Ship part

Pressure is mounting for Matthew Stafford to steer the ship to a successful Los Angeles Rams playoff run

The Los Angeles Rams have been the most aggressive franchise from a team building perspective since the start of the Sean McVay era.

McVay and general manager Les Snead were the masterminds behind the Rams’ star-studded roster. The team isn’t afraid to pack a slew of draft picks to acquire proven players rather than college prospects who place a bet on whether they will succeed or not.

They did that before this season, packing two first-round picks, a third-round pick and quarterback Jared Goff to bring quarterback Matthew Stafford in-house and presumably take the Rams to the promised land.

It was a decision in which the Rams felt they were just steps away from becoming a Super Bowl-caliber team. They reached the divisional round last season but needed an extra coin or coins to not only qualify for the playoffs, but the hope was that they could make it past the playoffs and lift a Lombardi Trophy.

Specifically, that piece was Stafford.

Statistically, Stafford’s first season in Los Angeles orchestrating McVay’s offense became his best season of his career. The team went 12-5 and won the NFC West.

But at the end of the day, the Rams have lofty goals that require more than just being crowned division champions.

Stafford finished the regular season third in passing yards (4,886) and second in touchdowns (41). But it hasn’t always been easy. He also finished the NFL’s first 18-week season tied for the top of the steals list (17).

Much of the Rams’ playoff success rests with Stafford’s right-hand man. Granted, he’s already endured the pressure since becoming the Rams’ signalman. A franchise doesn’t part with a set of draft picks without raising the stakes and expectations about what they can ultimately accomplish.

But the pressure mounting from the regular season to the playoffs is monumentally higher. The offseason trade will fundamentally be judged on the success of Stafford and the Rams in their playoff run.

“Every time I step on the court I prove myself, whether it’s a preseason game, a regular season game, a practice, a playoff game,” Stafford said. “I want to go out there and play well. It’s just another opportunity to do it.

But the biggest question entering the NFC Wild Card game is which version of Stafford will the Rams get when the Arizona Cardinals enter SoFi Stadium for their third game of the season?

He’s had flashes this season to exemplify his superior passing ability, throwing his name in the early season MVP conversion. But Stafford has also had streaks this season like his final four weeks in which he committed nine turnovers throughout that streak.

“It’s a team game,” Stafford said. “But at the same time, do I know that when the quarterback plays a good game, you have a better chance of winning the game? Absoutely. So I always try to go out there and play as good a football as possible to help our team win.

Odell Beckham Jr., a key addition to the Rams’ mid-season offense, indicated those moments going forward will be the defining point of the team’s 2021 campaign.

“The season starts now,” Beckham said. “That’s really all that matters is to be great in those moments. The regular season, I don’t want to say it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s all about this weekend.

All eyes will be on the Rams on Monday night — the team that showed they were the aggressor last offseason with hopes that Stafford was the missing ingredient to their Super Bowl aspirations.

Stafford has played in three playoff games throughout his career with his last appearance coming in 2017 when the Detroit Lions lost to the Seattle Seahawks. Stafford is 0-3 in the playoffs, throwing four touchdowns to three interceptions in his three-game sample.

“His work speaks for itself, and I don’t think you can just say, ‘Oh, he didn’t win a playoff game,'” McVay said. “I don’t want to get in trouble, but I think the Dallas game he had when he was in Detroit, he probably won it. It was out of his control, wasn’t it?

Stafford acknowledged the expectations ahead of his Rams’ playoff debut, but said nothing is changing for him. He will continue to stick to his identity and see how things go when he is true to himself.

“There’s no doubt that in the playoffs it’s about winning and going on, losing and going home. (I’m) not oblivious to that,” Stafford said. “But the most important thing for me is to try to be the best version of myself for this team and to drop the chips where they can.”

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Nick Cothrel is the editor of Ram Digest. Follow Nick and Ram Digest on Twitter @NickCothrel & @RamDigestSI for more Rams coverage.