We old-schoolers are noticing a distinct trend while fielding many an e-mail from people proclaiming to be experts in NFL analytics.
Apparently, these whippersnappers tell us, a team’s playoff probability percentage is somehow related to its record and is affected weekly by wins and losses.
December wins, they say, are good. Losses not so much.
Sean McVay must get the same e-mails because suddenly it’s no longer a priority for the Rams’ offensive wizard to preserve that degenerative left knee of Todd Gurley, his 25-year-old superstar running back and the underlying engine that made the Rams offense seemingly science fiction not all that long ago.
Asked to pinpoint the reason that Gurley’s top two workloads have come in the past three games, McVay smiled and said, “Me not being an idiot.”
Assign the Rams whatever playoff probability percentage you want. Just make it low enough to place the defending NFC champs in deep, um … trouble.
They’re 7-5. And while they trail the Vikings (8-4) by only a game in the race for the NFC’s sixth and final playoff spot, they also have this humdinger of a remaining schedule: Seahawks (10-2), at Dallas, at San Francisco (10-2) and Arizona (3-8-1).
The Rams also are 11-8 since Detroit’s Matt Patricia created a kryptonite-covered blueprint for defending the Rams.
It was 51 weeks ago. The Rams won 30-16 but were held to 344 yards — 77 below their average last season — and were stuck in a 16-13 quagmire with the lowly Lions midway through the fourth quarter.
In a nutshell, Patricia had his defenders ignore McVay’s many pre-snap bells and whistles. Then he made outflanking the Rams’ vaunted outside-zone runs priority No. 1, forcing Jared Goff to beat the Lions without the benefit of a respected play-action game.
Teams with more talented defenders followed suit with more success. The Bears beat the Rams 15-6 the following week. Two months later, Patriots coach Bill Belichick famously schooled McVay in a 13-3 win in Super Bowl LIII.
Before that Bears game, the Rams scored 30 or more points 10 times in 12 games while averaging 34.9 points. Since then, they’ve done it seven times in 19 games while averaging 22.2 points.
Among last year’s top 10 scoring offenses, the Rams’ average has fallen the most. It’s dipped 9.3 points, going from second (32.9) to 12th (23.6).
Even the constipated Bears and the offensively decimated Steelers have seen their scoring averages drop by fewer points at 8.6 and 7.1, respectively.
The Rams, however, are giving pessimistic Vikings fans something to worry about for at least one more weekend.
After scoring just 34 points while going 1-2 against the Steelers, Bears and Ravens, the Rams hammered Arizona 34-7 last week. They also racked up 549 yards, the most since they blasted the Vikings with 556 in a 38-30 prime-time win in Los Angeles in Week 4 last year.
Goff topped 400 yards passing (424) for only the second time since he threw for 456 yards and a perfect passer rating of 158.3 against the Vikings.
The Rams also were playing a Cardinals team that’s out of the playoff picture and not quite as interested as it was at 3-3-1. Arizona has given up 30 or more points in three straight games, four of its past five and five of its past seven.
So hang in there, Purple Nation. Eyeballs and analytics suggest the Vikings should beat the Lions and be 9-4 by supper time Sunday.
Yes, we know that NFL media analytics guru Cynthia Frelund has crunched the numbers and projected a 51% chance that the Rams will beat the Seahawks 24-23 on Sunday night.
But, hey, that does leave a 49% chance that Seattle wins. And if that happens, well, sorry, Sean, but Frelund says that wouldn’t be good for your projected playoff probability percentage (6.2).
Sounds about right to we old-schoolers.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org