NFC West Preview: Los Angeles Rams
Team: Los Angeles
2016 Record: 4-12
Head Coach: Sean McVay (first year)
Greatest Franchise Moment: The 1999 Rams, based in St. Louis, entered the season with low expectations after starting quarterback Trent Green suffered a season-ending injury in a preseason game. With the inexperienced Kurt Warner at quarterback, the Rams were projected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. Instead, Warner became the leader of an explosive and lightning-quick offense nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf”. With weapons like running back Marshall Faulk and receivers Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt, the Rams were nearly impossible to stop. St. Louis surged to a 13-3 record and won playoff games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay to reach the Super Bowl against another surprising upstart, the Tennessee Titans. The Rams held off Tennessee in a 23-16 thriller, capturing the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.
In terms of their years in Los Angeles, the Rams’ greatest moment occurred when they defeated the Cleveland Browns 24-17 in the 1951 NFL Championship Game. The victory was particularly sweet for two reasons: 1. the Rams had lost to Cleveland in the previous year’s title game and 2. The Rams had been based in Cleveland from 1936-1946.
Random Trivia: The Rams have relocated three times. They began as the Cleveland Rams in 1936, moved to Los Angeles in 1946, bolted to St. Louis in 1995, and then returned to L.A. in 2016. The franchise won a league title in each location (1945,1951,1999).
State of the Franchise: After finally running out of patience after a long and fruitless wait for former head coach Jeff Fisher to turn them around, the Rams are starting over with baby-faced Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in NFL history. McVay, the former offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins, won praise for his work with Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Rams are hoping he can work his magic with second year quarterback Jared Goff, who had a predictably dismal rookie season with no talent around him on offense. The receivers were terrible, running back Todd Gurley suffered a sophomore slump, and the offensive line was horrendous.
The Rams hired the seemingly immortal Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator. If Phillips can get past the awkwardness of having a boss that is less than half his age, he may end up enjoying his time in Los Angeles. The Rams still have a ferocious defensive line led by sack-master Aaron Donald. However, there will be a learning curve as the Rams adjust from a 4-3 base to the 3-4 that Phillips is installing. Veteran defensive end Robert Quinn will be converted to an outside linebacker.
Schedule with Predictions in Parenthesis:
Indianapolis (W) – After fighting injuries last year, Andrew Luck probably isn’t looking forward to opening the season against the Rams’ pass rush.
Washington (W) – Rams seem likely to put together an inspired performance against their new coach’s old team.
At San Francisco (L) – Rams lost this game last year and are generally dismal in division road games.
At Dallas (L) – This one could get ugly.
Seattle (W) – Rams always bring their “A” game against Seattle at home.
At Jacksonville (W) – Long trip, but very winnable road game.
Arizona (London) (L) – A trip to London right after an east coast game? That’s just cruel.
At N.Y. Giants (L) – Rams’ defense might be able to keep this game competitive.
Houston (L) – Wouldn’t be surprised if neither offense reaches double digits.
At Minnesota (L) – Probably another low scoring matchup.
New Orleans (W) – What will be worse, the Rams’ offense or the Saints’ defense?
At Arizona (L) – Cards are looking for revenge after last season’s defeat.
Philadelphia (W) - Aaron Donald gets his first shot at Carson Wentz.
At Seattle (L) – the Rams have lost 11 of the last 12 in Seattle.
At Tennessee (L) – This will be a good test for Marcus Mariota.
San Francisco (W) – Rams try to avenge their home loss to Niners last year.
Prediction: The Rams’ return to Los Angeles began with great fanfare and ended with a brutal 44-6 annihilation in a nearly empty Los Angeles Coliseum. Morale seems guaranteed to improve with the new regime, but the Rams still don’t have enough talent on offense to earn a playoff spot. In an ultra-competitive Los Angeles sports market that now includes the Chargers (and a USC football team expected to contend for a national title), mediocrity won’t be enough to sell tickets. The Rams need to improve quickly, but it’s hard to see a huge leap this year.
Predicted Record: 7-9