Week 14, and the first round of playoffs have officially kicked off with the Patriots visiting the new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles against the Rams. When it comes to a Thursday night game with fantasy implications, this game had a lot going for it in terms of production and also questions. Both quarterbacks have been hot and cold, there is no real WR1 on either team, and the running back corps has been either a two-headed or three-headed monster.
Remember, the last time these two teams played was in the Super Bowl LII when Tom Brady was the Patriots quarterback and Todd Gurley was still on the Rams. The game was, well, boring and ended 13-3 in favor of the Patriots. The Rams had no offense and it seemed blatantly obvious that Sean McVay looked over his head and out-coached.
Since then, there have been several changes including a different style of offense for the Rams who have featured their 12-personnel scheme with multiple tight ends and their aforementioned committee running backs.
The Patriots were riding on high on the 45-0 shutout victory over the Los Angeles Chargers the week before. The Rams were likewise building momentum after their victory over Arizona Cardinals, bouncing back from a bad loss to the 49ers the week before. This game had playoffs implications for the Patriots and the Rams were looking to rinse the bad taste out of their mouths after their Super Bowl loss.
My, how the tables turned.
The Beat Down
Despite a previous running back by committee approach for the Rams, this game was all rookie RB Cam Akers. He started early and just kept going, breaking records on his way. His 171 rushing yards were the most by a rookie so far this season and is also the most ever by a rookie running back against New England. I should note that he didn’t even score a touchdown. All of that work was in between the 20s.
The Rams drew first blood with a rushing touchdown by QB Jared Goff. The Patriots then went three and out and the Rams took back over and kicked a field goal. Just like that, the Rams were ahead 10-0 and they never looked back.
At the end of the first quarter, Goff threw an interception that was initially run back for a pick-six. However, upon review, the play was reversed to just an interception and the defensive touchdown was taken off the board. The Rams led in time of possession 10:56 to 4:04, total yards 166 to 22, and eight first downs compared to only one for the Patriots.
The Patriots started off the second quarter with possession thanks to the interception, but Newton immediately turned it back over for a pick-six for the Rams. This one stayed on the board and the Rams were up 17-0. That just about sums up the whole game.
The Patriots did try to get some life going but they seemed to be deathly allergic to the end zone having to kick a field goal and then turning the ball over on downs. They looked predictable and stagnant. The Rams Defense had QB Cam Newton’s number and stuffed any attempt at a run game between Damien Harris and James White. They held Newton to eight of 12 completions for 89 yards and an interception while holding their backs to only 69 yards on 19 rushing attempts in the first half.
The second half didn’t bring any sort of a miracle for New England. They punted three times in a row, turned it over on downs, punted, then turned it over on downs again while the Rams tacked on another touchdown to WR Cooper Kupp while Akers ran all over the defense.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Patriots pulled Newton and put in backup QB Jarett Stidham. Whether this was to spark some life in the offense, protect Newton who has been dealing with an abdominal issue, or both, the move calls Newton’s future into question. HC Bill Belichick was adamant that Newton was their starter in his postgame interview. However, when Stidham was upright and not on the turf, he looked poised in the pocket and crisp with his passes while Newton looked harried and sloppy. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots move forward with the rest of the season and what they plan to do for 2021 at the QB position.
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Fantasy Jump-Starts and Stall-Outs
Akers takes the title of fantasy superstar on TNF, and again, without even scoring a touchdown. He rushed 29 times for 171 yards and caught three passes for 23 yards and ended the day with 21.4 points. He was a question mark heading into this matchup due to an injury designation that was eventually cleared and also because RBs Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown have rotated in the offense. It’s becoming clear that Akers is the lead back. The Rams’ upcoming matchup against the Jets should solidify Akers' status as a must-start or derail all of our trust.
Kupp saved his fantasy day with a touchdown after a long drive on the backs of Akers, WR Robert Woods, and WR Josh Reynolds. He caught all five of his targets for 33 yards (including the TD) and finished with 14.3 points. If you started the Rams DST, you are very happy with 21 points on six sacks and a pick-six.
Other than that, this game was not that impressive in terms of fantasy. Woods only had one fewer yard than Kupp on five receptions but he didn’t have the benefit of a score. He finished with 8.1 and Goff, despite throwing a touchdown and rushing one in himself finished with only 14.58 points on 137 yards passing. Rams TEs Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett were quiet with 5.4 and 1.9 respectively.
As for the Patriots, well, everyone was disappointing. It was bad. There wasn’t a single Patriots player that eclipsed double-digits.
Cardinals RB Kenyan Drake popped up on the injury report with a hip injury on Thursday. … Raiders RB Josh Jacobs was limited in practice on Thursday, which is a positive sign he trending toward playing on Sunday. … Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott limited in a walk-through with a hamstring injury, but the Cowboys aren’t doing much anyway after playing on Tuesday night. … Jets WR Denzel Mims is out on Sunday while dealing with a personal issue. … Vikings TE Irv Smith is back at practice while TE Kyle Rudolph is was not at practice. … Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey suffered a new quad injury and is doubtful for Week 14. … Washington RB Antonio Gibson was diagnosed with turf-toe and is unlikely to play this Sunday. … Falcons WR Julio Jones did not practice with a hamstring injury. … Buccaneers WR Mike Evans did not practice with a hamstring injury after being limited on Wednesday. … Jets WR Jamison Crowder was added to the injury report with a calf issue on Thursday. … Jets expect RB Frank Gore to return which makes Ty Johnson fantasy-moot if Gore suits up. … Patriots RB Damien Harris went down late in the game with a back injury but was able to walk off of the field on his accord.