I laughed out loud when I saw this yesterday. A lot has changed in the game of football over the last 20 years. It used to be the ultimate “tough-guy” sport (and still probably is, let me explain). Before you start yelling at me, I don’t mean that these players are “less-tough” than players past, although some might make that argument.
Like most popular sports, as time has gone by, football has been looked at from many different angles. It’s been studied from all angles and 100’s of analytical stat categories have been created to try and help compare and rate players beyond what the human eye can see. Every sport gets more and more analytical as we go through time. The “eye test” means less and less, to many people’s dismay.
Well, it’s now 2017 (days away from 2018) and the Los Angelas Rams have surprised many by, not only making the playoffs, but actually earning a home game in the Wild Card Round. They are led by Sean McVay who is younger than some of the players he is coaching (3 on roster at, or older than, he is), at the ripe age of 31.
Every coach, no matter the record or status of their team, faces challenges in Week 17. For some coaches, it’s getting their players focused and into a gameplan, when they know their season is over once the week ends. Their players are looking forward to golf courses and months with family. Meanwhile, your job is getting them prepared to put that all in jeopardy for one last, now-meaningless, football game. A broken leg, or a variety of other injuries that could happen in that game, would put a big damper into those offseason plans.
Meanwhile, some teams live at the other end of the spectrum, where they have their playoff spot locked in and they need to decide if it is worth playing star players. You dread a big injury, but you also don’t want players to get rusty after a week, or possibly even 3 weeks. (Ex. If the Vikings sat Keenum this week, and they still get their bye in the first round, he would sit from Dec 25 (day after Packers win) through Jan 13-14 (Div. Round). That’s a risk.
Well, McVay isn’t going to get a bye. The Rams have been cemented into the WildCard round of the playoffs, as either the 3rd or 4th seed. But, McVay seems to be taking what some would call the “safe route” by sitting most of his key players in their Week 17 battle against the 49ers, at home. Here is the list of those that will not see the Coliseum playing field this Sunday (See all the details by Alden Gonzalez – Rams ESPN Beat Writer):
DT Aaron Donald also will not play. Jared Goff and Todd Gurley not playing also means LT Andrew Whitworth and C John Sullivan will not play. Sean Mannion is Goff’s backup; Malcolm Brown would be in line to get the bulk of the carries in Gurley’s place.
— Alden Gonzalez (@Alden_Gonzalez) December 27, 2017
Here is what McVay had to say about his decision (NFL.com):
“Being locked into that third or fourth seed — every single game is important — but I think it will provide an opportunity for us to potentially get some guys healthier, rest them, give some other guys a chance to step up.”
“That’s a luxury that we want to take advantage of. And everything that we do is what we think is best for our football team.”
“I think we’ve got the right types of guys who can handle that the right way and understand how we need to practice and what we need to do in the meantime if it is a situation where they’re not going to play this coming week.”
McVay is trying to sell us on keeping his guys rested and injury-free. I’m sure that’s part of it. But, what does it tell me?
Sean McVay and the LA Rams are AFRAID of the Minnesota Vikings. Why, you ask? Well, If the Rams lose this week, it locks them into the NFC 4-seed, as long as New Orleans can take care of business against Tampa Bay. That puts the Rams in the top of the playoff bracket along with the 1, 8, and 5 seeds. That means the team to beat, on their way to the NFC Championship, is Philadelphia.
Do you know who isn’t in the top bracket? You guessed it, the two-seed, Minnesota Vikings. I’m not sure how, and I don’t really care because it isn’t going to happen, but the Vikings could fall as far as the 3 seed, in some weird world where the Panthers would gain the 2 seed. Don’t worry about it. We play the Bears. We win OR 1 out of 5 other things happen in other games, and we’re the two-seed. Nonetheless, there is a 0% chance they would play the Rams until the NFC Championship, if the Rams lose.
So, lose and avoid the Vikings, if you’re the Rams. And then, they sit their best players. That leads many to believe there are alternative motives to McVay’s decision to sit these guys. He shouldn’t take this personally (because I’m sure he will read this……). I mean, can you blame him? You are going on the road no matter what. Sure, Philadelphia might be cold, but there is something brewing in Minnesota that is MUCH SCARIER than the cold that you might encounter in the “City of Brotherly Love”.
The Vikings have been DOMINANT at home. REALLY DOMINANT. The Vikings are currently 6-1 at The Bank this season, with the only loss being against the Lions. The big difference isn’t offensively, though they do seem to be a little more efficient at the Bank. The big advantage comes defensively. Look at the splits on defense, according to pro-footballreference.com. Focus on the rushing attempts, which are VASTLY down at home, since the Vikings are usually winning, making their opponent more throw-happy. This also leads to a 9% drop in completion percentages, for offenses the Vikings have played against at home, vs playing away. It’s pretty incredible.
McVay is picking smarts over his “tough-guy” complex. I’m not going to hate on someone for that. I wouldn’t want to go into US Bank Stadium, as a road team, where it’s win or go home. He is much better off going to Philly and playing against a Wentz-less Eagles, no matter how cold it is. He isn’t guaranteed to make it to the Conference Championship, by taking this route. However, he is increasing his odds. And, if you’re a betting man/woman, you always respect that. Because, until the game starts, that’s all you can do.
But, it isn’t going to matter. Because, you are coming to Minnesota eventually, unless you’re the Eagles (without Wentz… good luck).