Quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, left tackle Andrew Whitworth and defensive lineman Aaron Donald are among the star players who helped the Rams clinch the NFC West.
In Sunday’s regular-season finale against the San Francisco 49ers, all could be spectators.
With the Rams’ first playoff game since 2004 looming the following week, Coach Sean McVay said Tuesday that he was leaning toward being safe rather than sorry and risking injury to key players.
“We feel like that’s probably going to be the best decision,” McVay said at the team’s practice facility in Thousand Oaks.
The Rams are 11-4. A victory over the 49ers would ensure them the No. 3 seed in the NFC behind the No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles and the No. 2 Minnesota Vikings. But McVay said the potential risk of exposing key players to injury outweighed the possibility of falling to the No. 4 seed.
“You don’t ever take anything for granted, but knowing that you do have a home playoff game regardless of how things play out, this might provide an opportunity for us to get some guys healthy,” McVay said. “So, that’s a luxury that we want to try to take advantage of.”
Entering the playoffs as the No. 4 seed, in some eyes, might work to the Rams’ advantage.
As the No. 3 seed, a playoff victory would send them to Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Rams lost to the Vikings, 24-7, in Week 11.
As the No. 4 seed, a playoff victory would send them to Philadelphia to play an Eagles team that defeated the Rams, 43-35 in Week 14 at the Coliseum. But the Eagles now are relying on backup quarterback Nick Foles in the wake of the season-ending knee injury that Carson Wentz suffered against the Rams.
This week will afford Rams players such as linebackers Mark Barron and Alec Ogletree and offensive lineman Rodger Saffold an opportunity to heal.
Barron was sidelined the past two games because of general soreness and an Achilles issue. Ogletree has been playing through a sore elbow and general wear and tear. And Saffold suffered an oblique muscle injury in last week’s victory at Tennessee.
After the game, Saffold said the Rams “need to get guys healthy and feeling good so we can come out here and explode.”
McVay also could rest Whitworth and center John Sullivan, which directly affects Goff and Gurley.
“Those things are all definitely connected,” McVay said.
Gurley has put himself in the most valuable player conversation with outstanding performances in the past two games. He rushed for 152 yards and scored four touchdowns in a rout at Seattle and amassed 276 yards from scrimmage and scored two TDs last week.
McVay said he was not concerned that resting key players on offense would affect rhythm and timing going into the playoffs. He pointed to the Rams’ Week 9 performance after an open date: The Rams routed the New York Giants, 51-17.
“It was one of our more productive games, where we’re hitting deep balls, we’re able to run the football, have a nice little bit of balance, guys are making plays,” McVay said. “I think we’ve got the right types of guys that can handle that the right way.”
Kicker Sam Ficken is one player who will get more opportunities against the 49ers.
The Rams signed Ficken last week to replace Greg Zuerlein, who remains the NFL’s leading scorer with 158 points, after Zuerlein had season-ending back surgery.
Ficken missed a field goal and extra-point attempt against the Titans before settling down and converting kicks.
“We loved the way that he responded [after initial struggles] and I think this week will provide a great chance for him to continue to do some things for our team,” McVay said, “and we’re going to move forward with confidence with him.”