When Are We Going to See Jared Goff?
Jeff Fisher is going to do whatever Jeff Fisher wants to do, and there’s nothing you can do about it -- Case Keenum has tried. After yet another loss for the Los Angeles Rams, Fisher remained committed to Keenum as the starting quarterback. First overall pick Jared Goff remains on the bench without a clear path to the starter’s role.
This isn’t going to be a post about why Goff should start for the Rams, but it's more about when he will start for the Rams.
On Monday morning, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Rams won’t make a switch to Goff until they fall out of playoff contention -- with Fisher adding a qualifier of “barring some sort of epic collapse from Case Keenum.” Considering Keenum’s play so far -- among the 33 passers to drop back 100 times this year, he ranks 30th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back and the Rams are 30th in schedule-adjusted Passing NEP per play -- it’s hard to fathom what an epic collapse might look like, so let’s focus on the contention part of Rapaport’s statement.
If the Rams won’t change quarterbacks until they fall out of playoff contention, when exactly might that be?
The Rams, as you might expect from the numbers above, are not a very good team in 2016. By our nERD metric, Los Angeles is the 29th-best team in the league and while 7-9 jokes are rampant in these parts, we project the Rams to finish the year with only 5.5 wins. This could suggest the Rams might fall out of contention a little earlier than some might expect.
At 3-5, the Rams have just a 0.8% chance of making the playoffs, according to our numbers, so in that way, they are about as close to out of playoff contention as a team can be at this point in the season. But for this purpose, we’ll assume the bar to hit here is closer to mathematically eliminated, not just probably unlikely.
Right now, the Green Bay Packers have the sixth-highest playoff odds in the NFC at 40%, and their projected record is 8.5-7.5. Since there’s only a 40% chance with that record, let’s round up the half wins to a 9-7 record as the baseline for the sixth seed in the NFC this season. So, for the Rams, we’ll need to figure out when they’ll lose either their seventh or eighth game to be eliminated from the playoffs.
Through the rest of the season, the Rams have one game with a current win probability over 50% -- a Week 16 game against the San Francisco 49ers. Only two other games are above 40%, but those happen to be the next two games on the schedule. Los Angeles currently has a 42.1% chance to win on the road against the New York Jets in Week 10 and a 42.7% chance at home against the Miami Dolphins in Week 11.
Say the Rams go 1-1 in those games, so they’ll sit at 4-6 heading into a stretch of four games against the New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, and Seattle Seahawks. There’s a good chance the Rams “fall out of contention” somewhere in there with a win probability no higher than 20.8% for any of those games. Here’s what the Rams' full remaining schedule looks like:
With those probabilities, the Rams likely get their seventh loss against the Saints. If that’s enough for the Rams to consider themselves out of contention, that could line up Goff’s first start against the Patriots and Bill Belichick. While the New England defense hasn’t been elite this season -- currently 13th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play -- Belichick is notorious for creating game plans that wreak havoc on rookie quarterbacks. After showing patience with Goff, it seems unlikely the Rams would toss him into the fire for a road game in Foxboro for his first career start. If Fisher and the Rams want to wait for that eighth loss, which would (probably) come against New England, Goff could start his first game at home against the Falcons in Week 14.
While Atlanta is a much friendlier team to face -- 28th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play -- that would leave Goff with four starts and two against top-10 defenses in the Arizona Cardinals and Seahawks. A best-case scenario here might be for the Rams to lose against both the Jets and Dolphins and allow Goff to make his debut against the 29th-ranked defense in the Saints before going to New England. It would also give Goff six starts, with three coming against bottom-five defenses, per Adjusted Defensive NEP per play.
The Rams have said they want to wait until their playoff hopes are completely gone. We can argue they already are, but our math suggests that time is going to come somewhere around Week 12 to Week 14. If Fisher and the Rams hold to their word, it looks like Goff will debut during that stretch.