With a second straight division title in hand, Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams would love to grab a few more prizes.
Another one is there for the taking.
The NFC West champion Rams look to clinch a first-round playoff bye when they visit the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears in a prime-time matchup Sunday.
“You obviously want to win as many games as you can,” Goff said. “But if you do, it will lead to those types of rewards, and the first one we’ve done is win the division. Hopefully we can win a few more now or however many it takes to get the first-round bye and hopefully work toward the first seed.”
The Rams (11-1) clinched their second straight division championship and became the first team to secure a playoff spot with their 30-16 victory at Detroit last week. It’s quite an accomplishment for a franchise that endured 13 seasons without a winning record after capturing the NFC West in 2003.
It’s the first division repeat for the Rams since a run of seven straight first-place finishes ended in 1979. And besides securing a first-round bye on Sunday, Los Angeles has a chance to move closer to home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, with a one-game lead over New Orleans, which has beaten the Rams.
Chicago (8-4) won five straight prior to a wild overtime loss at the New York Giants last week. The Bears wiped out a 10-point deficit in the final 1:13 of regulation, only to lose when Janoris Jenkins knocked away a deep pass by Chase Daniel after Aldrick Rosas kicked a 44-yard field goal.
Daniels likely won’t be at quarterback this week. Mitchell Trubisky expects to return after missing the past two games because of a right shoulder injury.
Todd Gurley is already the NFL’s leading rusher and its top-scoring non-kicker with 19 touchdowns, but the Rams might need to rely on their superstar running back even more than usual. His backup, Malcolm Brown, is out for the season after injuring his collarbone last week. Depth running backs Justin Davis and John Kelly have little regular-season experience, but both seem confident in their ability to contribute — and Kelly is a Detroit native who won’t mind the cold Chicago weather.
Though the Bears rank second against the run, they’ve had trouble stopping it the past two games.
New York’s Saquon Barkley carried 24 times for 125 yards. And in a Thanksgiving victory at Detroit, Chicago gave up 85 yards rushing in the second half.
THROW IT OUT
Goff is coming off one of his least impressive games in a standout season. He went 17 of 33 for just 207 yards and one touchdown at Detroit. Goff also threw an interception and was sacked twice. He’s facing a daunting task going against Khalil Mack and a defense with a league-leading 21 interceptions. “We’ve got to be ready to go,” McVay said. “This is one of the best defenses in the league and you see it show up on the tape.”
The two teams appear to be following similar paths, with prized quarterbacks and big leaps under offense-minded coaches.
The Rams drafted Goff with the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, hired coach Sean McVay to get the most out of him prior to last season, and took off from there, winning the division out of nowhere.
Chicago drafted Trubisky with the second overall pick in 2017 and hired Matt Nagy prior to this season to get the most out of the prized QB. Though the Bears expected to be better after four straight last-place finishes, a rather commanding division lead seemed like a stretch.
Trubisky has taken some big strides after a shaky rookie season — like Goff, who made the Pro Bowl last year. And a prime-time win over the team with the best record in the NFL wouldn’t hurt his stock.
“We know we have a great opponent coming in this weekend. ... And I’m just eager and excited to get back out there with my guys and play the game,” Trubisky said.
Trubisky hasn’t played since a win over Minnesota on Nov. 18. He was hurt sliding in the closing minutes, when the Vikings’ Harrison Smith hit him on the left side. That resulted in his right shoulder getting driven into the ground.
Assuming he starts Sunday, Trubisky will have to contend with Aaron Donald, who leads the league with 16½ sacks.
“You look at (Donald) and you wonder how he can weigh as much as he weighs (280 pounds) and be as quick as he is,” Nagy said. “He’s really extremely quick. He’s savvy in regards to the different types of moves that he has. He’s got power.”