The Los Angeles Rams story for 2023 was clear: save some dough, hoard future draft picks and make a big splash in ‘24 with available salary cap space to rebuild a team that has been paying a steep tab since winning Super Bowl 56.
But as the calendar turns to December, the Rams (5-6) have flipped the page on their original notion. After two straight wins and a revitalized offense, dare we say, they are in the NFC playoff hunt.
By Sunday night, they could be tied for the No. 7 spot in the NFC if a few things fall into place.
Paramount, of course, is the Rams defeating the visiting, and underdog, Cleveland Browns (7-4), who could be without their top two quarterbacks because of injuries.
If L.A. adds another win, on the heels of the favored Dallas Cowboys besting the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night, that would drop the Seahawks to 6-6.
But the Rams hold the tiebreaker here thanks to a season-sweep of Seattle as coach Sean McVay continues his domination of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
The final peg is the Kansas City Chiefs bouncing the Packers on Sunday night, which would drop Green Bay to 5-7, one game behind the Rams.
When the Packers beat the Rams in Week 9 to drop them to 3-6, few thought L.A. could climb off the mat.
Then quarterback Matthew Stafford returned from his thumb injury, and last week, running back Kyren Williams suited up after an ankle injury cost him four weeks.
Viola! The Rams have now won twice and the chatter is about what might happen this year, instead of everyone peering through binoculars with a focus on ‘24.
McVay is tapping the breaks on the big picture, especially with the Rams not that far removed for a three-game losing streak. But there’s a chance L.A., with a late push, could be playing meaningful games in mid-January.
“It’s about one week at a time,’’ McVay said. “If we do that and continue to get better, then I think those conversations always take care of themselves, and that’s what served us well in previous years as well.’’
Still, the outlook was on next year when the Rams will move some dead weight off the books as they currently have about $46 million in cap space in ‘24, according to spotrac.
On the draft side, the Rams will have their first, first-round pick since zooming up the board to take quarterback Jared Goff in 2016. All told, the Rams hold 10 selections to round out a roster which is showing it can compete at a high level this year.
Tight end Tyler Higbee had heard the wait-until-next-year mantra. He said the players and coaches never bought into it.
Higbee had two scoring catches in the Sunday’s 37-14 win over the Cardinals.
“(We) knew that we had a chance to do something special and make a run at the playoffs,’’ Higbee told the LA Times.
There’s still plenty of work to be done with remaining games against Cleveland, the Baltimore Ravens (9-3), Washington Commanders (4-8), New Orleans Saints (5-6), New York Giants (4-8) and NFC West rival, the San Francisco 49ers (8-3).
Let the record show the Rams are still looking for ‘24 to be a big year.
But first, let this one play out. L.A. has the look recently of someone eager to play on and just maybe be a surprise team in the playoffs.