NFL week 18 features huge games for Rams, Chargers for the playoffs
Much like the NFL loves it, the Rams and Chargers enter the final week of the season with their playoff status undetermined. The Rams need a Cardinals win or loss or they find themselves on that long road (literally) as a generic NFC team. The Chargers visit the Las Vegas Raiders, the winner of an AFC wild card team and the loser finished unless the Indianapolis Colts lose to the humble Jacksonville Jaguars. Then the AFC North also gets involved. Entering uncharted territory in Week 18, Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller, NFL writer Sam Farmer, columnist Helene Elliott and Mike DiGiovanna discuss prospects :
Peyton Manning always says that every interception has its own story. So, from an observational standpoint, what’s your story on Matthew Stafford and his multiple interception streaks?
Klein: If we put all these stories in a book, it would be 15 chapters … and that counts. In addition to his 38 touchdown passes – his record since 41 in 2011 – Stafford has had more intercepts than any season since 2013. Four of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns. I think I’ve quoted players and coaches who say turnovers happen en masse. But they’re usually turnover hungry defensive players who only need one to get started. It’s amazing the Rams beat the Vikings and Ravens, with Stafford having five intercepts and also losing a fumble. He has the merit of remaining calm and playing very well in the important moments of these matches. He was formidable in the home stretch against the Ravens. But Stafford needs to stop making turnovers – or the Rams’ playoff history won’t be very long.
Farmer: It’s quite confusing, especially with the beauty of Stafford at other times. I think Greg Olsen made a really good observation on the show when he said the best quality of a quarterback is to play big in the biggest moments. That’s what we’ve seen from Stafford in this winning campaign, connecting with a range of players – Tyler Higbee, Ben Skowronek, Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. – to make the song play with the game. on the line. This fourth throw and catch for OBJ is part of the Season Highlights video. So Stafford plays big in big times.
But that does not explain the interceptions. So thank you for disclosing this to me early as it gave me a chance to call [former NFL and UCLA coach] Rick Neuheisel to choose his brain. As you know, he knows the quarterback position inside and out. He raised an interesting point. In the NFL, cannon-armed quarterbacks are encouraged to throw the hero, throw those 50/50 balls, and let those receivers tear them up like rebounders. Detroit adopted this philosophy when Stafford pitched at Calvin Johnson. I can think of at least two interceptions on deep throws towards OBJ, and they were in midfield, not on the sideline where a quarterback can use the limit as a save. Of course, other choices came on tilted balls and bad decisions, so there was a mix.
Stafford trusts his arm, and for good reason. He can pass through windows other quarters can’t. So he probably sees the terrain differently. He’s like a golfer in the woods who, instead of returning to the fairway, is always looking for that heroic shot that he can shoot through the trees. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
The Rams have already clinched a playoff berth. If you were a Rams fan, what would you worry about about their playoff prospects. Is there anything other than Stafford that takes care of the football?
Klein: The Rams are long past their three-game losing streak in November. But the Titans, 49ers and Packers have shown in those games that the Rams are vulnerable against a team willing to physically challenge them, run straight to the Rams’ defense and control the clock. And the Titans are completely past the Rams’ offensive line. Have the Rams improved since then? It looks like this, but no opponent has tested them in the same way. The other concern would be if a defensive coordinator finally finds a way to get Cooper Kupp out of the game.
Farmer: Plus, COVID is still a concern, and it’s so hit and miss how suddenly players are being sidelined. But one important aspect that needs to continue to improve is ground play, which is essential in the playoffs. Cam Akers could be huge in this regard. It has Joe Mixon quality, and if the Rams can work it as a complement to Sony Michel, they could reap huge benefits from it. At this time of year, if you’re a playoff-related team adding rather than subtracting, you’re in the extreme – and grateful – minority.
In what appears to be a make or die game when the Chargers travel to Las Vegas to play the Raiders on Sunday night, as a coach who / what would you prefer – the experience of Vegas quarterback Derek Carr or Justin Herbert’s young pistol?
Elliott: I would prefer Herbert’s arms and legs to Carr’s experience. But as with so many things this season, a lot depends on which team is healthier and has the fewest key people on the COVID protocol. The Chargers got a lot of people back on Sunday, and it was crucial for them to beat Denver. Put them all in bubble wrap and bubble environment this week!
Klein: Experience matters but I would take Herbert. It’s probably a reflection of watching him more this season than Carr.
Farmer: I would take Justin Herbert, even though Derek Carr has had a few great seasons. Herbert is incredibly balanced and can throw shots that most quarterbacks can’t.
DiGiovanna: Unless that “seasoned” quarterback is Tom Brady, I’ll take the “young gun” almost every time. Look at what Patrick Mahomes did in his second and third seasons as a starter in Kansas City, leading the Chiefs to a Super Bowl win in 2019 and a Super Bowl loss in 2020. The experience wasn’t not so much a factor in these playoffs as Mahomes’ dynamic passing and scrambling ability. In two decades of Angels coverage under Mike Scioscia, he’s often said he prefers talent over experience. That’s why reliever Francisco Rodriguez got the chance to play in the team’s 2002 World Series despite his 20 years and two weeks of big-league experience. K-Rod’s talent reigned supreme, as Justin Herbert’s talent should give him the edge over Carr’s experience in Sunday night’s game.
Miller: I’m part of the group who thinks Carr is better than a lot of people credit him with. But I would also take Herbert in this game. He hasn’t played as many NFL games as Carr, but Herbert’s experience in prime time was super impressive. He’s averaged 284 passing yards, with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in five career prime-time games. That’s enough experience for me.
Knowing it’s a silly talk for now because it’s only Herbert’s second season, but what great quarterback comes to mind when you see him play? What about John Elway?
Klein: Remember when Herbert got that buzz cut in 2020? I don’t know about his playing on the field, but he reminded me of Johnny Unitas without the classic flat top.
Elliott: Rather than comparing him to anyone or declaring him the second Elway, why not let him be the first Justin Herbert? Its evolution has been fascinating to watch. How much better can it be? I am curious to see this.
Miller: That’s a question from Sam Farmer, because he knows more about the NFL than I do about just about anything. I’ve heard Elway’s comparisons, so that must make sense. The only thing I know: With the way Herbert started his career, it won’t be long before people compare him to others.
Farmer: If there’s a modern day quarterback that reminds me of Elway, it’s Patrick Mahomes, down to that barrel chest and his strut. Herbert is just taller and is so pure with his throwing movement, he kinda reminds me of Carson Palmer. But I would like to point out a contemporary by making a comparison Herbert. He and Josh Allen are very similar, although Herbert is more advanced than Allen in his second season.
First thoughts on the Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders.
Klein: The traffic coming from Vegas is going to be even more difficult than usual.
Farmer: It’s hard to beat a team twice in a season, so it comes to mind as the Chargers handled the Raiders at SoFi. Austin Ekeler had a good game in the 28-14 win, and the Raiders need to be worried about him.
Miller: I’m surprised the Chargers are the favorites on the field. Sure, they beat the Raiders by two touchdowns in Week 4, but it was so long ago that Jon Gruden was still the Las Vegas coach. The Raiders have won three straight wins – by two, four and three points. They have therefore been playing in difficult conditions for a while. They are also in a place where no one thought they would be at so many times this season when it would have been reasonable for them to completely collapse. These guys are survivors, and I’m sure they’re playing with more than a little bit of belief.
The 49ers have beaten the Rams five in a row, last losing in December 2018 in LA Will it become six?
Klein: Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay’s friend and mentor, has also become McVay’s nemesis. The odds must be in McVay’s favor, right? If the Rams win on Sunday, McVay will be thrilled to have won the NFC West title. And relieved to beat Shanahan again.
Farmer: I think the Rams are going to break this slide, especially if Trey Lance plays the 49ers quarterback. There is too much going on for the Rams to gag at home.