Before the season began, the two teams that tangle on Thursday Night Football this week could easily have been considered favorites to meet in the National Football Conference Championship Game. The Minnesota Vikings had the best defense in football last year and were favored over eventual Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia on the road in their conference championship game.
They are good … or at least were last year.
Their opponent on Thursday night is the home standing Los Angeles Rams. Through three weeks no team has looked better than the Rams.
Second-year head coach Sean McVay rested his starters though most of the preseason, seemingly working the kinks out of his talented team in the first half of their Monday Night Football opener against the Oakland Raiders. In that Week One first half the Rams trailed the Raiders by three points, 13-10.
Preseason over, begin season.
The Rams came out of the tunnel for the second half in Oakland and won the final 30 minutes by 23 points, 23-0. That began a run of 57 points scored by Los Angeles without having their defense dented by an opponent's attack. After beating the Raiders 33-13, they downed the Arizona Cardinals, 34-0.
Last week, they hosted their Southern California rivals, the Los Angeles Chargers. The game played like a solid battle between two talented teams, but in the end, the Rams 35-23 victory moved them to 3-0 and the Chargers dropped their season record to 1-2.
Now the Rams look to move to 4-0 and if that were to happen, the result would drop the Vikings to 1-2-1.
On my charts, this is a situation that is much more likely to end with the Rams 3-1 and the Vikings 2-1-1. No matter how good the Rams are, they are teetering on a motivational collapse given this is the other side of a breakthrough campaign and they have silenced all critics and concerns with their trio of impressive wins to open the season.
If this was a cartoon, the Rams would be represented by a big oof with a club in his hand and a black beard sticking out in all directions … and he would be standing on a trap door.
When that trap door opens, and motivation is a fierce opponent, it can be a long while before an overconfident team can find firm footing.
Two things are true, no team has looked better through the first three weeks of this season than the Los Angeles Rams. And Second, their success generates fertile ground for overconfidence to take root. Each win by the Rams taking them closer to becoming a bad wager based on bloated point spreads and focused opponents.
What the Rams have going for them this Thursday night is home field advantage on a short week for an opponent coming off a loss. Los Angeles also fields the best personnel in football.
The Vikings counter with a must win off a stinging loss and the need to overcome those two elements while also having a long road trip on a short work week.
On Thursday night, all the Rams have to do is play as well as they have the first three weeks, while Minnesota is looking down the gunbarrel of needing to step up their game in a big hurry.
The team that knows it has hurdles to clear is in a better spot to win based on motivation than the squad content on doing their same old thing.
Qoxhi Picks: Minnesota Vikings (+7) over Los Angeles Rams