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
Rams vs. 49ers Preview
Overview: These are complex games to predict. On paper, the Rams have a better team and should win. But that was the case in both 2020 matchups of these traditional rivals, yet the San Francisco 49ers came away with two victories. They have won four in a row, and some think the Niners match up well in these games, regardless of the records.
Some believe that the Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has the magic bullet when beating his old friend and former assistant, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay. We do not believe that, but the records in these games the last couple of years certainly don't disapprove of that idea.
Two other factors are worth mentioning. First of all, the Niners have their backs to the wall, playoff-wise. The division is probably outside of their grasp, but if they have a real shot at even a wildcard slot, this is almost a must-win game for them.
The other factor that is hard to measure here is the loss of Rams wide receiver Robert Woods. "Bobby Trees," as he is sometimes known, is not only an excellent wide receiver, but he is in many ways the heart and soul of the Rams, along with players such as Aaron Donald, Andrew Whitworth, and Matthew Stafford. He epitomizes the "We Not Me" attitude that coach McVay preaches.
His replacement, Odell Beckham Junior, doesn't exactly bring that kind of reputation to L.A.. although, in fairness, he has yet to take a snap as a Ram.
Rams Offense vs. Niners Defense: Despite the generally disappointing performance for the Niners in 2021, most problems have not been on this side of the ball. San Francisco is 8th in the league in yards per game, and they have been giving up 25 points per game so far this season. The points total is a little higher than you would like, but it isn't terrible. They still have Nick Bosa, a pass-rushing terror from his edge rusher position, and Fred Warner is an elite linebacker by any measurement.
The Rams offense is coming off an abysmal performance against Tennessee Titans, one in which the previously-excellent L.A. offensive line got whipped badly on passing downs in particular. That allowed the Titans to rush four and drop seven into coverage. You can bet that San Francisco was taking notes on that defensive strategy.
Did the Ram's offensive line have a terrible game, or are they that bad? Give the Titans some credit, but our opinion is that it was more the former than the latter. It had better be because if the Rams O-line is that bad, the outlook for this team is pretty grim.
Another concern upfront is the possible absence of center Brian Allen for the Rams. The chemistry between the quarterback and center shouldn't be underestimated, especially for a team that operates from the shotgun as often as the Rams do. Hopefully, the extra day of rest for the Rams will help Allen get on the field.
One of the key matchups will involve Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth against defensive end Nick Bosa. As bad as the Rams O-line was last week, Whitworth didn't play bad, probably the only Rams O-lineman of whom that could be said. He will need to contain Bosa throughout the game.
The Rams hope to take advantage of cornerback K'waun Williams, who will probably see a lot of Cooper Kupp in this game. Williams hasn't been great this season, and on paper, that matchup will favor the Rams. But, with the loss of Woods and OBJ still learning the dynamics of the offense, the Niners have a better opportunity to double up on Kupp.
Speaking of OBJ, he will reunite with an old friend in Niners cornerback Josh Norman, assuming Beckham gets significant snaps. Norman is not the player he once was, but whether OBJ will see enough action to take advantage of a declining Norman remains to be seen. McVay has said that OBJ will play, but having been on the team less than a week would imply he won't be on the field all that much.
Then again, McVay may well dial-up some plays designed explicitly for Beckam and use him as a decoy on other downs. So, we shall see the outcome of his presence because someone has to take the defensive focus off of Kupp. Which is another reason the Woods injury is devastating with this offense.
Every week we wonder if the Rams won't go smashmouth and run the ball more. But whether it's a lack of confidence in the Rams running game or simply a case of McVay wanting to throw the ball, it never seems to occur. L.A. has thrown the ball 65 percent of the time so far this season. The Niner's banged-up secondary, that trend probably will continue on Monday night.
We will check this box for the Rams with the idea that they bounce back from last week's dreadful performance, but this is a Niners defense that is still capable of playing well despite injuries.
Rams Defense vs. Niners' offense: The Niners are a solid 13th in offensive yardage this season but only averages 18 points per game. Part of the problem is that they have not run the ball very consistently. In recent years, Raheem Mostert has been something of a "Ram Killer" is done for the season and replaced by rookie running back Elijah Mitchell. Mitchell has been their feature back; however, he has been up and down with injuries. He's rushed for 469 yards in eight games, averaging about 55 yards per game. The general thinking around the league is that Ram's defense is weaker against the run than the pass. It will be interesting to see if the Niners try to expose that theory.
The disappointment of the 49ers season has been one positive of Deebo Samuel, who has been outstanding at wide receiver. He's second to Cooper Kupp in reception yardage and will match up with Jalen Ramsey, one of the marquee matchups in this game.
The Niners will be missing right-tackle Mike McGlinchey, generally expected, but not confident that Von Miller will make his Ram's debut. A pass rush that features Aaron Donald, Miller, and Leonard Floyd would challenge any offense. Even without Miller, the Rams lead the NFL with 28 quarterback sacks.
The 49ers may have the NFL's best tight-end not named Travis Kelce in George Kittle. He could be a safety valve if the Niners go to a short passing game to counter the expected fierce pass rush. The Rams miss safety John Johnson, who used to draw Kittle in most coverages.
The 49ers quarterback situation is somewhat confusing. Most around the league consider starter Jimmy Garoppolo to be "just a guy." Jimmy is comparable to an Andy Dalton or maybe even to "Big" Ben Roethlisberger at this stage in Rothlisberger's career. Players won't kill you if they are your starter, but not someone who can carry a team either. San Francisco sold the farm to move up to overall number three selection to draft Trey Lance from North Dakota State. Lance hadn't played much, and when he did play, he had less-than-stellar action in place of an injured Jimmy G.
That's a little unusual in today's NFL, where the prevailing philosophy seems to be to get highly drafted rookie quarterbacks in the game sooner rather than later. Shanahan has also been less than enthusiastic about Lance in some of his comments to the media.
That's all San Francisco's problem, and barring injury, we expect to see Jimmy G for most or all of the snaps on Monday night.
Special Teams: The Ram's special teams weren't awful last week, which is progress for the 2021 Rams. There is talk that the Rams may use OBJ as a punt returner. We always have injury concerns about using key offensive players as return men.
But on the other hand, it might inject some life into a problematic area of the team's return game. All of that aside, the Niners get the advantage here.
Coaching: Typically, this is an automatic edge for the Rams. But given Shanahan's success and seemingly magical powers against the Rams in recent years—and his track record against McVay—we are going a different direction this time.
Hey, we have to be honest here, and the track record argues for Kyle Shanahan. We hope McVay proves us wrong!
Final prediction: The oddsmakers had the Rams as an only four-point favorite even before the Woods injury. The battle between the North vs. South is a pretty even matchup between the two teams. But we are Rams fans, and we refuse to predict a San Francisco win. There are just some things we won't do.
Rams 30, Niners 27
Rams vs.Titans Overview: Both teams are a little banged up for this game, but the Titan's loss of running back Derrick Henry is by far the most significant injury. He's probably the best running back in the NFL right now, and losing him throws the Titan's offense into unknown territory. But in one sense, it complicates things for the Rams defense as well.
When Henry is active, he's the centerpiece for their offense, the one player you need to stop. Without him, do they try to win on the arm of Ryan Tannehill? Do they rely on 36-year-old Adrian Peterson to step in for Henry and remain the "ground and pound" attack? Maybe a little of both? Only the Titans know for sure, and they aren't saying.
Titans Offense vs. Rams Defense: Rams fans were expecting to see the debut of linebacker Von Miller may—or may not—have to wait until next week. Miller listed as questionable according to the previous report with an ankle injury, and coach Sean McVay said whether he will play remains a "game-time decision.'" Even if Miller does play, he's had virtually no practice time with his new team, so we probably can't expect him to play a huge role.
The loss of Titan's Henry is a huge deal; as the former Alabama running back was on a historic pace, the Titans signed Adrian Peterson as his replacement. Peterson, in his prime, was close to Henry in terms of running ability. At 36 and just off the street, it's probably asking too much of the former Minnesota Vikings star to step in and replace Henry without missing a beat.
The Titans may also be missing two other vital pieces, left tackle Taylor Lewan and receiver A.J. Brown, who are both listed as questionable. We guess he will play, but how much their injuries may affect their performance is anyone's guess.
For the Rams, Jalen Ramsey and inside linebacker Earnest Jones are questionable. As of Sunday morning, Ramsey appeared likely to play, but Jones is uncertain. He got the game ball last week after stepping in for the traded Kenny Young and having an outstanding game. If the Titans remain a run-oriented offense, not having Jones on the field could be a problem for the Rams, especially with the loss of nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, who is out for this game and maybe the season with a pectoral injury.
With Henry out, the Titans' offensive line may—and we emphasize the word may—be called on to do more pass blocking, which is not their strong suit. Even before getting Von Miller, the Rams were leading the NFL with 25 quarterback sacks. In particular, Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd live in the opposing team's backfield, and the Titans perhaps having a limited version of Taylor Lewan at left tackle doesn't help matters.
All of the injuries in this game make it tough to focus on possible headline matchups. However, Ramsey against Brown or Julio Jones might be attractive, assuming Ramsey and Brown play. Jones only has 17 catches thus far this season, but the Henry and (possibly) Brown injuries could make him the focal point of the offense. Ramsey did well against Jones the last time the two squared off when Jones was still with the Falcons a couple of years ago.
The Rams are expecting to get cornerback Darious Williams back from the injured reserve. Williams is one of the best number two corners in the league, so his return is expected to be huge.
If Henry was in the lineup, we might give Tennessee the edge here since the Rams run defense has not been outstanding so far. Without him, we think the advantage goes over to the Rams. But there are so many unknowns and questionable in this game that it's hard to be too confident, especially if Ramsey ends up not playing (we don't think that will happen).
Rams Offense vs. Titans Defense: Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford missed a couple of days of practice with back stiffness this week, is expected to play. If he either doesn't or isn't himself, all predictions for this game go right out the window. We don't wish for that to occur, however.
The Rams Cooper Kupp is having a historic season and is arguably the best receiver in the NFL right now. You really should be hearing his name in the MVP conversation, although wide receivers don't often take those honors. Despite not being overly fast, Kupp always seems to get open and catches everything thrown in his direction. He also has incredible chemistry with Stafford.
Robert Woods and Van Jefferson are no slouch either. Woods has a knack for making the big catch, and Jefferson is emerging as a deep threat to the point that the Rams let burner DeSean Jackson go this week. There are questions about the Rams four and five receivers, with Jackson gone and Tutu Atwell—who had been something of a disappointment despite—out. College tight end Jacob Harris may be deployed as a wide receiver. He's big and fast—4.39 in the 40-yard dash—but he wasn't even seeing much time at tight end for the Rams, so playing at a new position and expecting him to excel may be asking a lot. The Rams also have rookie Ben Skowronek and J.J. Koski on the roster. But Skowronek is a former 7thh round draft choice who lacks speed, and Koski is a former undrafted free agent promoted from the practice squad. You never know, but on paper, those guys certainly don't scare anyone.
The Titans defense has an emerging star in the defensive end, Harold Landry, who has 8.5 sacks. The Rams offensive line has been stellar this season, allowing the fewest sacks in the NFL. Containing Landry and giving Stafford time to find his receivers downfield will be critical in this contest. Other Titans standouts include linebacker David Long and safeties Kevin Baird and Amani Hooker. Former Ram Janoris Jenkins is among the Titans corners. Although he probably is not the player he once was. Rookie Caleb Farley may be called up to shutdown Kupp, possibly with some help from Baird or Hooker.
The Titan's defense receives help from a ball-control offense that limits their time on the field. Their defense is ranked 23 overall and may not have the luxury of staying off the field for most of the game this week, as might be the case if Henry was playing. Landry could be a game wrecker if he goes on a tear, but overall, this matchup favors the Rams, at least on paper.
Special Teams: Neither of these teams has necessarily been excellent on special teams, but it's a more significant issue for Los Angeles. Punter Johnny Hekker has been solid, and kicker Matt Gay has been good outside of one game early in the season. But the coverage and return units are problem areas. We aren't fans of seeing Cooper Kupp returning punts.
First and foremost, we hate to risk him getting injured. Secondly, while he is sure-handed, he hasn't shown much juice as a returner. But former return men Atwell and Jackson aren't options at this point, so that Kupp may end up back there by default.
The Rams special teams were embarrassed by the Lions—yes, the Lions—a couple of weeks ago, seemingly falling asleep on a pair of fake punts and an onside kick. At this point, we can expect every Rams opponent to at least consider some razzle-dazzle on special teams.
The special team's play remains problematic for the Rams, their only team glaring weakness.
Coaching: Sean McVay vs. Mike Vrable, Vrable has coached his team to a 6-2 record, and his association with Bill Belichick may yet assert itself. But we're going to check this box for the Rams.
Final Prediction: If it weren't for the Henry injury, this game would be a marquee matchup, maybe even a Super Bowl preview. The Rams are favored; a touchdown favors the Rams.
You never know with the Rams, who have a disturbing tendency to play to the level of their opponent, as witnessed by the Lions game a couple of weeks ago, that ended up being far closer than it should have been. The Rams also are vulnerable on special teams and have enough injuries of their own to make this game a bit of a wild card.
But all we can do is look at the numbers and the matchups. And those point to a comfortable Rams win.
Rams 31 Titans 24