Los Angeles Rams: Super Bowl run rests on whether Matthew Stafford and co can cut out the errors
Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf: "No-one cannot be concerned with what has gone on the last couple weeks with him [Matthew Stafford]. If you get into the playoffs and you turn it over three times, there's a really good chance you don't win"
Last Updated: 09/01/22 9:14am
The Los Angeles Rams have had their sights firmly locked on the Super Bowl this season, an ambition bordering on an obsession.
The team have made three big-name additions to an already stacked roster in the last year alone, adding the star power of quarterback Matthew Stafford, linebacker Von Miller and receiver Odell Beckham Jr in the hope the undoubtedly talented trio will get them over the line.
The signs have generally been very positive. The Rams sit at 12-4 on the season, and with the chance to wrap up an NFC West division title with victory over the San Francisco 49ers in their final regular season game on Sunday.
Stafford has the second-most passing yards (4,648) and touchdowns (38) in the league this season, seeing him trail only Tom Brady in both categories (4,990, 40). Miller, with every week, is becoming more of a disruptive factor, combining for 12 tackles and four sacks (and a forced fumble) in the last three weeks alone, while OBJ - who tallied only seven touchdowns in 29 career games in Cleveland - has five in seven since moving to LA.
That's without even mentioning Cooper Kupp, who has the chance to break the NFL's all-time single-season receiving record with 136 this weekend, nor acknowledging three-time defensive player of the year Aaron Donald's presence on the D-line, and ignoring too the talents of shutdown corner Jalen Ramsey.
The Rams are also riding a five-game win streak into their meeting with San Francisco but, despite all of the above, there are concerns creeping in about this team's readiness for playoff football - in particular, their quarterback.
Stafford's numbers have, on the whole, been impressive, but he has also thrown 15 interceptions this season - joint-second most in the league - and with four of those resulting in pick-six touchdowns for the opposition, and five (plus a fumble) lost in the last two weeks.
Since entering the league in 2009 as the No 1 overall pick, Stafford's talent has been undoubted, hence why the Rams were so eager to give up two first-round draft picks in 2022 and 2023, and a 2021 third-rounder in order to prize him away from the Detroit Lions.
But this is also a quarterback who, aged 33, has yet to ever win a playoff game in an NFL career that spans over a decade, losing on all three occasions he reached the postseason promised land with the Lions - the last instance coming five years ago.
Can Stafford cut out the errors when it matters most? The Rams have been able to overcome his six total turnovers in the last two weeks, eking out tight road wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, but the playoffs won't be as forgiving.
"He [Stafford] has been able to get away with it," former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf told Sky Sports. "While he was in Detroit, the team just was not good enough to overcome some of the mistakes - I think he felt like he had to overcompensate.
"In LA., with the defense, and the skill position players that he has, in Cooper Kupp and OBJ, he can afford to make some mistakes.
"But, no one cannot be concerned with what has gone on the last couple weeks with him. If you get into the playoffs and you turn it over three times, there's a really good chance you don't win that football game.
"Luckily for them, they still have the chance to win the division and be able to have whatever team come into SoFi Stadium, that will be a big plus if they're able to get that done this week."
The meeting with the 49ers on Sunday is perhaps the best possible test of the Rams' playoff - even Super Bowl-winning - credentials. This is a team that has had the wood over LA over the last couple of years, winning each of their last five meetings - the most recent of which a 31-10 hammering in November that came in the middle of a three-game losing run by the Rams.
The 49ers bullied their rivals that day, running over them to the tune of 156 yards on a staggering 44 rushing attempts. Los Angeles, by contrast, ran the ball only 10 times. It led to accusations that, for all the star power accumulated in Hollywood, this team was 'soft'.
The five-game winning run since has helped some way to dispelling that myth, and Rams cornerback Ramsey told reporters this week the team are not paying any attention to their poor recent record against San Francisco.
"It is frustrating, but they don't have mind control over us," Ramsey said on Thursday. "It's just how the games have went.
"But we are going out there confident on Sunday. We're not going out there thinking, 'Ah, man, we've lost this many games'. That is not our mindset at all."
This will be the closest thing to playoff football possible for the Rams on Sunday, especially as the Niners need a victory to ensure they too make the postseason.
If the Rams, and the star-studded roster they have assembled, really do want to serve notice of their Super Bowl credentials, ending their 49ers hoodoo would go a long way to doing so.Watch the San Francisco 49ers at the Los Angeles Rams as part of the final weekend of the NFL regular season, live on Sky Sports NFL from 9.25pm.