You can call it parity or you can call it mediocrity, but the fact of the matter is that a sizable portion of the NFL can still harbor playoff dreams halfway through this 2010 season. In fact, if you decide that every team with a 3-5 record or better can semi-legitimately harbor a playoff dream, that leaves 25 teams “in the playoff race.” Removing teams with less than four wins takes that count down to 22 teams in the race. The writers here at The Sports Debates were tasked with picking a dark horse out of that field and deciphering which unconventional “hot” team is prepared to make a playoff push. I have therefore gone with an unconventional choice – the St. Louis Rams.
Yup, the Rams. While they haven’t been the greatest show on turf in some time, and they have recently languished at or near the bottom of the league, the 2010 edition of the St. Louis Rams is a legitimately interesting football team and one to watch down the stretch. You may be asking, “Optimist Prime, when did you start smoking crack?” Rest assured that I am not under the influence of any legal or illegal drug at the time of this writing. Also, please note that I am not arguing that the Rams are the best vaguely .500 team left. What I am arguing is that the Rams have a nice combination of A) a young team playing for enthusiastic coach and B) the easiest path to the playoffs by winning the worst division in football, the NFC West.
The Rams currently lead the NFC West at 4-4. An astute NFL observer would likely point out that the Seahawks are actually tied with the Rams at 4-4 and the Arizona Cardinals are only a game back. This is correct, but I believe these teams are not likely to threaten the Rams because of one fairly obscure stat – points for versus points against. The Rams have 140 points for and 141 points against so far this season. That sounds pretty bad, right? Sure, it does, but keep in mind we’re talking about the NFC West here. The Seahawks have scored 51 points less than they’ve given up and the Cardinals have scored 68 points less than they’ve given up so far this year. This tells me that the Rams are keeping games close while their divisional foes, in general, are not. When you’re playing a game that involves an oblong ball, close games are good – strange things happen.
Beyond their record and scoring margin, another thing the Rams have going for them is an inspired coach doing a bang-up job leading his charges. Check out this post from Rams blog Turf Show Times. While admitting the talent deficiency of the squad, the writer (and, by a quick gander around the Interwebs, many Rams fans) notes the heart and passion that goes into what the Rams are producing on Sundays. Anybody who has watched the rest of the division put up stinkers like last Sunday’s 41-7 shellacking that the Giants put on the Seahawks, or Arizona’s two losses by 30 or more points, knows that heart and determination and adequate coaching may be all a team needs to capture the NFC West crown.
I realize that I have used this space arguing more for the lousiness of the NFC West than the quality of the Rams. But it seems to me that it is the best way to win the argument. Taking nothing away from the team, which really does have the easiest road to the playoffs, it is fair to note that it’s easier to make a charge into the playoffs if you’re playing lousy teams on the way. Go Rams!