With three weeks remaining, the St. Louis Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs surprisingly control their playoff destiny. However, neither team looked postseason-worthy last week.
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After finishing at the bottom of their respective divisions last season, the Rams or the Chiefs will increase their playoff chances with a bounce-back victory Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
Coming off a 1-15 effort in 2009, the Rams (6-7) are tied with Seattle for the NFC West lead while the Chiefs, who are hoping to get Matt Cassel back under center, sit alone atop the AFC West after going 4-12 the previous season.
Cassel underwent an emergency appendectomy Dec. 8 and was held out of Kansas City’s 31-0 loss to San Diego last Sunday. He returned to practice Wednesday, but the team has yet to announce if he will start against the Rams.
Cassel, the NFL’s fifth-highest rated passer, has thrown for 19 touchdowns with one interception over his last eight starts.
With Cassel on the sidelines, Brodie Croyle made his 2010 debut, completing 7 of 17 passes for 40 yards and falling to 0-10 lifetime as a starter.
The Chiefs (8-5) compiled 67 yards of total offense, their fewest since recording 61 in a 22-7 loss to Oakland on Nov. 8, 1963.
"From start to finish it was a team loss," coach Todd Haley said. "Offensively, we never could get anything positive going. It’s an 11-man operation. I want to be clear on that."
Kansas City’s league-leading rushing attack (165.4 yards per game) struggled to find holes against San Diego and was held to 2.8 yards per carry – 2.0 lower than its 2010 average. Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles could bounce back against St. Louis, which has allowed an average of 123.5 yards on the ground over its last four games.
The Chiefs surrendered a season-worst 207 yards rushing against the Chargers, a week after allowing 161 to Denver, and now must try to stop six-time 1,000-yard rusher Steven Jackson.
"There were some things we could have done better (at San Diego), but we didn’t, so it’s on to the Rams," defensive end Wallace Gillberry said. "This is not our first road loss and we’ve come back and taken care of business. That’s what we are banking on, to come back and get back on track, focus on the Rams."
The Chiefs, who have lost five of six on the road, were 0 for 11 on third down last week.
The Rams are limiting opponents to a 35.3 percent success rate on third downs – tied for eighth-best in the league – but let New Orleans convert on 11 of 16 attempts in a 31-13 loss last Sunday.
Sam Bradford failed to throw a touchdown pass in back-to-back games for the first time and both of his interceptions came in the red zone, where the Rams rank 31st in touchdown efficiency (36.2).
"Turnovers killed us," Bradford said. "Turnovers hurt you everywhere, but when you get into the red zone and turn the ball over, it just gives the other team all of the momentum in the world.
"I’ve got to be better when we’re down there and I have got to be smarter."
The 18-point loss was St. Louis’ most lopsided defeat in two months, but coach Steve Spagnuolo remains confident in his club.
"Because I love this group so much and I know what they are and I know how good they can be and what they’re all about, I want other teams to feel that. I want the league to know that," he said.
"I think what the guys have got to realize is that it’s a special time, this time of year, to be in the divisional race. Because not everybody gets that."
St. Louis, coming off three straight road games, has a 4-2 record at home after going 2-22 there over the previous two seasons.
The Rams have lost all four meetings with the Chiefs since moving to St. Louis, dating to a win at Kansas City in 1994. The teams haven’t faced each other since the Chiefs won 31-17 on Nov. 5, 2006.