At 6-4 following a 17-7 Sunday Night Football victory over the Chicago Bears, the Los Angeles Rams somehow remain in the NFC playoff picture. But unlike in 2018, the Rams don't look, feel, smell, sound or taste like a true contender.
And that's because they have a regressing liability at the sport's most important position.
Jared Goff, who entered Sunday as the NFL's sixth-lowest-rated passer, completed just 11 passes against the Bears. Under his tutelage, the Rams offense managed just 13 first downs, three third-down conversions and 17 points in a dud game that was closer than it looked.
Woeful Chicago failed to make the Rams pay for two first-quarter turnovers, the Bears failed to score on four of their five drives that crossed the Los Angeles 40-yard line, and the Rams couldn't pull away from a struggling opponent until scoring an insurance touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
While a win's a win, this served as a reminder that it isn't the Rams' year. Not with Goff, who has completed just 57 percent of his passes in his last six games.
Goff was a Pro Bowler last season, and the Rams averaged an NFC-high 32.9 points per game. But a strong defense led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, a stellar offensive line led by several highly accomplished veterans and a top-notch running game led by 2018 touchdown leader Todd Gurley masked a lot of the 2016 top pick's flaws.
Now, with that line in shambles as a result of departures and injuries and Gurley no longer as productive coming off a knee injury, Goff's glaring limitations have been exposed. He hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since Week 8, and he's lucky to have just three interceptions the last two weeks.
The Rams scored a total of 29 points in those two games. That's a mark they reached in 13 of their 16 games in 2018. Their strong offensive performances this year have generally come against weak and/or vulnerable opponents. And while that was also the case to an extent last season—they scored just six points in Chicago, 23 in Denver and 23 at home against Philadelphia in 2018—the trend has become more extreme in 2019.
In three games this season against opponents who rank in the top five in the league at Football Outsiders in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), Goff has zero touchdown passes, a completion percentage of 55.4 and a passer rating of 58.0. The Rams have averaged just 12 points in those three affairs.
That doesn't bode well for his or his team's chances next week against the red-hot Baltimore Ravens and their surging, opportunistic defense, and they also have to travel to San Francisco in December.
With a minuscule margin for error in a loaded NFC playoff race, those dynamics could leave the reigning conference champions on the sideline come January.
If Goff and Co. hadn't bullied weak opponents like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals in September and October, the numbers would be a lot uglier. But even still, Goff's broad backslide dating back to December is eye-opening.
He entered that month last season with a 26-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio, a completion percentage of 67.7 and a passer rating of 113.5. In 15 starts since then, he's thrown 17 touchdown passes to 16 interceptions, completed 59.9 percent of his throws, and his passer rating is 79.7.
Over the course of what essentially amounts to a full season, he's been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. He's a wildly inconsistent and unreliable deep passer who is comically inaccurate under pressure, and he had the league's worst qualified bad throw rate through 10 weeks.
Even with Gurley putting together easily his best game of the season, it was more of the same from Goff on Sunday night. He did connect on a couple of deep passes, but he was ineffective under limited pressure, locked on to his first reads far too often, missed several no-excuse throws, and he should have been picked off at least twice.
It's a good thing the Rams defense has gotten its act together after a rough start to the year. Donald is on a tear (seven sacks in his last five games), and that unit has surrendered just 11.0 points per game since Week 7.
But it now feels inevitable that Goff will spoil it all for that defense, even if that didn't happen on this particular night. And that's a shame, as is the fact that the Rams are all-in on Goff. The window is closing on a team in win-now mode that will lack both salary-cap space and draft capital in the early part of the impending new decade.
They're married to Goff and his new $134 million contract, but every sense indicates that extension was a mistake. The Rams remain a contender despite their franchise quarterback, and that's not a recipe for success in this day and age.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.