Rams in the NFC South (11/18/14)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
Could the Rams make the playoffs in the NFC South?



The St. Louis Rams shocked the NFL by holding Peyton Manning to his lowest scoring day as a Bronco in Sunday's 22-7 victory. The Broncos had scored 17 or more points in each of Manning's first 41 regular season games but the Rams held the defending AFC Champions to one touchdown.

At 4-6, the Rams are not out of the playoffs. But with five teams ahead of St. Louis in the NFC Wild Card race, the Rams' margin for error is small. We give St. Louis a 2.7 percent chance of reaching the postseason and a 0.1 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl.

With a dominating performance against one of the best teams in the league and victories over the past two NFC Champions, Seattle and San Francisco, one might wonder if St. Louis could make the playoffs if it were in a different division, say the NFC South.

The NFC South has been a running joke this season. The 4-6 Atlanta Falcons have backed their way into first place in the division. Could St. Louis be the best team in the league's worst division?

To find out we used 50,000 simulations to determine if St. Louis could make the playoffs if the Rams were part of the NFC South. We ran two simulations, the first with the Rams playing the New Orleans Saints' schedule, the second with the Rams playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' schedule.

After 50,000 simulations the St. Louis Rams (playing the Saints' schedule) would win the NFC South with a projected record of 9.0-7.0. The Rams would have a 77.5 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 2.1 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl.

Of course taking the Saints out of the division makes the NFC South much easier. What would the Rams' chances be of reaching the playoffs if they had to play New Orleans twice during the regular season?

After 50,000 simulations the St. Louis Rams (playing the Buccaneers' schedule) would finish second in the NFC South (behind the Saints) with a projected record of 7.6-8.4. Even though the Rams would not be projected to win the division, St. Louis would have a 39.7 percent chance of making the playoffs and 0.9 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl.

St. Louis averaged 4.0 rushing yards per play including 113 yards from rookie Tre Mason against one of the league's best run defenses in Sunday's victory over Denver. Every team in the NFC South ranks middle of the road or worse in defensive rushing efficiency.

Coming into the season the Rams had hopes for a terrifying defense led by a front seven capable of producing sacks from any position. St. Louis had just one sack through the team's first five games, an NFL record. Since Week 7, the Rams have 18 sacks on 222 dropbacks looking like the dominant unit many imagined before the season.

An improved run game and defense, plus playing in the NFC South, would dramatically increase the St. Louis Rams' chances of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Rams in the NFC South

Projected Stats Playing Saints Schedule Playing Buccaneers Schedule
Record 9.0-7.0 7.6-8.4
Chance to reach playoffs 77.5% 39.7%
Chance to win Super Bowl 2.1% 0.9%