THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Sean McVay rattled off the names of 15 Philadelphia Eagles players. There was Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement on offense; Tim Jernigan, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Ronald Darby, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod on defense. He raved about all of them while answering two questions.
“These are the games that you better be ready to go for because they are a great football team,” McVay, the Los Angeles Rams’ first-year head coach, said of the Eagles. “It’s an exciting matchup.”
That’s putting it lightly. The Rams, 9-3 coming off a 32-16 win against the Arizona Cardinals, will host a 10-2 Eagles team that just had its nine-game win streak snapped by the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night. McVay watched the early part of that game during his 45-minute flight from Phoenix to L.A. and then studied it a lot more closely on Monday.
McVay called the Eagles “one of those teams that truly is a complete team.”
But they’re also vulnerable.
The Eagles are now tied with the Minnesota Vikings for the best record in the NFC. The Rams lost to the Vikings in Week 11, but they beat the New Orleans Saints (9-3) in Week 12. A win Sunday would give the Rams head-to-head tiebreakers over two of the three teams fighting for first-round byes in their conference.
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ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Rams a 16 percent chance to lock up either of the top two seeds in the NFC, behind the Vikings (87 percent), Eagles (74 percent) and Saints (19 percent). But that will change drastically if the Rams can come out on top on Sunday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox). A victory is even more crucial considering the Rams play the Seahawks — only one game behind them in the NFC West — the following week.
“You get excited for these games because it’s going to be future games,” Rams running back Todd Gurley said, pondering the possibility of meeting these teams in the playoffs.
Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth called the upcoming matchup against the Eagles “a measuring stick game.”
“I don’t think you really look at it as this is an end-all, be-all game,” Whitworth said. “You look at it as, ‘This is another team that is very successful. This is another team that’s on a roll and a team that looks to be one of the postseason favorites.'”
The Eagles rank first in the NFL in point margin (plus-146), and the Rams rank second (plus-139). The Eagles’ offense is averaging the third-most yards per game (385.1), and the Rams’ offense is averaging the fourth-most (372.7). The Eagles’ defense is allowing the sixth-fewest points per game (17.92), and the Rams’ defense is allowing the seventh-fewest (18.50).
“This is the game where you’re able to show your talents and be able to put out there just how capable you are,” Rams left guard Rodger Saffold said. “We take it as a challenge.”
The spotlight, of course, will be on Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, and Carson Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in 2016.
It’ll mark only the eighth time in the common draft era that two quarterbacks who went first and second overall will face one another, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The two share an agency, Rep 1 Sports, and worked out together in Irvine, California, during the months leading up to last year’s draft.
Together, they have led their teams to combined 19-5 records while throwing for 6,189 yards with 49 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Goff has completed 62 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,184 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions while posting a 55 Total QBR. Wentz has completed 61 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,005 yards, 29 touchdowns and six interceptions while posting a 72 Total QBR, which is boosted by his ability to make plays outside the pocket.
“It’ll be fun to play against him,” Goff said of Wentz, “but I’m more excited to play their team.”
“It’s not Jared versus Carson. It’s the Rams versus the Eagles,” McVay said. “Jared’s job is to play well against their defense, and Carson’s will be to play against our defense.”
McVay raved about the Eagles’ Jim Schwartz-led defense, which he said does a nice job of creating pressure with a four-man rush and features a secondary with the talent to stay in man coverage.
“They don’t have any weakness,” McVay said. “There’s a reason why they’re one of the top defenses in this league, and you see it show up with their personnel, with their scheme.”
McVay and the Eagles’ second-year coach, Doug Pederson, look like two of the favorites for NFL Coach of the Year honors. McVay, 31, has been studying Pederson’s offenses dating back to his days as Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs. On the Eagles, McVay said Pederson has “done a great job of presenting a variety of issues and kind of being able to run a lot of the similar concepts off different personnel groupings.”
The Rams have the NFL’s fourth-hardest remaining schedule these last four weeks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, which compiles the rankings based on opponents’ win percentages. The Seahawks are eighth, the Saints are 20th, the Eagles are 21st, and the Vikings are 24th.
But McVay is keeping the focus on only the upcoming game, which shouldn’t be hard this week.
“This is what you love about the NFL,” he said. “These games are fun. But it doesn’t make it any more pressure. It just makes it more exciting because of what our guys have done and what they [the Eagles] have done to make the game a little bit more intriguing.”