— When the NFL released the 2012 schedule, Minnesota at St. Louis in Week 15 was about as far as could be from the anticipated list of December games that would help decide the playoff pool. The Rams, after all, just finished the worst five-year stretch in league history with 65 losses from 2007-11. The Vikings followed their 2010 meltdown and 6-10 finish with a franchise-worst-tying 3-13 record.
High draft picks never hurt, but there weren't obvious reasons for the rest of the pro football world to believe these teams could contend for a playoff spot this deep into the season. Here they are, though, still among a large group of teams with legitimate opportunities to qualify for the postseason.
"It's a really good feeling. Obviously, in the past couple of years, we've been through some pretty tough times," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. "It wasn't a lot of fun last year at this time. Weren't a lot of smiles in the locker room, on the practice field. But to put three in a row and to win some games, it just changes the whole attitude and makes it a lot more enjoyable to come to work."
The Rams (6-6-1) have lost once in their last five games since they headed into their bye week at the midpoint of the season with a 45-7 defeat at home to New England. Their 24-all tie at San Francisco on Nov. 11 was the first sign this team might not be fading down the stretch like it has for most of the last 10 years. "Nobody told us we couldn't go out there and try to win games. So that was our approach," said coach Jeff Fisher, who took over this season after a long run with Tennessee and a year off.