- WHERE: SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, Calif.)
- WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET | Prime Video, NFL+
One year ago this week, the Rams had failed to win a game in the month of November but would embark on a hot closing streak that would eventually vault them into the playoffs, ending the 2021 season as Super Bowl champions.
At the same time, the Raiders were at a similar crossroads, winning one game between Weeks 8 and 14 and clinging to their playoff lives following the resignation of Jon Gruden. But they’d do just that, winning their final four games and back-dooring their way into the postseason with four straight wins.
Oh, how much difference a year makes.
The Rams are playing merely for pride down the stretch, now losers of six straight following their 3-3 start. No matter that injuries have decimated the defending champs or that most of those recent losses have been fairly close, competitive games.
The facts are these: The Rams currently have the worst record ever for a defending Super Bowl champ through 12 games, falling just below the 1987 New York Giants, who started 4-8 in the strike season that year. (Those Giants would finish 6-9, with four of the losses coming with replacement players.)
The Rams’ six-game losing streak is now the longest by any defending champ, and Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks ensures that they’ll finish with a losing record under head coach Sean McVay for the first time.
The Raiders’ fortunes have been almost the inverse of the Rams’. Las Vegas started the season with three straight losses and a 2-7 mark that drew calls from some for team owner Mark Davis to pull the plug on the Josh McDaniels experiment halfway into his first season.
But since then, the Raiders have won three straight, including two on the road. Beating the downtrodden Broncos was one thing, but taking down playoff contenders in the Seahawks and Chargers was a sign that the Raiders are playing their best football of late.
Here are four things to watch for when the Rams host the Raiders on Thursday night on Prime Video:
- The Davante Adams-Jalen Ramsey show will be worth watching. As he approaches his 30th birthday, Adams is starting to reach some heights that put him among the great receivers in recent NFL history. After a five-target, one-catch, 3-yard game against the Saints in Week 8, Adams has been one of the toughest covers in the league. He has 41 catches (on 67 targets) for 664 yards (16.2-yard average) and seven TDs in his past five games and is now leading the NFL in touchdowns (12) and is on pace to better his incredible 2021 production with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. The Rams had to deal with Adams twice in the calendar year of 2021, first in the 2020 playoff loss at Green Bay and then 10-plus months later in the 2021 regular season. In those two games, Adams combined for 17 catches (on 19 targets) for 170 yards and one TD, often matched up with Rams CB Jalen Ramsey. Their rivalry has been well-documented, and though Ramsey certainly had some wins when they went head to head, it’s hard not to argue that Adams won more battles against him than he lost. Ramsey didn’t follow Adams every single time, just as he didn’t follow Seattle’s DK Metcalf (lined up across from him on 22 of 40 routes) last week. Plus, the Rams are a heavy zone team, but we will see Ramsey and Adams lock horns eventually in this game. They’re two of the best at their respective positions and certainly will take some personal pride when it comes to this battle.
- Josh Jacobs is on a tear, but he’s also banged up. We won’t know Jacobs’ official status until 90 minutes prior to kickoff, but he's questionable. The early expectation is that he’ll try to gut through a calf injury and play in this one. But has he looked unhealthy lately? That would be a definitive no. Jacobs enters this game on a three-game 100-yard rushing streak, with the Raiders winning all three, and he’s had at least 150 yards from scrimmage in each of those games; if he can make it four straight games with 150 or more, he’d be the first NFL player to accomplish that since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016. Jacobs also has two team records in his sights: 457 rushing yards away from breaking Marcus Allen's single-season rushing mark set in 1985 and five more rushing TDs to break Pete Banaszak’s franchise season record set in 1975. The Rams rank fourth in the NFL in rush defense at 96.7 yards allowed per game, even holding the Seahawks to 90 rush yards last week without DT Aaron Donald. Donald’s ankle injury will keep him out of this game as well.
- Another opportunity for Bryce Perkins? With Matthew Stafford shut down for the season -- and L.A. still "working through" recently claimed Baker Mayfield's status for TNF, as Sean McVay told reporters Wednesday -- the Rams’ QB options are not that appealing. John Wolford, who is questionable for Thursday due to a neck injury, started in Weeks 10 and 13 for the Rams, who lost both games at home. Wolford struggled in both games, taking seven sacks, throwing three picks and losing a fumble with only one TD pass. But Wolford was an early-week DNP (did not practice) and could be unavailable with a neck injury. Perkins started in the loss to the Chiefs and also had his travails, completing 13 of 23 passes for 100 yards, one TD and two picks. Although he adds a dimension with his running ability (18 rushes, 81 yards, long of 23 this season), Perkins has been indecisive in the pocket and has taken six sacks on 40 dropbacks in 2022. The Rams are flat out beaten up almost everywhere offensively. The line has been decimated. Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson are out, leaving a receiving corps of Ben Skowronek, Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, Brandon Powell and others. If Perkins does start, it’s an opportunity to prove himself for 2023. After all, if he can thrive against the Raiders with this tattered Rams group, Perkins will have shown something. (UPDATE: NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported Thursday morning that Mayfield could start vs. the Raiders if Wolford is unable to play.)
- Run game might have to be Rams’ saving grace. The Rams rank 30th in rush yards (87.3 per game) and 31st in yards per carry (3.7), but the team’s 171-yard ground game against the Seahawks offered some hope that L.A. might be able to creatively manufacture yards with such a limited passing game. Cam Akers, following a rough start to the season, had 60 yards and two TDs vs. Seattle, and McVay called on Powell and Atwell to be used extensively as runners, combining for 68 yards on end arounds, jet sweeps and the like. After the game, McVay acknowledged he’s been too slow to get Atwell involved, so look for more trickery involving him. The 2021 second-rounder hasn’t played much, but Atwell also had some moments as a receiver last week with two catches for 48 yards and Wolford underthrowing him for what would have been a TD bomb. At this stage, what is there to lose? The Rams need to generate offense any way they can, and Akers, Atwell, Powell and rookie Kyren Williams figure to get plenty of chances.