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NFL Power Rankings: Rams didn't go all-in this season to be mediocre

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  • Matthew Stafford
    Matthew Stafford
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The Los Angeles Rams are going to go through the entire month of November without a win. 

That's a little misleading because the Rams had a bye this month, but it was still a lost month for a team that did not expect to drop many games this season. 

We're two-thirds of the way through the season, and it's time to wonder what the Rams really are. They're 7-4, two games behind the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West and the Cardinals already won at Los Angeles. After a three-game losing streak, the reality is the Rams are likely going to be a wild-card team, having to win three straight road games just to make a Super Bowl. Given the Rams' troubles against elite competition this season, it's hard to picture them pulling that off. 

The Rams have faced five teams that are above .500 after Week 12, and they're 1-4 in those games. The losses came by 17, 12, 21 and eight points and none of the four games was competitive. That means the Rams have built their record by going 6-0 against teams that are .500 or less. You can only hold onto the win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for so long. 

Matthew Stafford of the Los Angeles Rams fumbles the ball against the Green Bay Packers. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Matthew Stafford of the Los Angeles Rams fumbles the ball against the Green Bay Packers. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

There are two clear culprits to the relatively disappointing season. First, the defense has regressed in a big way. The Green Bay Packers did whatever they wanted on Sunday in a 36-28 win that wasn't all that close. The Rams rank 21st in points allowed and 15th in yards allowed. They were first in both categories last season. They really seem to miss Brandon Staley, who had a great season as Rams defensive coordinator and took the head-coaching job with the Los Angeles Chargers in the offseason. They also lost safety John Johnson, outside linebacker Samson Ebukam, cornerback Troy Hill and defensive end Morgan Fox in free agency. The cost of trading away draft picks is it wears on your depth and it's harder to replace players who inevitably leave. 

Then there's Matthew Stafford. Stafford hasn't been bad. But the hype surrounding the Sean McVay-Stafford marriage was a bit out of control after the Rams bet big on him. And Stafford has been much worse against the best teams on the Rams' schedule, which was a problem for him in Detroit too. Here are his splits in wins vs. losses (and remember the Rams are getting all their wins against bad and mediocre teams and they're 1-4 against the good ones): 

Wins (7): 162-for-232 (69.8 percent), 2,197 yards, 20 TD, 3 INT, 9.5 yards per attempt, 123.1 rating
Losses (4): 104-for-168 (61.9 percent), 1,119 yards, 7 TD, 6 INT, 6.7 YPA, 80.4 rating

That's a startling difference. The Rams didn't give up a fortune in picks to have Stafford play well against the Houston Texans and Lions. They thought they were getting an elite quarterback, despite Stafford making one Pro Bowl in 12 Lions seasons. Elite quarterbacks play their best against top competition. Stafford hasn't done that. Everyone blamed the malaise of the Lions for Stafford never being an MVP candidate, but maybe he played a role in that too. 

The Rams have the top-end players to make a run, like the Buccaneers did last season as a wild-card team. Odell Beckham Jr. looked good on Sunday. Von Miller will make a much-needed impact on the defense. Stafford has played well at times this season and maybe he can get hot at the right time. It's not like the talent isn't there. 

But there should be more skepticism about this Rams team after November. Eventually, if they want to live up to the preseason hype, they're going to have to beat some good teams. That has been a problem for them so far. 

Here are the power rankings following Week 12 of the NFL season:

32. Detroit Lions (0-10-1, Last Week: 32)

Dan Campbell doesn't have a lot to work with but any 0-10-1 coach is going to get criticism, and him calling timeouts back-to-back against the Bears and being penalized for that doesn't help. “I get the texts and I get the calls, ‘Hey man, hang in there,’” Campbell said, according to MLive. “And so it’s like the more that I get, the more I know there is chatter. I know there’s chatter out there. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be getting all of these calls out of the blue or these texts. I know that, and look, as far as being warranted, when you don’t win a game, I should be getting criticized. I don’t blame anybody for that." 

31. Houston Texans (2-9, LW: 31)

The Texans made safety Justin Reid a healthy scratch Sunday for violating team rules. No details have been reported so maybe disciplining him was a last resort, but it just seems a bit petty by a team that shouldn't be alienating its few star players. 

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9, LW: 29)

Dan Arnold, who had become a big part of Jacksonville's offense after he came over in an early season trade with the Panthers, could miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. That's one fewer weapon for Trevor Lawrence, who is having the type of rookie season that won't provide any answers on whether he's going to be the franchise quarterback everyone had been hoping for. 

29. New York Jets (3-8, LW: 30)

The Jets finally got some defense going, with five sacks. It came against the overwhelmed Texans, but the Jets aren't in a position to look down on any opponent. They'll take progress wherever it comes.

28. New York Giants (4-7, LW: 27)

Saquon Barkley has 260 yards on 73 carries (3.6-yard average) and is averaging just 7.3 yards on 24 receptions. He has been banged up but that's life as an NFL running back. He simply doesn't look explosive, and especially after seeing what Christian McCaffrey is going through with the Panthers, I'm not sure how the Giants can offer Barkley a big extension.  

27. Seattle Seahawks (3-8, LW: 24)

If the Seahawks win six in a row, they'd finish 9-8 and might be a wild-card team. I'm not sure that's worth continuing to play Russell Wilson, who just hasn't looked right since rushing back from finger surgery.

26. Atlanta Falcons (5-6, LW: 28)

Kyle Pitts blew up for back-to-back 100-yard games weeks ago and it seemed he'd be a big factor the rest of the season. In five games since then he hasn't had more than four catches in a game and is averaging 38 yards per game. It's hard for rookie tight ends, but it still seems strange the Falcons can't get him more involved.

25. Chicago Bears (4-7, LW: 26)

Between Justin Fields, David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet, the Bears have some emerging young offensive players. Mooney and Kmet combined for 13 catches and 188 yards on Thanksgiving. With the right coaching staff, it could be a pretty interesting offense over the next few years. 

24. Carolina Panthers (5-7, LW: 22)

Pretty much every big second contract for a running back recently has not worked out, with the exception of Derrick Henry (who is the exception to everything). Christian McCaffrey is a great player and it's understandable why the Panthers paid him, but it was easy to see it turning out exactly as it has. 

23. Miami Dolphins (5-7, LW: 25)

The Dolphins play the Giants this week, then get the Jets. If they win both, they'd be 7-7 heading into games against the offensively challenged Saints and Titans. Then Week 18 will be against the Patriots, who could have their playoff seed determined and sit some starters. Is it likely the Dolphins finish on a nine-game winning streak? Not at all. But the fact that we can't cross them off the list of teams that could conceivably make the playoffs is remarkable after an ugly 1-7 start.

22. Philadelphia Eagles (5-7, LW: 18)

The Eagles can't play Jalen Reagor anymore. He dropped two potential touchdowns Sunday, including a fourth-down drop that went right through his hands at the goal line in the final seconds. He has 12 or fewer yards in seven of 12 games. He had a four-game stretch in which he had four catches for five yards total. And yet, he has played two-thirds of the Eagles' offensive snaps in all but two games. Why?

21. New Orleans Saints (5-6, LW: 19)

It seems the Saints are finally turning to Taysom Hill as their starting quarterback. It's a long time coming, but there were apparently some health concerns with Hill. Maybe Hill can't save the Saints' season but they need to try. 

20. Washington Football Team (5-6, LW: 23)

Somehow, someway, Washington would be in the playoffs as the No. 7 seed if the season ended today. That might sum up this crazy season.

19. Los Angeles Chargers (6-5, LW: 13)

Justin Herbert has thrown 10 interceptions, which is the same amount that he had all last season. He has been given a pass because he was anointed as a star last year and hadn't been terrible this season, but there are still some throws he makes that are way too reckless. He is very good, but there are moments he still looks like an inexperienced quarterback.

18. Denver Broncos (6-5, LW: 21)

Javonte Williams had 54 yards rushing and a touchdown, led Denver with 57 receiving yards and made a few plays that showed again how good he is. The Broncos coaching staff is being strangely stubborn with the rookie. Nothing against Melvin Gordon, who is also playing well, but Williams should be the Broncos' lead back. 

17. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5-1, LW: 16)

The Steelers played their worst game of the season at Cincinnati. It was awful, but since they hadn't been blown out like that all year, it's OK to give them a pass. It was mostly just a reminder that the Steelers are still a limited team and need a lot to line up right to win.

16. Minnesota Vikings (5-6, LW: 12)

Dalvin Cook is going to miss some time after suffering a dislocated shoulder and torn labrum. He hasn't been ruled out for the rest of the season, but you have to assume he's only going to return if the Vikings are still in the playoff race when he's healthy. Even then it doesn't seem like a sure thing.

15. Cleveland Browns (6-6, LW: 14)

Right tackle Jack Conklin's torn patella tendon will finish his season and won't help a Browns offense that is looking worse by the week. They scored 10 points on 12 possessions on Sunday at the Ravens. Maybe the Browns just aren't very good. 

14. Las Vegas Raiders (6-5, LW: 20)

The Raiders saved their season at the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. A big reason was a 134-yard game by Hunter Renfrow, who has turned into one of the best slot receivers in football. It's one of the rare draft picks the Raiders have nailed the past few years.

13. Indianapolis Colts (6-6, LW: 11)

The Colts still have games left against the Patriots and Cardinals. Indianapolis seems like a playoff-quality team, but will they get in? 

12. Tennessee Titans (8-4, LW: 10)

The Titans still have games against the Jaguars and Texans remaining. That might save them from a total free fall. It's not their fault, they were an offense built heavily around three stars and all three are out. They can't compete on offense without Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. 

11. San Francisco 49ers (6-5, LW: 17)

It's obviously unexpected, but Eli Mitchell, a sixth-round rookie, is one of San Francisco's most important players. Mitchell had 133 rushing yards and a touchdown after missing a game due to a broken finger. The 49ers are at their best running the ball and using the passing game off that, and Mitchell is by far the 49ers' best back. He needs to stay healthy.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4, LW: 15)

The Bengals have blown out the Steelers (twice) and Ravens, but have lost to the Jets, Bears and by 25 at home to the Browns. I don't think the Bengals can make a playoff run because they can't string together enough good games in a row, but the future is bright.

9. Los Angeles Rams (7-4, LW: 7)

Odell Beckham Jr. was a clear positive from Sunday. He had five catches for 81 yards and his 54-yard touchdown was a reminder that he still has the ability to hit a home run. Maybe that move will have a big impact down the stretch. At the very least, his performance was a step forward. 

8. Dallas Cowboys (7-4, LW: 5)

We'll get to see if the Cowboys' recent slump is just a byproduct of being without key players on offense. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb should be back this week. The big question might be if Ezekiel Elliott keeps playing through nagging injuries or gets some rest. 

7. Buffalo Bills (7-4, LW: 9)

We really shouldn't have questions about the Bills' ability to smash bad teams, like they did to the depleted Saints on Thanksgiving. They've done that before. It's about finding some consistency and getting some quality wins. They have a chance for one Monday against the Patriots.

6. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4, LW: 8)

The Chiefs are back to sole possession of first place in the AFC West. We probably should have seen that coming, even when they were slumping. 

5. New England Patriots (8-4, LW: 6)

We find out exactly where the Patriots stand Monday when they play at Buffalo. If the Patriots win, they will exit that game as AFC East favorites and maybe favorites in the AFC period. And they have been the better team than Buffalo lately.

4. Baltimore Ravens (8-3, LW: 3)

It's hard to know what to make of the Ravens. They keep winning, and we can't say that about most teams. Yet, every game seems like a struggle. It seems like some regression is coming.  

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3, LW: 4)

Shaq Barrett hadn't had a sack in three straight games before Sunday, when he showed up with two sacks, including a huge strip-sack of Carson Wentz that turned around the game. Getting Barrett going again would be huge for the Bucs the rest of the season.

2. Green Bay Packers (9-3, LW: 2)

Another reminder: The Packers are close to getting three blue-chip players back: left tackle David Bakhtiari, cornerback Jaire Alexander and pass rusher Za'Darius Smith. The Packers have been one of the best teams in the NFL without those three stars at crucial positions. 

1. Arizona Cardinals (9-2, LW: 1)

There was a report that Kliff Kingsbury would be a target of Oklahoma's coaching search, and even J.J. Watt could see the obvious negotiating ploy in the crazy notion that Kingsbury would leave the NFL now. 

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