Overview: This is not quite a must-win for the Rams, but it is very close to being a "must play a well game." We'll be blunt here—the Rams have been el stinko the last two games. They've been getting overwhelmed by the Tennessee Titans and the San Francisco 49ers. One more dismal performance similar to those two games will be serious questions about how valid the 2021 Los Angeles Rams are. Let's say that again for emphasis—serious questions.
If the Rams play well and lose on a last-second field goal, 24-23—OK, you don't like losing, but that's football. These are the Green Bay Packers, one of the best teams in the NFL; It happens. Such a loss will probably eliminate any chance the Rams have at the NFC West division title, but they are alive and well to fight another day, albeit it may be as a wild card team come playoff time. Tampa Bay went that route last year and snagged a Lombardi Trophy.
But if they get pulverized, say 35-10, and get beaten physically—again--then maybe the time will have come to admit the Rams aren't all that. Of course, you still play out the schedule to the best of your ability. We fans will continue to cheer on our team. But any illusions of a home Super Bowl game in 2022 will be on life support.
Rams Offense vs. Packers Defense: This matchup isn't JUST about scoring points, although they need to do that to win. But Matthew Stafford can't keep throwing stupid picks either.
The Rams gave up three draft choices—including two number ones—and a starting quarterback who was a former first overall pick not to get Jared Goff-style turnovers. The problem is that after looking like an MVP candidate, Stafford has started looking like, well, Jared Goff. And we don't mean the good Jared Goff who once outdueled Patrick Mahomes in a nationally-televised shootout on the way to a Super Bowl. We suggest the bad Jared Goff from, say, 2020. Or the Jared Goff who currently resides in Detroit.
For whatever reason, in two consecutive games, Stafford has given opponents touchdowns with "what was he thinking" pass attempts that turned into points for the opponent. That needs to end.
Enough on that, but it needed to be said. On the plus side, the Rams should have had enough time to integrate Orlando Beckham Jr. into the offensive game plan. It wasn't that long ago that OBJ was considered an elite player, maybe the best wide receiver in the game. Suppose he can be even 80 percent of that guy going forward. It will give the Rams a big-play, explosive-type weapon who can be a real game-changer. It will also keep the Packers from going all-out to neutralize Cooper Kupp, who's having a monster season, probably the best of any receiver in the NFL.
Speaking of Kupp, he'll likely be seeing a lot of Packers cornerback Chandon Sullivan, who lies typically up against the opposing slot receiver. On paper, this is a significant advantage to the Rams, but you have to figure that Green Bay will try to get Sullivan some help. The rookie corner isn't a good bet to shut down Kupp one-on-one.
The Packers expected to be without cornerback Kevin King as of Saturday afternoon, which doesn't help. But the Packers need to limit Kupp at least to win this game. Green Bay is also without corner Jaire Alexander, who would probably see a lot of Kupp if he was healthy.
Overall, you have to like Ram's chances against this banged-up secondary. Of course, if Green Bay can follow San Francisco's lead and eat up the clock with long drives on offense, that advantage will shrink considerably.
Upfront, the Rams interior line needs to contain Packers tackle Kenny Clark. Interior pressure is more disruptive than edge pressure, and if Clark is in Stafford's face all day, this could get ugly.
The weather forecast in Green Bay is for temps in the 20s and 30s. Not Southern California weather, but not the kind of thing that will ground the Rams offense either.
You could make an argument that the Rams should go ground and pound if only to keep Rodgers on the sidelines. But McVay doesn't seem inclined to go that route this season, for whatever reason.
That could change on Sunday, especially with two weeks to tweak on offense sputtering recently. It's possible, but based on what we've seen this season, we wouldn't bet the farm on it. Whether McVay doesn't trust running backs Darrel Henderson and Sony Michel or if it's just a matter of being in love with the passing game or if it something else entirely, it just doesn't seem likely to happen.
Suppose Stafford can avoid bad decisions making which plagued him the last two weeks. If the Ram defense does its part not allowing long, clock-killing drives ( like the Niners used a couple of weeks ago), the Rams should put up points against a banged-up Packer defense. Those are big ifs. However, we are going to check this box for the Rams.
Rams Defense vs. Packers Offense: Green Bay will be without 60 percent of its starting offensive line in this game. Tackle David Bakhtiari and guard Elgton Jenkins are all-pro caliber players. Jenkins, before last week, had moved to tackle and was doing a credible job of replacing Bakhtiari. Center Josh Myers is also out. Through last week the Packers reserves had been playing pretty well stepping into the starting roles, but the loss of Jenkins will test that depth further. Asking bench players to step in and take on people like Aaron Donald and Von Miller is asking a lot.
Aaron Rodgers seemed to indicate this week that the Packers may go smashmouth with a run-heavy offense. That strategy certainly worked for San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, and the Rams in that game showed little ability to adjust. Rams DC Raheem Morris needs to develop some effective run-defense strategies for his job security, and the Rams hopes of snagging a Lombardi Trophy.
The Packers run game will probably center around A.J.Dillon, a 250-pound bulldozer of a back who epitomizes the power running game. As written, it's not clear whether Aaron Jones—the lightning in the Packer's thunder and lightning running attack will play, or if so, how much. Either way, the Rams defense has to step up against the run. They blatantly failed to do that against San Francisco, and a similar failure this week could be fatal. In this entire game, that is probably THE number one thing the Rams need to do. Right now, they are getting the reputation of a soft, finesse team that can bully with a strong running game.
That simply HAS to change, or we can probably write off the 2021 Rams as any Super Bowl threat.
One of the marquee matchups in this game will be Packers wideout Davante Adams vs. Rams corner Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey hasn't necessarily locked down the other team's best receiver regularly this season, but we expect to see at least a fair number of these two going at it in this game. That will be worth the price of admission on its own, as it may well put the game's best receiver against the game's best cover corner.
By now, most people know about Aaron Rodgers and his toe injury. The bad toe didn't stop Rodgers from putting up good numbers in a loss to the Vikings last week, but it could limit his mobility. It did keep him off the practice field in preparation for this game this week. But how much practice does he need with this offense at this stage? Probably not much.
There are many x-factors in this matchup, and the chances of the Packers going run-heavy given the Rodgers injury, the injuries up front, and a fierce Rams pass rush seem pretty good. On paper, the Rams have the edge here, but only if they can at least keep the Packer running game in check. That's a massive unknown in this game, so that we will rate this as a tossup.
Special Teams: The Ram's special teams have shown gradual improvement over the season but remain a concern. Placekicking for the Packer's Mason Crosby is much like serving in the Navy—it's not just a job, it's an adventure. Crosby can be outstanding at times; at others, you wonder how he stays employed.
We like the matchup of the Rams Matt Gay vs. Crosby.
But the Rams can't seem to settle on a reliable set of return men. We still aren't fans of Kupp running back punts, but it seems to keep happening on an intermittent basis, if only because of the lack of a natural alternative.
Coaching: We still Like the matchup of Sean McVay vs. his former assistant, Matt LaFleur.
But Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and special teams coach Joe DeCamillis are probably coaching for their jobs. As a Wyoming person, I hate to speak ill of University of Wyoming alum DeCamillis, but the truth is the truth.
We will check the box for the Rams here, but the Packer's edge among assistants makes this very close to a tossup.
Edge: Rams, by the smallest possible margin.
Final Prediction: This game is a real puzzler. We don't know how good the 2021 Rams are at this point. We should have a better idea by the time this one is in the books.
Likewise, the Packers are a banged-up group, and injuries along the offensive line and in the secondary are troubling from their point of view. The usual Green Bay home-field advantage is still somewhat in play this time of year, but the typical 'tundra" is not a factor.
Oddsmakers have gone from favoring Green Bay by one to the Rams by two. Almost anything could happen in this game, from an ugly blowout in either direction to a real nail-biter. Our advice if you are thinking of betting on this game is "don't. But we have to make a prediction, so here it is:
Rams 24 Packers 23
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