Projected Record: 9-7
NFC West Rank: 3rd
The Rams will fare decently in a very competitive division. They held their own last year against the San Francisco 49ers including one victory and a tie. They also beat the Seahawks one week and lost by a touchdown another week. They finished last year 4-1-1 in the NFC West including two wins against the lowly Cardinals. Yet, their record wasn’t as good as one would expect after seeing all of these statistics, finishing last year off at 7-8-1. To their defense, five of the eight games they lost were to playoff teams and another loss was to a playoff caliber team in the Chicago Bears. Despite a difficult schedule, the Rams managed an average record. This year, St. Louis is a bit more fortunate when it comes to scheduling, so their record will inevitably improve from a season ago.
This offseason, the Rams managed to sign All-Pro and former #1 overall pick, OT Jake Long, who inked a four year-$36 million deal. This bolsters an offensive line that wasn’t terrible to start out with. It also gives QB Sam Bradford and the rushing attack more time to make some plays. Sam Bradford has never surpassed 4,000 yards or thrown for a higher completion percentage than 60% during his three year career. He’ll need to step up his game in order for the Rams to make bigger strides to the postseason. His interception numbers (13) aren’t terrible but he managed only 21 touchdowns all of last season, which is still a career high. Unfortunately for Bradford, his primary target from last season, Danny Amendola left and signed with the New England Patriots. Another reason for concern is the fact that his second leading receiver, Brandon Gibson left this offseason as well. The receiving corp has been decimated this offseason and Bradford has very little to work with this upcoming season. Still, they did draft WR Tavon Austin and WR Stedman Bailey who could shock the league with their production because of a lack of alternatives for this offense.
Another blow to this offense is the departure of their halfback, Steven Jackson. Although Jackson was aging and it reflected on the field, his production was still average for the league. He rushed for 1,042 yards last season on 257 carries. Yet his successor, Daryl Richardson has the potential to exceed Jackson’s production from a season ago. Last year, in a backup capacity, Richardson attained 475 yards on just 98 rushing attempts. When given a good chunk of the offensive plays, Richardson can easily cross the 1,000 yard barrier.
The Rams’ notable D led the league in sacks (52) last year, tied with the Denver Broncos. The defensive line upfront consists of Pro Bowl DE Chris Long and athletic DT Michael Brockers and DE Robert Quinn. Their line evidently thrives at pressuring the quarterback based on the sack totals. And they have a secondary that can cover opposing receivers well if opposing quarterbacks do manage to get the ball off. CB Cortland Finnegan and CB Janoris Jenkins have proven to perform well in the Rams’ secondary coverage. The only position on defense that the Rams might have to worry about is at safety. Both their starting safeties from last year, Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell left this offseason resulting in a void at that position. That will most likely be filled by Darian Stewart and rookie T.J. McDonald. Unfortunately, this will be a weak spot in the defense because of a lack of experience. Ultimately though, their defense is what will propel the Rams to the majority of their wins throughout the season.
The offense will need to improve tremendously in all facets for the Rams to stand a chance in the highly competitive NFC West. Clearly, a lack of veteran players has hindered their overall improvement. Although their defense has endured some losses, the core has remained together and will continue to pressure opposing QB’s and cause havoc to opposing offensive lines. 9-7 is an optimistic prediction for a team of this caliber in the NFC West, but based on their division record and results from last year, it’s still a plausible prospect.