Sunday’s Eagles game means nothing, but there are other NFL games this weekend that have a lot on the line in the NFC playoff race. Specifically, who the Eagles could face in the playoffs is still TBD, and one team might actually be trying to lose in order to set up the chance at facing the Birds in the Divisional playoff round.
While Doug Pederson is tasked with resting players in Week 17 to get his roster healthy for the playoffs, having already locked up both a first-round bye and home field advantage, the Vikings, Rams, Saints, Panthers, Falcons and Seahawks still have a lot to play for. Either Seattle or Atlanta will make the playoffs — Atlanta is in with a win, Seattle needs to win and have the Falcons lose — while the Panthers could still earn a first-round bye if they win and the Vikings, Rams and Saints all lose.
The Rams are currently in the No. 3 slot in the NFC playoffs, ahead of the Saints and Panthers based on tiebreakers, so if the Rams win this week against the red-hot 49ers, they lock up the No. 3 seed, host the No. 6 seed and then would set up a trip to face the No. 2 seed, which will almost certainly be Minnesota. (The Vikings get the No. 2 seed with a win, a Rams or Saints win or a Panthers loss.)
If the Rams lose, however, they will only stay the No. 3 seed if both the Panthers and Saints lose. That’s unlikely, which is why the Rams shouldn’t be one of the teams thinking about resting players this weekend.
Except they are.
“Being locked into that third or fourth seed — every single game is important — but I think it will provide an opportunity for us to potentially get some guys healthier, rest them, give some other guys a chance to step up,” McVay said Tuesday, via the Rams’ official website. “How that affects the guys that are healthy that we want to be smart with is going to be determined as the week progresses.”
It makes sense headed into the playoffs to rest players who are banged up, but suggesting the team may not play healthy players in a game that could determine playoff seeding doesn’t make sense. Unless…
“It is one of those deals where I think you might see us rest some guys and use this week where, you don’t ever take anything for granted,” McVay said, “but knowing that you do have a home playoff game regardless of how things play out, this might provide an opportunity for us to get some guys healthy.
“That’s a luxury that we want to take advantage of. And everything that we do is what we think is best for our football team.”
In other words, McVay thinks that what’s best for the Rams football team is finishing with the No. 4 seed and setting up a second-round game with the Eagles.
With a win, the Rams will host either the Falcons or Seahawks. Both play at home in Week 17, but the Falcons have to face Carolina. While the Rams went up to Seattle and crushed the Seahawks two weeks ago, they did lose to them at home early in Week 5. Carolina and New Orleans are both better teams than the Falcons or Seahawks, but if the Rams are looking at a possible Super Bowl run, which path looks better?
- No 4 seed: Home vs. Panthers/Saints, Away at Philly
- No. 3 seed: Home vs. Falcons/Seahawks, Away at Minnesota
The likely option for the No. 3 seed in the playoffs will be to host Matt Ryan and the defending NFC champions Falcons or Russell Wilson in the Wild Card round — Wilson is 8-4 in the postseason but Seattle has at least one playoff win in every season since 2012 — then go to Minnesota in the divisional round.
The option for the No. 4 seed is to host whichever team in the NFC South doesn’t win the division between the Saints and Panthers before heading to Philly where Nick Foles is waiting.
Yes, there’s a chance the No. 4 seed could still face the No. 2 should the No. 6 seed win in the Wild Card round against the No. 3. And the Falcons did split with the Saints. So resting guys to get the No. 4 seed could theoretically backfire on the Rams.
Still, even just playing the percentages this is a no brainer. The Rams beat the Saints in Los Angeles earlier in the season and while they did lose at home to the Eagles and Nick Foles did finish that game, the only team that really held the offense in check this season was the Vikings.
It would be worth the risk of facing Drew Brees or Cam Newton in the first round to avoid Minnesota in the second round. If Atlanta beats Carolina to get into the playoffs they be a tough No. 6 seed to face in the first round anyway. Facing either No. 6 seed is probably an easier game than the other two NFC South opponents, but, again, the Vikings or the Eagles: Who would you rather face?
It’s clear, reading McVay’s comments he’d rather give some key players some rest and set up a path to face the Eagles, then possibly get the Vikings in the NFC title game.
The only way to do that is to lose.
Make note, the Saints and Panthers would also both like to set up a path against the Eagles, not the Vikings in the second round. But either of those two teams losing this weekend would likely put them on the road in the first round. It’s only the Rams of those three who are guaranteed a home game win or lose. And it really feels like the smart play would be to lose.