LOS ANGELES RAMS (9-7)
New Faces: Defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, special teams coordinator John Bonamego, RB Cam Akers, WR Van Jefferson, DT A’Shawn Robinson, LB Leonard Floyd.
Key Losses: RB Todd Gurley, WR Brandin Cooks, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, special teams coordinator John Fassel, LB Clay Matthews, LB Dante Fowler, LB Cory Littleton, K Greg Zuerlein, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, S Eric Weddle.
Strengths: DT Aaron Donald remains arguably single most disruptive force in modern game, capable of wrecking offense’s effort by himself at any point. CB Jalen Ramsey is among position’s elite, dissuading quarterbacks from even throwing his way for most of last season. WRs Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are among NFL’s top duos for consistency, precision and production. QB Jared Goff says he played unacceptably last year, but still racked up good numbers and remained healthy as usual. Coach Sean McVay is still golden boy, with three straight winning seasons and hunger to do more.
Weaknesses: Largely thanks to several ill-advised contracts, Rams lost their superstar running back (Gurley), top deep-threat receiver (Cooks), leading tackler and defensive lynchpin (Littleton), reliable nickel back (Robey-Coleman), longtime kicker (Zuerlein) and two productive pass rushers (Fowler and Matthews). McVay hired three new coordinators and turned over above-average defense to rookie coordinator Brandon Staley. Financial constraints prevented Rams from making any splashy free agent signings other than DT A’Shawn Robinson, who is missing start of regular season with undisclosed injury, and LB Leonard Floyd, who never lived up to expectations in Chicago.
Pandemic Development: New coordinators had no face-to-face time with players until camp began, forcing Staley in particular to install new schemes on Zoom. Rams erected massive tent next to training complex to hold meetings and walk-throughs, but then were met by searing temperatures and smoke from nearby wildfires. They also were featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” with mask-wearing cameramen following their every move, not always from 6 feet away.
Fantasy Player To Watch: TE Tyler Higbee. That spectacular five-game finish to last season (43 catches, 522 yards, 2 TDs) probably wasn’t fluke. Goff is extraordinarily confident in his offseason workout buddy, and McVay finally figured out how to get ball to tight end consistently. Higbee is likely to be major target early while Rams figure out who replaces Cooks.
Vegas Says: Win Super Bowl: 33-1. Over/under wins: 8.
Expectations: Rams have posted three straight winning seasons in NFL’s toughest division, but they sustained heavy departures of key veteran talent without replacing much of it. Not many teams could hold steady after losing everyone who walked out door in Thousand Oaks last spring. But McVay has met almost every challenge in his head coaching career, and fiery new defensive guru Staley is already big hit with players. Any defense with Donald and Ramsey has to be taken seriously, and Goff/McVay passing game continues to evolve. Winning 10 games and making seven-team playoffs are reasonable goals, but bringing inaugural postseason game to brand-new SoFi Stadium would be even more desirable.
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