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Rams return from bye, poised for big second half

Fair warning: This is a column about how the 2023 Los Angeles Rams get to the postseason.

If that's not where your heart (or at least your head) is coming out of the bye, no judgment.

But if you're willing to humor me for at least one more week, I've come to the realization that the path to the playoffs runs through Seattle – both in terms of Sunday being a must-win for the Rams, and with respect to the Seahawks being the specific team they need to bounce off the bubble.

The first portion of that conclusion is intuitive. NFL teams don't rally from 3-7 to Wild Card weekend. It's all moot unless the Rams get hot and win at least six of their final eight games to finish 9-8 (or better).

I think that's realistic, or I wouldn't be wasting your time. L.A. has four games left against opponents currently at-or-below .500. Additionally, they'll have to beat a couple contenders from a group that includes Seattle, Cleveland, Baltimore, and San Francisco.

The second part of my conclusion is what I'd like to detail going into the second half of the season.

For the Rams to make the playoffs, there needs to be a spot vacated between now and January 7, 2024. And despite the Seahawks being closer to the division crown than Cabo as of this writing, stealing their seat is the Rams best shot.

The current NFC picture has Philadelphia (8-1) setting the pace with Detroit (7-2) and San Francisco (6-3) in pursuit. Until proven otherwise, those teams are as close to clinched as it gets pre-Thanksgiving.

Additionally, the NFC South will produce a champion. And that champion will get a home playoff game. I don't love it, but those are the rules.

For the moment, that South representative is New Orleans (5-5). Even if the Rams factor into the Saints demise when they visit SoFi Stadium in December, Tampa Bay or Atlanta will ultimately replace New Orleans as the four-seed in the NFC playoffs.

So as far as the Rams are concerned, it boils down to the three wild card berths, currently occupied by Seattle (6-3), Dallas (6-3), and Minnesota (6-4).

The four-loss Vikings in the seventh position might appear to be the weakest link, until you look at Minnesota's remaining schedule. Already winners of five in a row, next they go to Denver and then host Chicago before a late bye. Josh Dobbs and company have a clear path to double-digit victories. Further, all five of the Vikings wins thus far are in the NFC (they're 5-2 in the conference, whereas the Rams are 2-4). Without a head-to-head matchup this season, won-lost-tied percentage in conference games would be the relevant tiebreak between Minnesota and Los Angeles, should it come to that.

The six-seed at present is Dallas. The Cowboys do, of course, have a head-to-head win over the Rams. And they only have three losses, with the Panthers and Commanders next on the schedule. And their point differential is +104, third in the entire NFL. The Cowboys are very good, and I don't believe they can be caught. In fact, I think it's more likely they edge out the Eagles for the NFC East than fail to make the playoffs.

That really only leaves the five-seed, Seattle. Which is where I conclude that the Seahawks are the NFC contender the Rams need to uproot.

Jason Meyer's 43-yard game winner to beat Washington in Week 10 didn't help.

But nonetheless, the Seahawks are the only team in the NFC playoff framework with a negative point differential (-1) and/or touchdown differential (-2).

Their upcoming schedule also leaves them susceptible to a second-half tailspin that might free up the reservation the Rams are hunting.

Stating the obvious, L.A. is required to complete the season sweep of Seattle this Sunday for this scenario to have legs. Hypothetically, that would be the Seahawks fourth loss.

Then they run the gauntlet. Seattle's remaining schedule:

Week 12 vs San Francisco

Week 13 at Dallas

Week 14 at San Francisco

Week 15 vs Philadelphia

Week 16 at Tennessee

Week 17 vs Pittsburgh

Week 18 at Arizona

Are there four (or more) losses to be found in that closing stretch? Not hard to envision. They might even occur in succession. Keep in mind the Seahawks had a Week 5 bye and therefore play 13 weeks in a row to finish the year.

No part of me wants to be dependent on opponents stumbling; I'd much prefer the Rams have handled their business, especially against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh when they clearly had the chance.

But that's the predicament the Rams find themselves in – with unfortunately long odds. At least with respect to reeling in the Seahawks, the Rams still have some agency.

If they're to make the postseason, then we might as well treat Sunday for what it is – a Wild Card game, at least for the home team.

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