Merry Christmas everyone, and my sincerest thanks for all your fandom and support during 2021. I wish for you a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend.
As the season of giving winds down, the Rams are ramping up – and there's no shame in being greedy on the gridiron.
They board their team charter for the final game of the calendar year with the goal of clinching a playoff spot in Minneapolis.
Win and you're in; it's as simple as that. The rest is all seeding.
The best gift of the season may have been delivered by Jared Goff, Josh Reynolds, and the Detroit Lions – a surprise upset of the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15 that allowed Los Angeles to draw even atop the NFC West standings.
Now, L.A. and Arizona each have three games remaining: the Rams need to win more of them than the Cardinals do, because the tiebreaking formula is for the Birds. If Arizona doesn't lose again, they'll be division champions.
We know the Rams remaining schedule: at Minnesota (7-7), at Baltimore (8-6), versus San Francisco (8-6).
The Cardinals finish by hosting Indianapolis (8-6) for Christmas, then a trip to Dallas (10-4), and a home finale against Seattle (5-9).
Hangin' With Mr. Cooper
Reflecting on Cooper Kupp's record-setting season this week, I also mentally stumbled upon two memories of his past performances against the Vikings.
How long ago his fumble going into the end zone at Minnesota in the second quarter of a 2017 loss feels, right?
This season, he's been virtually infallible, but there have been occasional lows, as with any star. What's so admirable about Kupp is the consistency and the response.
That was evident in the 2018 rematch with the Vikings when Kupp went for 162 yards and two scores on nine receptions in a Thursday night blowout at the Coliseum.
And no receiver's been more consistent in 2021 – Kupp just set an NFL record with his 10th straight game of 90-plus yards (and seven-plus receptions in each of those outings, to boot).
Per NFL Research, Justin Jefferson just passed fellow-Viking Randy Moss (2,726) for the second-most receiving yards by a player in his first two NFL seasons. Coincidentally, Moss was there at Soldier Field on Monday to watch it happen.
Sunday, Jefferson only needs 21 more yards to pass Odell Beckham Jr. (2,755) at the top of that list.
The Vikings leading target gets 21 falling out of bed on Sunday morning, so it's not fair to expect Jalen Ramsey and the secondary to keep him that locked up. Although it would be nice if OBJ didn't have to watch it happen in person…
What do the Vikings do best?
From afar, it appears to be rushing the passer.
Minnesota leads the NFL in sacks, with better than three per game. They've registered multiple sacks in all 14 outings this season, and if they can get to Matthew Stafford twice, they'll set an NFL record, per Ben Gosseling of the Star Tribune.
And that's all despite the fact All-Pro Danielle Hunter has been out since early November with season-ending neck surgery and Everson Griffen hasn't played since Week 11. In their absence, up-and-coming rushers like D.J. Wonnum (coming off a hat trick on Monday night at Chicago) have thrived.
The return of Rob Havenstein at right tackle will be a welcome reinstatement after the Rams have played two different replacements for him to win the last two weeks.
Stafford's taken 17 sacks since the Rams came home from Houston on Halloween. Prior, he'd been sacked just seven times in his first eight games.
Don We Now Our Gay Apparel
Not only does the Rams placekicker own the NFL's longest active streak of made field goals (with 20), he's done it with 55-yard makes in each of the past two games. In fact, he's four-for-four on field goal attempts of 50-plus yards.
Here's how he stacks up against his kicking peers:
First in field goal percentage, second in scoring, fourth in made field goals, sixth in extra points made and extra point percentage.
That's All-Pro-worthy stuff.
Big Rig In The Shop
Above all else, we don't want anyone getting sick. And we're especially hopeful that Tyler Higbee (and the rest of the Rams players who've landed on the Reserve/COVID list) can return at full strength as soon as possible.
That said, having won the past two contests that Higbee's missed (one due to a false positive, another due to an actual positive), I think we can now look back and say that no Ram deserved a couple weeks "off" more than Higbee.
Tight end – especially in the Rams offense – is one of the most demanding roles in sport, mentally and physically. And Higbee has handled it with a warrior's spirit, almost single-handedly for much of 2021.
Think about the final five games of his 2019 campaign: an NFL-high 56 targets, 43 catches, 522 yards and a couple touchdowns. I'm very excited to see what a recovered and rested Higbee might bring to the table for this stretch run – in the pass, run, and screen game.