Minutes after last week’s victory over the Houston Texans — his team’s fourth consecutive win — Rams coach Sean McVay neared the end of his postgame speech in the Coliseum locker room.
McVay was already looking ahead, telling players who had forged a 7-2 record that they had a “great NFC matchup” coming up in Minnesota against a Vikings team with the same record.
“Great opportunity to see if we can be our best, when our best is required against a great team,” McVay said.
On Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Rams get another chance to prove that they are playoff worthy, and that they should remain in the conversation for a possible return trip here for the Super Bowl.
The challenge is expected to be their toughest test to date.
The Rams are 5-0 away from the Coliseum, including victories over the Dallas Cowboys and the Jacksonville Jaguars, both regarded as possible playoff teams.
But the Rams have not been particularly extended lately.
Their last three wins came against the Arizona Cardinals, the New York Giants and the Texans, injury-depleted teams that have a combined 8-19 record.
Now they face a Vikings team that has won five consecutive games and is in first place in the NFC North.
Rams receiver Robert Woods described it as an even matchup.
“This is about want-to and determination,” Woods said. “Who wants it more?”
The game features quarterbacks Jared Goff and Case Keenum, Rams teammates in 2016.
Goff, the first pick in the 2016 draft, started against the Vikings here in the final preseason game of his rookie season. Keenum and nearly all of the frontline players took the night off.
Goff completed six of 16 passes, including a touchdown, but he had a pass intercepted and lost a fumble. He then stood on the sidelines for nine regular-season games until former coach Jeff Fisher finally turned to the future and replaced Keenum with Goff.
Fourteen months later, Goff returns to Minneapolis as the leader of the NFL’s highest-scoring offense.
Goff faces a defense that ranks fifth in the NFL.
“No weaknesses, really, at every spot,” Goff said.
Former USC lineman Everson Griffen has a team-best 10 sacks for the Vikings.
In assessing the challenge at hand, Rams running back Todd Gurley named every member of the secondary and several linebackers.
“Definitely going to be a handful,” he said.
The Rams’ defense is equally as stout.
After struggling at times early in the season, it has played well since the second half of a Week 4 victory at Dallas.
Lineman Aaron Donald and others will try to rattle Keenum, who is thriving since taking over for injured Sam Bradford.
Keenum passed for four touchdowns, with two interceptions, in last week’s victory over the Washington Redskins.
“I’m the same guy I’ve always been,” Keenum said, “but I feel like I’ve gotten better.”
Keenum, however, faces a Rams defense that knows his strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.
“It’s going to be fun,” cornerback Trumaine Johnson said. “He’s a gunslinger, he really is.”
Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips also is familiar with Keenum. Phillips was on the Texans staff — and eventually served as interim coach — when Keenum made eight winless starts for the team in 2013.
But Keenum is on a hot streak now.
Despite Teddy Bridgewater’s recent return from a knee injury that sidelined him for the 2016 season, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is sticking with Keenum.
A capacity crowd of more than 66,000 is expected to fill one of the NFL’s loudest stadiums for the showdown between division leaders.
The Rams prepped for the noise this week by turning up the music at practice.
“I don’t think you can ever truly mimic exactly what that’s going to be like,” McVay said, adding, “It’s going to be a very challenging environment, especially for us offensively.”
No problem, offensive lineman Jamon Brown said.