Sean McVay’s Rams were perennial contenders with Jared Goff under center. In their first year with Matthew Stafford, they became world champions. Will Los Angeles contend for another title? Or will the Rams take a step back in a tough NFC West? Let’s take a closer look at the defending champion Rams:
Opening Win Total: 10.5
Current Win Total: 10.5
Schedule Difficulty: Hard
In his first year as a Ram, Matthew Stafford was an MVP candidate up until Week 16 when he threw three interceptions in Minnesota. Stafford was a dangerous player during his entire career in Detroit. Marc Trestman breaks down a Stafford throw against his former team. Stafford’s one of those guys that genuinely deserved a championship ring.
Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Rams offense was:
- 5th in net passing yards.
- 25th in rushing yards.
- 8th in points per game.
Stafford is a reliable, high-performing quarterback supported by one of the best offensive minds in the game in Sean McVay. However, Stafford’s right elbow issue was concerning for Mike Martz just a few weeks ago. The status of Stafford’s elbow is very important to monitor entering the season. If he’s fine, the Rams offense can hang with anyone. Since news of this issue first surfaced, the Rams went from 1-point underdogs on opening night to 2.5-point underdogs vs. Buffalo. The line remains Rams +2.5 as of this writing.
Cooper Kupp is the reigning Offensive Player of the Year coming off a historic season. We should expect some statistical regression from Kupp, but he is a fluid route runner with reliable hands. Brett Favre has Kupp as a top four wide receiver in the league. Kupp has earned his place in that conversation. The Rams brought in Allen Robinson on a three-year, $46.5 million contract with $30.7 million guaranteed. It’s clear that Los Angeles is banking on a bounce back year from Robinson. That kind of outcome is how the Rams improve as an offense this season.
Van Jefferson had minor knee surgery in August, but he still may have a chance to play on opening night. Even if Jefferson misses some time, he’ll be a rock solid wide receiver when he returns to action. Last year’s No. 57 overall pick, Tutu Atwell, only saw regular season action on special teams during his rookie campaign. Tight end Tyler Higbee falls into the solid, but unspectacular type of mold.
That’s also a fair way to frame the Rams running backs group: solid but unspectacular. 2020’s No. 52 overall pick Cam Akers returned remarkably early from an Achilles injury down the stretch last season. While being available at all was impressive, Akers wasn’t much of a factor. Head coach Sean McVay recently said both Akers and Darrel Henderson Jr. are “good to go” for opening night. We should expect these two backs to start the season in some form of a timeshare.
Fifth-year pro Joe Noteboom’s ability to replace Andrew Whitworth at left tackle is a major factor for this offense. The Rams will also have a new right guard this season in Coleman Shelton, with No. 104 pick Logan Bruss on IR. As a whole, this line will be less reliable than they have been in recent years. However, they still have some good pieces and Sean McVay’s scheme will help keep this unit in the middle-of-the-pack.
Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Rams defense was:
- 6th in rushing yards allowed.
- 26th in passing yards allowed.
- 3rd in sacks, 6th in hurries, 29th in knockdowns, and 4th in pressures.
- 15th in points allowed per game.
Aaron Donald is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Von Miller was a late addition last season, but his departure will be noticed, as neither Justin Hollins or Terrell Lewis are likely to fill Miller’s shoes. Leonard Floyd is a solid edge rusher, but if Donald were to miss any time, the Rams would have a bottom tier pass rush.
Acquiring former Seahawk Bobby Wagner to play alongside second-year man Ernest Jones improves the Rams linebacker group. Wagner may not quite be the top-shelf player he was in his prime, but he’s still as reliable as it gets and a potential difference maker.
Jalen Ramsey is among the best cornerbacks in the league. After a one-year stint in Cleveland, Troy Hill returns to Los Angeles. Hill, Robert Rochell and David Long Jr. round out the rest of the Rams cornerbacks beyond Ramsey. Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott form an average safety duo.
Los Angeles opens up with a tough one as they host Josh Allen’s Bills on opening night. The rest of their schedule before their Week 7 bye is: vs. Falcons, at Cardinals, at 49ers (MNF), vs. Cowboys, vs. Panthers. The defending champs want to enter their bye with at least a 4-2 record through this stretch.
After their bye the Rams draw a brutal stretch: vs. 49ers, at Buccaneers, vs. Cardinals, at Saints, at Chiefs. The Saints are much tougher out in New Orleans while you’d certainly prefer to host Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes. If the Rams come out of this stretch with a 3-2 record, that would be a win for them.
Los Angeles closes out: vs. Seahawks, vs. Raiders (TNF), at Packers (MNF), vs. Broncos, at Chargers (SNF), at Seahawks. If the Rams take care of business against the Seahawks twice, a 4-2 run through this stretch is doable.
The bull case for the Rams is built on Matthew Stafford driving Sean McVay’s offense to elite heights. Their wide receiver group could conceivably be better with the addition of Allen Robinson. On defense, the Rams have a star player at every level with Aaron Donald, Bobby Wagner, and Jalen Ramsey. They have a few other solid defensive players, as well as a number of young defenders that could realistically improve.
On the downside Matthew Stafford has an elbow issue on his throwing arm. While that matter is starting to get downplayed publicly, some of the early reports on that injury concerned Mike Martz. The Rams will have new linemen at left tackle and right guard. Replacing a Hall of Fame caliber left tackle is no easy thing. The defense is very dependent on a few star players, especially Aaron Donald. The Rams defense also took a step back last season, falling from the top of the league into the middle-of-the-pack in points allowed.
What concerns me the most about the Rams prospects this season is the schedule. I have them at 10-7 against one of the tougher schedules in the league. Pair that with concerns about their quarterback, their line, and their reliance on a few key players on defense and I’m leaning under 10.5 wins here.