It might have been the greatest regular-season game of all time.
Resulting in 105 total points. 2018’s Week 11 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams may go down in history as one of the most thrilling games ever played. As the players walked off the field following the Rams’ 54-51 victory, the narratives had already begun: in years to come, these two teams were destined to duke it out for Super Bowl titles.
Why not, right? Both had franchise quarterbacks, elite playmakers and offensive gurus serving as their head coaches.
That analysis wasn’t wrong. Since then, the two teams have combined for four Super Bowl appearances — and each has also brought a Lombardi Trophy home. Though they took very different paths to achieve their success, the talent we saw in the Los Angeles Colsieum on that hazy night was truly special.
But just four years later — as the teams prepare for the first game between them since that night — their futures could not be more different.
The Los Angeles way
For the last five seasons, the Rams have defined “all-in.” Almost every signing, trade or draft pick they have made has been focused on winning as soon as possible. No move better characterized this approach than the trade for quarterback Matt Stafford. After going to a Super Bowl with Jared Goff, Los Angeles pushed even harder to get over the hump.
Detroit is dealing QB Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for two future first-round picks, a third-round pick and QB Jared Goff, per sources. Two former No. 1 overall picks trading places in the first blockbuster NFL trade of 2021.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 31, 2021
Though Stafford did deliver by bringing another championship back to Los Angeles, the Rams are still paying a hefty price: the Detroit Lions have their 2023 first-round pick — which as of this moment, will be the sixth selection overall.
The Stafford trade was just one of many all-in moves. Los Angeles continued to risk its cap health and future roster construction by dealing for players like Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller, Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, Robert Quinn, Aquib Talib and Dante Fowler. All of these were good players — but aside from Ramsey, none of them are currently on the team. There’s no doubt about it: without Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. in 2021, the Rams wouldn't have won Super Bowl LVI. But now — with both of them gone — the team is 3-7.
The Rams have simply continued to float the bill for their roster. Their success now depends on the health and play of about five players: Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, Bobby Wagner, Ramsey and Stafford — all of whom are at least 28 years old. Los Angeles is on its way to the worst Super Bowl defense of all time for a simple reason: it does not have replacement-level players to fill roster holes. Right now, Donald is the only Rams starter that they drafted in the first round. The rest of the roster is propped up with trades, free agents and Day 2 and Day 3 draft picks.
The Rams’ future is bleak. They have one of the worst offensive lines in football — and the soon-to-be 30-year-old Kupp is essentially their only offensive weapon. Donald — while still elite — is also aging. Last year, he had to be convinced not to retire. Stafford has proven to be what he always was in Detroit: a streaky player with an injury history.
Meanwhile, the team has just $5.9 million in cap space projected for 2023 — and only six picks in the draft. Reportedly, head coach Sean McVay has also considered retiring.
Los Angeles has a lot of problems to fix — and very little with which to do it. As the saying goes, “flags fly forever.” But the new flag now flying in SoFo Stadium might have cost the Rams years of respectable football.
The Kansas City way
Probably the first (and most important point) to consider when comparing the two franchises are the quarterbacks. Stafford and Goff combined still do not measure up to Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs have had this clear advantage ever since the two teams played in 2018.
Though Kansas City had an all-in phase while Mahomes was on his rookie deal, the front office has shown restraint as his cost has increased. In 2019, many Chiefs fans were ready to get in their cars and drive to Jacksonville in order to acquire Ramsey. But the Chiefs saved their first-round picks — and still won the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs have also made tough salary-cap decisions. They’ve let good players like Mitch Morse, Tyrann Mathieu and Charvarius Ward walk away in free agency. Rather than re-signing Tyreek Hill (as Los Angeles did with Kupp), the Chiefs traded him for a crop of draft picks. Those became players who have filled key roles as the team locked up the AFC West for the seventh consecutive season.
And the Chiefs’ future remains bright. In 2023, they are projected to have $28 million in cap space and will have 11 picks in the draft — and will possess a roster filled with youth and promise.
The bottom line
When the teams played in 2018, they looked much the same. But when the Rams come to town on Sunday, the teams will hardly look more different. While the two franchises have had similar results since they last met, their futures look nothing alike. On Sunday, the Rams will be 14.5-point underdogs to the Chiefs — and it looks like in the years ahead, Kansas City will continue to hold the advantage.