Rams: The (10-4) Rams are closing in on an NFC West divisional championship and are one of the most feared teams in the league with only two weeks remaining in the regular season. After their dominate performance last Sunday against the Seahawks in Seattle, the Rams are rolling into its Week 16 matchup against the Titans with a little extra swagger.
Todd Gurley exploded with four touchdowns in the Rams’ biggest game of the season. Gurley rushed for 152 yards and added 28 more yards receiving. Gurley is currently ranked third overall with 1187 rushing yards this year.
The pro bowl running back found paydirt four times before he enjoyed watching the rest of the rout from the sidelines with a comfortable cushion maintained by the stout Rams defense. The Rams defensive line were having a party in the backfield all day.
Rams defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, was relentless in his pursuit of the elusive Russell Wilson. The Seahawks’ signal caller was sacked seven times on Sunday; three times by Donald. The pass rushing phenom now has 11 sacks on the season; five in December alone.
Both Donald and Gurley were voted to the Pro Bowl this season along with three starting specialists. They will join kicker Greg Zuerlein, punter Johnny Hekker, and kick returner Pharoh Cooper in representing the Rams, though Zuerlein was placed on season-ending injury reserve.
The news of Zuerlein having season-ending back surgery is devastating for the Rams. He is the NFL’s leading scorer this season with 158, and only needed to make three field goals in the final two weeks to surpass David Akers’ record of 166 points in the 2011 season. He has been one of the most reliable Rams all season and what makes it even more impressive is the fact that he was doing it all with a herniated disk. They signed Sam Ficken, a Penn State alum on Wednesday, but it will inevitably haunt them down the road.
On a brighter note, the Rams’ five players named to the Pro Bowl is the most since 2003.
Quarterback Jared Goff was voted as a first alternative, though is likely to make his Pro Bowl debut due to Carson Wentz’s torn ACL. Goff has thrown for over 3,500 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season and is my candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year.
The Rams have not lost two consecutive games all year. They are second in the league with 31.1 points per game and ranked fifth with 19.4 points allowed per game. Their plus 166 point differential is the best in the league.
Coach McVay credits the team’s mental toughness and preparation for being able to bounce back after bad games and perform to their maximum potential the following week. The Rams are looking to run the table from here on out.
After next week’s game against the Titans, the Rams will host the season finale against the frail (4-10) 49ers who have somehow managed to string together three straight wins with Jimmy Garoppolo under center.
Chargers: The (7-7) Chargers were zapped back to reality, losing to the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs, 30-13, in Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. The Bolts were battered and bruised in the bitter loss, losing tight end Hunter Henry for the season with a lacerated kidney and two defensive players to leg injuries.
Austin Ekeler is also doubtful for Sunday after breaking his hand on the same play that Henry suffered his lacerated kidney as he got blindsided by Bennie Logan, the Chief’s defensive tackle.
Middle linebacker, Denzel Perryman, and defensive tackle, Corey Liuget, got injured last week and will also miss this weekend’s game against the Jets. The Chargers have remained relatively healthy up until their Week 14 clash with the Chiefs and will now need some backups to step their game up.
Veteran tight end Antonio Gates will see more snaps in Henry’s absence and will need to produce down the stretch. He might not have the wheels he once had, but he still has the hands and hooked up with Philip Rivers for the 58th time in the endzone last week.
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said, “It’s a next-man-up-mentality. Guys have been getting ready for this all year long. And sometimes when the next man steps up at this point in the season, it’s not necessarily an upgrade, but they’re fresh. When the starters have been playing 14-15 weeks and a guy comes in fresh, he can take advantage of some things.”
The Chargers must win the last two games of the season for any hope of making it to the playoffs but they will need a little help. They will need the Chiefs to lose both of their last games for the easiest most sure route to the playoffs.
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Chargers have a five percent chance of winning the AFC West and a 16 percent chance of claiming a wildcard spot.
There playoffs have begun in a sense because the Chargers must win out to extend their season into the postseason, joining the 1992 Chargers as the only teams to ever go to the playoffs after starting the season 0-4.
Next week the Chargers will head to New Jersey to face the (6-9)Jets, then will host the (6-8)Raiders on New Years Eve.