There have been a lot of surprises in the NFL this year, none bigger – at least not for Steve Mariucci – than the current 3-seeds in the NFC and AFC. The Rams and Jaguars are both 10-4, and both look the part of a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
And to think, these teams went a combined 7-25 last season.
“The Rams are shocking me to death,” NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said on Tiki and Tierney. “They are legit. They are so much better than they’ve been. They look like a team that’s on a mission. I knew they had some pieces in place, but I didn’t quite see this coming, so it’s a pleasant surprise. And then Sean McVay, the young coach – the whole thing, it’s a heck of a story. Don’t count them out.”
McVay, 31, has led the Rams’ turnaround, while Doug Marrone has the Jaguars in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
“It’s got to be the Tom Coughlin effect or several years of real good drafting, especially on defense,” Mariucci said. “It didn’t hurt to have a Leonard Fournette show up, either, but they’ve done a real nice job. They’re a scary team in the playoffs. When you talk about having to play maybe Big Ben or Tom Brady – future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks – you better have a great defense. Well, the Jags have the best defense. Those are my two biggest surprises.”
While the Rams have the more explosive offense, Blake Bortles has come on strong in December. He’s completed 71.4 percent of his passes (65-of-91) for 903 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions over the last three weeks.
“If they can keep Blake Bortles playing well, man, they have a chance,” Mariucci said. “All of a sudden, he’s playing very well. (He’s) more than a game manager. He’s playing well enough for them to go deep.”
The Rams play the Titans (8-6) in Tennessee this Sunday, while the Jaguars play the Niners in Santa Clara. Kickoff is at 1 p.m and 4:05 p.m. ET, respectively.
The Niners, despite their 4-10 record, will be a test for Jacksonville, as Jimmy Garoppolo has led San Fran to three consecutive wins – and thrown for 1,008 yards in the process.
“He’s going to get paid,” Mariucci said. “He’s going to get paid with just a handful of starts. But the test is coming. The next two games (against Jaguars, at Rams) are going to be a very good barometer. They’ll find out if they’re close to being a playoff team next year with Jimmy, but so far, so good.”