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An Amazing Maze: How the Rams Could Actually Make the Playoffs

December 08, 1987|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

OK, are you ready to talk about the Rams and the playoffs? Seriously?

Chicago's win over Minnesota Sunday night gave the Rams an outside shot at the NFC's final wild-card playoff spot. Only days ago, that kind of suggestion would have had you tossed out of taverns.

Of course, it's all predicated on the Rams' winning their last three games against Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco and finishing 8-7. Difficult, for sure, but not improbable.

And, contrary to popular belief, one more win for the Vikings does not guarantee them the last playoff spot.

Minnesota (7-5) is clearly the wild-card favorite. Philadelphia, St. Louis, Dallas and the Rams lag behind at 5-7.

But should, for instance, the Eagles, Rams and Vikings finish in a three-way tie at 8-7, the Rams would continue play, based on a better overall record in the conference.

If it's a three-way tie among the Rams, Cardinals and Vikings, the Cardinals would get in, based on a better conference record.

If the Rams and Vikings finish 8-7, the Vikings would go to the playoffs, based on direct competition, Minnesota having defeated the Rams this season.

Dallas is a real long shot because the Cowboys play the Rams and the Cardinals in the final three weeks. Someone figures to get knocked out there.

A look at the remaining schedule for the contenders:

Philadelphia is at home for Miami, at the New York Jets and home to Buffalo.

St. Louis plays host to the New York Giants, then is at Tampa Bay and at Dallas.

Dallas is at Washington next week, then at Los Angeles and home for St. Louis.

Minnesota is at Green Bay, at Detroit and home to Washington the final week.

Philadelphia, playing AFC opponents the rest of the way, is hurt because it can't improve its inter-conference record, which is only 4-7.

Ram Coach John Robinson said Monday he honestly did not pay much attention to the Chicago-Minnesota game Sunday night. And he, like many others, figured the Vikings could still clinch with one more win.

"I don't expect them to lose the next three games," Robinson said. "And the harder I root for a team to do that, the better they do. I'm going to ignore them, and if somebody tells me that they've lost three in a row by the time we get to San Francisco, then I'll start wondering."

Minnesota could end all drama by winning two of its last three games.

Robinson, though, knows how quickly a season can turn. Last year, you may recall, the Rams needed just one win in their last three games to clinch the NFC Western Division title. They lost all three, and then a wild-card playoff game to Washington.

The Rams, of course, have now won four straight games and, as Robinson put it, have their foundation back in order.

"For a while it looked like the house blew over and the foundation went with it," he said.

He said having a stable franchise heading into the team's two most important drafts in recent history is essential.

The Rams have five of the first 56 picks in 1988 and 1989, including two first-round choices each year.

"Ultimately, these five players, or let's go to six players, and the next six players the next year have a 10-year, dramatic effect on this franchise," he said. "The next two years this team becomes an entity again. These people are very important to us."

Robinson has promised to take a stronger hands-on approach to the draft next April. The Rams have missed badly on their first picks the last two seasons with Mike Schad and Donald Evans, respectively.

"I'm going to see most of the top 50 guys," Robinson said. "I'm going to take a lot of personal trips, or have kids come in. Probably my best contribution is dealing with the person, to the total picture of a scouting effort.

"If I were to go time a guy, or check his ability jumping over a table, our scouts could do a better job of that than I could. I like to watch them play football in terms of how they play the game. The specific area I know most is the running game and linemen."

Ram Notes

Safety Vince Newsome, as expected, had knee surgery Monday and will be lost for the rest of the season. "It's nothing that's going to affect his career," John Robinson said. With safeties Newsome and Johnnie Johnson (broken right arm) out for the season with injuries, rookie Michael Stewart is forced into the starting lineup at strong safety. Robinson said he won't make a move to get another safety. If either Stewart or Nolan Cromwell should be injured, Jerry Gray could move to safety with rookie Clifford Hicks taking Gray's spot at cornerback.

Sunday, Charles White became the seventh player in Ram history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. White is the team's first 1,000-yard rusher other than Eric Dickerson since 1981, when Wendell Tyler rushed for 1,074 yards. . . . Concessionaires at the Pontiac Silverdome were selling old Eric Dickerson (with the Rams) T-shirts for $4, marked down from $12. "It's a real collector's item," one guy said. . . . Free-agent running back Jon Francis, the Rams' lone remaining strike player, scored his second touchdown of the season Sunday on a pass from Jim Everett. It tied Francis for the team lead in touchdown receptions, two, with Ron Brown, Henry Ellard and Damone Johnson.

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