the Rearview Mirror
Rams go all in following 2020 playoff exit
After being eliminated by the Green Bay Packers, coming two wins shy of securing the franchise’s first Super Bowl title in more than 20 years, the Los Angeles Rams made it clear that no stone would be left unturned in the quest for championship glory.
The Rams acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford in a deal that sent quarterback Jared Goff-and two first-round picks and a third-rounder-to the Lions before the 2021 NFL draft.
That left the Rams without a No. 1 pick and their top draft pick (Tutu Atwell) playing a total of 10 offensive snaps this season. The wheeling and dealing didn’t stop there. The Rams traded a second- and third-round pick in 2022 to acquire seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller from the Broncos. Then, when receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wore out his welcome in Cleveland, forcing his way onto the waiver wire, the Rams quickly picked him up.
The results of those moves weren’t always evident during the regular season, but once the playoffs started, the trio has played key roles in Los Angeles advancing to the NFC championship game for the first time since after the 2001 season.
The Rams were at -200 to make the playoffs and, at +1200, were among the Super Bowl favorites among those who bet online.
Stafford, Rams hit a few bumps in the road
It didn’t matter that the Rams welcomed the Super Bowl champions to town in Week 3, building a pair of 17-point leads en route to the 34-24 win over Tampa Bay. That was the only time all season that the NFL picks against the spread listed Los Angeles as underdogs at home.
Losses to playoff-bound Tennessee, San Francisco and Green Bay had many wondering out loud if the Rams had what it took to emerge from the star-studded NFC. It didn’t help that Stafford had five touchdown passes and five interceptions in those three losses. He wasn’t anything like the second coming of Kurt Warner who guided the Rams to the Promised Land following the 1999 season and did so again two years later.
Miller was brought in to join four-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd, giving the Rams a terrifying pass-rushing trio.
The signing of Beckham Jr. helped ease the loss of Robert Woods, giving defenses somebody other than Cooper Kupp and promising young receiver Van Jefferson to worry about.
Winning five straight games-including the rematch with Arizona-allowed LA assume control of the NFC West. The Rams backed into the division title as Arizona was losing to the Seahawks while LA lost at home to San Francisco in the regular-season finale.
Getting hot at the right time
A year ago the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t exactly enter the playoffs with tons of confidence. However, a veteran quarterback named Tom Brady made the throws he needed, the defense added timely turnovers and the front seven took advantage of injuries to opponents’ star offensive linemen. All that led by three road playoff wins before dismantling defending champion Kansas City (at home) in the Super Bowl.
With Cam Akers returning (after it was thought that a torn Achilles tendon would sideline him for the entire season), Kupp continuing with his breakthrough season and Stafford showing why he was obtained, the offense scored 64 points in two playoff games.
Miller thrived on a defense where he wasn’t constantly being double-teamed, as was the case in Denver. With Tampa’s right tackle Tristan Wirfs out (ankle), the Rams tormented Josh Wells so Brady couldn’t do Brady things.
Things got a little interesting at the end of the game, as the Rams’ turnover issues reappeared at the worst time. Subsequently, the Buccaneers rallied from a 27-3 hole to tie the game. Fortunately for the Rams, Tampa’s defensive coaches decided to have the team’s third-best cornerback, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and second-year safety, Antoine Winfield Jr., attempt to handle Kupp on the two most important plays of the season to date.
Those two catches from the player who led the NFL in catches and receiving yards during the regular season led to Matt Gay’s game-winning field goal and a third date with the 49ers, this one for the NFC title
Now the Rams have a chance to get starting offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth back.
A few Rams injury updates, per Sean McVay:
-LT Joe Noteboom strained a pec late in game and will be monitored this week
-LT Andrew Whitworth will practice and is on track for Sunday
-S Taylor Rapp is making progress through the concussion protocol
— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) January 25, 2022
The Rams were 5-1 in their last six games when listed by the Las Vegas odds as favorites and will head into the NFC championship game as 3½-point choices.
Los Angeles’ recent playoff history as a betting favorite has been spotty at best, as the Rams are 2-3 in the last five postseason games when favored. As the spread favorites, they’re 3-6-1 in their last 10 playoff contests .