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An Appreciation for Rams-Chiefs, Football at Its Finest

It’s the NFL’s dream matchup: MVP candidates, innovative offenses, and Super Bowl contenders. These teams are the future, and the rest of the league would be wise to follow suit.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Football is a game of small miracles. For instance, it seems remarkable that 11 people, in unison, can remember exactly what “0 Flood Flank FIP R-34 Flash” means and execute it to perfection against a team that has probably already seen it on tape. A team that is well coached and plays beautifully is worth celebrating. To have two such teams play against each other is a modern marvel. It happens rarely because there aren’t enough good players and coaches, and if you don’t have both, you are out of luck. Just as Jeff Fisher can squander the potential of Jared Goff, so can Andy Reid make Alex Smith look well above average. This is why Monday’s game between the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs is so exciting: Each team has the right personnel and coaches: It’s the Super Bowl of schemes. Here are the most fascinating angles to watch:

Strength vs. Strength, Featuring the Most Exciting Players at Their Position

We don’t get mega-matchups like this often. Past regular-season games between teams with one or fewer losses haven’t taught us much, so it’s hard to know what to glean from this one. The logistical nightmare of moving the game from Mexico City to Los Angeles over concerns about the field at the Estadio Azteca has disrupted each team’s preparation, possibly enough that one or both will be slightly off. (The Rams practiced this week in Colorado Springs to prepare for the altitude in Mexico City.)

Still, this game will be fun as hell. The Chiefs cannot stop the run, giving up 5.1 yards per rush, third-worst in the NFL, just ahead of … the Rams, who are tied for last at 5.2 yards. This means that Todd Gurley and Kareem Hunt, two of the most exciting players in football, can run wild. Patrick Mahomes II, perhaps this season’s most exciting player, is going against a passing defense that is tied for 21st in yards per attempt (7.7) and 25th in touchdown rate (5.8 percent). The Chiefs are actually among the league’s best at preventing passing touchdowns at 3.8 percent, but they are middle-of-the-road in yards per attempt (7.4) and fifth-worst in total yards per game (289). There will be room for Jared Goff to operate.

There’s a reason that we’re looking at a historic over/under:

Patrick Mahomes II Under Pressure

Saying a quarterback is worse when he’s pressured is not particularly shocking. It’s long been a lazy take to point out that the way to beat a player like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning is to get in his face. Well, yeah, sure. Still, it’s worth noting that Mahomes is just 20th in passer rating when under pressure at 64.6 according to Pro Football Focus (notably ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Cam Newton, but still not great!). It’s also worth noting that the Rams have two of the best defensive linemen in football in Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.

Of course, Mahomes can always just do this:

How Mahomes handles this pass rush will be a nice test ahead of the playoffs. The Chiefs defensive line is not as talented as the Rams, but they do have Dee Ford (nine sacks) and Chris Jones (seven sacks).

Short-term Memory vs. Long-term Implications

To determine whether these sorts of epic regular-season clashes mean anything in the long term, take a look at the previous versions:

Two teams would go on to lose in the Super Bowl; one team, the 1990 New York Giants, would win it. One game featured two teams who didn’t make the Super Bowl (Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys in 2007). The Chiefs were involved in the last such matchup of its kind in 2013, Andy Reid’s first season.

Not to be a downer, but the Minnesota Vikings–Chicago Bears NFC North matchup is probably going to have more implications on the playoff race than Monday Night Football’s showdown. It’s possible the Rams and Chiefs will drop more games later this season, and a loss here will have a big impact on who gets the bye or home field in a conference championship. But more than anything, a victory here will mean hype, and lots of it. The winner will be declared the best team in football, despite the fact that the Saints recently beat the Rams and the Chiefs have lost to a Patriots team that looks like it’ll be in contention this year.

New Innovator Sean McVay vs. Old Innovator Andy Reid

Much has been made about these two coaches ushering in an era of offensive innovation. Shorter, more accurate passes were fine for efficiency but boring for the viewer. These coaches have changed that: Reid and Mahomes saved the deep ball, while McVay has taught coaches there’s such a thing as efficient play that is fun to watch. Reid has been trying to incorporate the spread offense for years. This season, Mahomes is seeing ludicrous amounts of wide-open throws, more than any other quarterback. McVay has made life easy for Goff with his play-calling, which has produced the best wide receiver duo in the league:

They have differing philosophies: McVay puts Goff under center; Reid has Mahomes in shotgun.

What they have in common is that they run a ton of play-action and their play-calling kicks ass.

But more than anything, Monday is about watching two teams that will have a massive impact on the future of the sport, a future that is—wait for it—fun. The average NFL team is resistant to change—they will not utilize innovation until they are absolutely sure it will work. What these two teams are doing is showing that these schemes work, and that will catch even the most conservative head coaches’ attention.