Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Rank examines the Los Angeles Rams.
The Los Angeles Rams were one of the surprise hits of the 2017 NFL season. A true Hollywood story about a rags-to-riches underdog overcoming the odds to make the playoffs. Some might say there wasn't a Hollywood ending, as the team lost its first playoff game -- the first playoff game in Los Angeles since 1994. But actually, that would fall in line more with some famous sports movies like "Major League," in which the protagonists won the AL East, but the story pretty much ended there. (The sequel alluded to the Indians losing to the White Sox in the ALCS.)
So, what is in store for the Rams' 2018 sequel? I'm saying another trip to the playoffs. Here are five reasons why:
1) Sean McVay, Year 2
The Rams' offense was awful in 2016. Although "awful" doesn't seem like a strong enough adjective to describe it. I'd hate for the merely awful offenses in NFL history to be lumped in with what was going on in Los Angeles that year. That offense looked like a dilapidated home you'd see on "Flip or Flop" -- or any other house-flipping show that will take up an entire weekend if you get sucked in.
But you know how those shows end: Some hipster, with his haircut, will show up and turn that fixer-upper into the glowing centerpiece of the neighborhood. Which is pretty much what wunderkind coach Sean McVay did with this Rams' offense last fall.
The Rams scored a paltry 224 points Jeff Fisher's last year at the helm -- and I have to be honest, it never seemed possible they scored that many points, even though it was indeed the lowest sum in football. In McVay's first year on the job? A league-leading 478 points last year. It's hard to believe that it was even the same house, because it looked nothing like the previous version.
Here's the chilling thing for the rest of the NFC: There is room for improvement.
McVay was learning the head-coaching ropes and installing a brand-new offense last year. Now he gets a full offseason for tinkering, making posters and T-shirts with inspirational messages and all of the stuff that pushed the Rams to the top of the division last year. This offense is going to be a lot of fun, and it's just getting started.
2) Jared Goff, Year "2"
I know that Goff is technically his third season, but that first year shouldn't count. It should be viewed in the same way we view "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" today: It never happened. (Although, re-watching with my child, AOTC is much, much worse.) The point is, Goff didn't have a head coach he could lean on. His quarterbacks coach in 2016 was Chris Weinke, who, I suppose, could be the coaching iteration of Jar Jar Binks. That all changed last year.
Goff looked like a first overall selection last year. He passed for 3,804 yards, 28 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. That's an Aaron Rodgers-like TD-to-INT ratio. Of course I'm not comparing him to Rodgers -- although it would be easy, with the Cal background -- just pointing out that having close to 30 TDs and single-digit picks is pretty damn hard to do. And he's starting to get buzz this offseason for the MVP race, which is amazing to think about if you ever watched the Rams two seasons ago. Or "Hard Knocks." Never bring up his role in "Hard Knocks."
3) Todd Gurley's a nightmare in this offense
Maybe Gurley is the best comparison to the "Star Wars" franchise because his second chapter was completely regrettable and forgettable. Though Gurley was a better actor in those burger commercials than Hayden Christensen was as Darth Vader. Don't get mad at me, you know it's true. I mean, Gurley was given better dialogue to work with.
In any event. Gurley also emerged in the post-Fisher world with the best season of his young NFL career. He amassed more than 2,000 scrimmage yards, nabbing Offense Player of the Year honors. His biggest improvement came as a receiver out of the backfield. Now, Gurley did have 43 receptions in 2016, but most of those were dump-off passes or acts of desperation from Goff and Case Keenum. With McVay using Gurley as a designated receiving weapon last year, the running back piled up 64 receptions for 788 yards and six touchdowns. The Rams coaching staff believes he can improve on those numbers this season, and I'm into it.
4) The New World Order
As noted above, the magic of last season came to a screeching halt in the playoffs. Atlanta hit Wild Card Weekend with postseason poise, a team fresh off a Super Bowl run. The Rams were more like the guy whose friends told him he was funny, so he decided to try out an open mic and froze in front of the microphone, then melted under the searing heat of the lights. It's cool. It happens to a lot of people. Credit the Rams for addressing that issue with an aggressive offseason.
L.A. brought in Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Savvy roster management on two levels. Both are good football players, duh. In fact, the Rams now have one of the best cornerback duos in the league. Not to mention, Talib has worked (swimmingly) with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips before, so he brings some respect into the locker room. But most importantly -- at least to me -- this duo brings true swagger into the building. If you have a high-flying offense, you don't want to be soft. The Kobe/Shaq Lakers at least had Robert Horry and Ron Harper ready to throw down. Make sure nobody is going to get pushed around.
Maybe a better way to look at it would be WCW in the mid-1990s. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were much better than the previous WWF refugees who had jumped down south. They were in their prime and oozing with attitude. That was huge. But it needed one more thing to bring it home. For WCW, it was the Hollywood Hogan heel turn. Los Angeles brought in Ndamukong Suh. This is a New World Order for the Rams right here, brother.
5) This team is built to win now
You also have your young standouts on defense, too. Aaron Donald. I mean, we haven't even talked Aaron Donald yet! I know there is the looming specter of a contract holdout, but he's not going to miss the whole year. He's going to join the mix. And he's going to be thrown in with the nWo of Talib, Peters and Suh. That defense is going to be nasty. And the Rams will need it to be, because they play some of the best QBs in the business this year. Russell Wilson (twice). Philip Rivers. Aaron Rodgers. Drew Brees. Matthew Stafford. Carson Wentz. Mitch Trubisky. All of the greats.
You put this mix together, and it's reminiscent of the Broncos from a few years ago. Actually, a better comparison might be the 1990s Cowboys. They slowly, methodically built over a few years. Dismissed an old-school coach and brought in some veteran leadership to a young nucleus. The Rams are going to be a nice team this year. They will be in the playoffs. Book it.