Because it's still October, Sunday isn't a must-win.
But it's a quintessential can't-lose.
The Los Angeles Rams host arguably the worst team in the league on Sunday, and certainly the most beatable opponent on their schedule – led by an interim head coach and likely to be quarterbacked by their fourth option coming into this season.
If the Rams can capitalize going into the bye, their prospects promise to look much brighter by the time the San Francisco 49ers come to SoFi Stadium for a highly-anticipated rematch on October 30.
However, as much as any Rams game I've ever been a part of, this week has nothing to do with the opponent. The Carolina Panthers might as well be a nameless, faceless, generic NFL simulation.
For three hours on Sunday, I think we all want to see a product closer to what we know the Rams are capable of – closer to the standard they've set for themselves for five-plus seasons.
So we'll keep this week's preview relatively brief. Because we're all well-aware of the issues. And you're here for the wins, not the words.
The Enemy Has a Say, Too
Maybe the last two teams to beat the Rams are just seriously that good.
San Francisco and Dallas are the only NFL franchises yet to surrender 20 points in a game.
Déjà Vu All Over Again?
Seven days after facing Cooper Rush, the Rams are in line to get P.J. Walker.
Rush has been released four times by the Cowboys. Walker was the Panthers fourth-string option at quarterback coming into 2022. Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and draft pick Matt Corral are all injured.
Now, let's be serious – Rush didn't beat the Rams. And unless Los Angeles gets it together, Walker may not have to, either.
Nonetheless, Walker is 2-0 in his career, with a start and a win in each of the past two seasons. In fact, he outdueled Matthew Stafford in his first NFL opportunity, which ominously was the only time Stafford's been shutout as a pro.
Over-Playing The Percentages
Per NFL Research, Christian McCaffrey and Cooper Kupp account for the third and fourth-highest percentage of their team's scrimmage yards in 2022, respectively.
Kupp (at 33.5) is the only receiver with more than 30 percent of his team's yards. He ranks first among NFL pass-catchers in touches, scrimmage yards and touchdowns in 2022.
While McCaffrey has 276 more scrimmage yards than the next Panther, Kupp has 261 more than Tyler Higbee.
Make it Snappy
Last week, general manager Les Snead told us that work load simply isn't sustainable.
Head coach Sean McVay seemed to agree on this week's Coach McVay Show.
"They're giving everything that they've got," he said of Kupp and Higbee, both of whom are averaging more than 60 snaps per game. "We've got to find a way to be able to lessen their load."
There's a real tension right now between scratching and clawing for enough wins to stay in this thing until reinforcements arrive – but Kupp and Higbee have to have some tread on their tires if and when the offense rounds into form.
It's akin to the urgent need to minimize the pounding that Stafford is taking – sacked more often through five games than at any point in his career.
Otherwise, the Rams may climb back into contention. But at what cost along the way?
D Gets A Passing Grade
Last week, the Rams defense can only be charged with giving up 13 points, subtracting nine for Dallas's defensive touchdown and the field goal stemming from a blocked punt.
At San Francisco on Monday Night Football, the defense surrendered 17, clearly not responsible for the 49ers pick-six.
And at Arizona in Week 3, we remember a bend-but-don't-break performance in which they kept Kyler Murray and the Cardinals out of the end zone, yielding only a dozen points.
So when the underlying metrics rate the Rams defense as a top-10 unit, and top-five against the run, that adds up. They've played well enough for the team to be 4-1, not 2-3.
But the defense is also due to gift-wrap one for a struggling offense, or maybe even put up some points on their own. After seven takeaways in the first two weeks to lead the NFL, the Rams have not created a turnover since.
Patience Is A Virtue
I know he may not be the most popular player on the roster at present, but how can you not appreciate what reserve center Jeremiah Kolone has done in service to this organization?
Cut by the Rams every summer since 2018, the former college free agent had effectively relinquished his NFL dream by entering the San Diego police academy in 2021.
That's when some early training camp issues created a need for one more phone call to Kolone, and he rejoined the practice squad for what proved to be a Super Bowl season.
Kolone was my guest on this week's Rams Revealed, and it was a timely reminder to all of us, I believe, of the value of patience and perseverance through a stretch where everyone is understandably on edge.
If the Rams earn a 3-3 mark at the bye, they're in line to get some key pieces back on the field during the open date. They might be able to bolster the roster at the trade deadline and beyond. And in my estimation, there's still a manageable path to double-digit wins which will almost certainly be good for a playoff spot and could even be enough to win the NFC West.