There was plenty of optimism in Los Angeles when the Rams hired Sean McVay, but few could have anticipated the drastic turnaround that took place in his first year on the job. McVay, who at 31-years-old, became the youngest head coach in NFL history, took over a team that had gone just 4-12 the previous season.
He guided the Rams to an 11-5 record and their first NFC West title since 2003, as well as their first playoff appearance since 2004. The season would end with a 26-13 loss to the Falcons in the postseason, but it was an overwhelming success.
Given McVay’s success as the offensive coordinator with the Redskins, there was little doubt the offense would be improved. For starters, the Rams had no where to go but up after finishing the 2016 campaign ranked dead last in both scoring (14.0 ppg) and total yards (262.7 ypg).
However, expectations were limited given how poorly second-year quarterback Jared Goff had looked as a rookie. In the end, it couldn’t have gone much better for LA. Goff had a breakout season under McVay’s guidance and the Rams wound up leading the league in scoring at 29.9 ppg and were 10th in total offense at 361.5 ypg.
While the scheme change played a big role in LA becoming one of the top offensive forces in the NFL, the additions up front on the offensive line, most notably left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan, and upgrades at wide receiver (Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and rookie Cooper Kupp) paid off big time.
It also didn’t hurt that 2015’s offensive rookie of the year, running back Todd Gurley, bounced back in a big way after a disappointing 2016 season. Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns, crushing his 2016 numbers of 885 yards and 6 scores, despite only receiving one more carry (278 to 279). Gurley also went from catching 43 passes for 327 yards to hauling in a team-high 64 receptions for 788 yards and 6 scores (0 receiving TDs in 2016).
The only significant loss on offense from last year’s team was wide out Sammy Watkins, who left in free agency to sign with the Chiefs. However, the Rams more than did an adequate job replacing Watkins, as they landed Brandin Cooks in a trade with the Patriots. Cooks has recorded 3 straight 1,000 yard seasons and should flourish in McVay’s offense.
One of the interesting things with last year’s team is while the offense shined, the defense wasn’t as dominant as many had hoped in the first year under defensive coordinator Wade Phillies. The Rams finished just 19th in total defense (339.5 ypg) and were near the bottom in run defense at 28th (122.3 ypg). They did manage to finish a respectable 12th in scoring, allowing just 20.6 ppg, but it simply wasn’t good enough.
That’s why the Rams didn’t just stand pat with what they had. LA went out and made two blockbuster trades for star corners Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, giving Philips the two lock-down cover corners he needs for his defense to excel. The icing on the cake was the free agent signing of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The addition of Suh has to strike an enormous amount of fear to any offensive line that will have to go up against this Rams defense. Suh is widely regarded as one of the best defensive linemen in the game and some would argue the only one better than him at defensive tackle is the guy he will now play alongside in reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Add in the reliable Michael Brockers and this might be the best 3-4 front the NFL has ever seen.
As far as the secondary is concerned, there’s all kind os excitement with the potential of Talib and Peters playing opposite one another. They also added in veteran Sam Shields, who could be a big addition if he can put the concussions that caused him to miss all of last year behind him. There’s also a lot to like at safety with Lamarcus Joyner and second-year pro John Johnson.
The big concern with LA’s defense comes at linebacker, where the team lost 3 starters in inside linebacker Alec Ogletree and outside linebackers Robert Quinn and Connor Barwin. The only starter back is 3-4 inside linebacker Mark Barron. As of right now, it looks like little-known Matt Longacre and Samson Ebukam will be the new starting outside linebackers. Keep in mind that typically you expect to get the majority of your pass rush from the 3-4 outside linebackers, but that might not be the case, though whoever lines up at these spots should benefit greatly from all the attention that Suh and Donald will demand up front.
It’s pretty clear given the offseason moves that Los Angeles isn’t just hoping to get back to the playoffs in 2018. This team is putting all their chips in the middle of the table in hopes of bringing home the Lombardi Trophy.
The big question is whether or not they can handle the hype. It’s one thing surprising everyone after going 4-12 the previous year. It’s a whole different beast trying to live up the lofty expectations that are being put on this team.
2018 Rams Schedule & Projected Odds
Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.
|1||at Raiders MNF||+1.5||0.48|
|7||at 49ers SNF||-1||0.51|
Projected Wins: 9.52
Over/Under Wins Prediction: OVER 9.5
You have to careful just assuming that a team coming off a breakout season is going to repeat that success, but I just think last year was the start of something special in Los Angeles. The offense should be just as good, if not better, in year two under McVay and it’s hard to imagine the defense not improving with all the star-power that was added in the offseason.
I just don’t feel like it’s asking a lot of the Rams to finish the season with at least 10 wins, even with what looks like a slightly tougher schedule. In fact, I think there’s a better chance this team improves on last year’s 11-5 mark than it winning 9 or fewer games.
Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +1100
Los Angeles is one of my favorite value plays when it comes to winning the Super Bow. The Rams are currently listed at +1100, behind only the Patriots (+650), Eagles (+850) and Steelers (+1000). I just don’t see a significant gap in talent between LA and those other teams.
Odds to Win the NFC: +600
Only the Eagles (+400) and Vikings (+550) have better odds to win the NFC and as you can see they are just slightly ahead of the Rams, who come in at +600. While I don’t feel there’s quite as much value as their Super Bowl odds, I certainly wouldn’t mind having a ticket on LA to win the NFC in 2018.
Odds to Win the NFC West: -130
If you are like me and don’t think last year was a fluke, you have to love the odds we are getting on Los Angeles to win the NFC West. While you do have to pay a little juice, we are basically getting the Rams at pick’em odds in a division where they look like the clear-cut favorites.
Arizona is undergoing a coaching change with Bruce Arians retirement, the Seahawks Super Bowl window looks to be closing, at least for the time being, and the 49ers are likely still a year or two away from being a serious threat in the NFC.