This article is part of a series previewing the 2018-2019 NFL season where we will cover quick notes on all 32 NFL teams, favorite potential storylines, win-loss predictions, the playoff picture, and my picks to compete in Super Bowl LIII.
Los Angeles Rams
I am going to just point this out now before I start writing—I am all in on the Los Angeles Rams in 2018. It is amazing how a team can change overnight with a coaching change. The Rams roster in 2017 was not much different than it was in 2016, but former head coach Jeff Fisher was not able to setup his team for success. Insert the NFL’s favorite millennial, Sean McVay. In McVay’s first season with the Rams, the team went from 4-12 in 2016 to 11-5 in 2017, with McVay winning coach of the year, RB Todd Gurley winning offensive player of the year, and DT Aaron Donald winning defensive player of the year. QB Jared Goff took a gigantic leap from year one to year two, excelling in the new offensive scheme. Although they played poorly against the Atlanta Falcons in the wild card round of the playoffs, 2017 provided a lot of optimism for 2018. With Goff still on his rookie contract, the front office was ready to go all out to build a Super Bowl winning roster. The Rams added veteran cornerbacks Aquib Talib and Marcus Peters, DT Ndamukong Suh, and WR Brandin Cooks to a roster that already had five pro bowlers last season. This roster is absolutely loaded, and ready to win a Super Bowl before they even have their own football stadium in Los Angeles.
The offense led the NFL in scoring last season with 29.9 points per game, while ranking in the top ten in rushing and passing yards per game. The balance created by the 31-year-old head coach kept defenses guessing constantly. The team adds a new dimension that they did not have before in Cooks, who’s ability to get open is uncanny, whether it is a short route over the middle, or flying past a defensive back. Cooks, alongside fellow wide receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp and second year TE Tyler Higbee, will give Goff all sorts of different options. Not to mention NFL MVP finalist Todd Gurley is still in the background. The offensive line returns everyone from last year and looks to continue keeping Goff upright and Gurley fighting through front sevens. It is hard for this unit to be better than last year, but with another offseason of learning McVay’s offense, and the addition of Cooks could push the offense up another notch. Watch out.
As good as the offense was in 2017, the defense was not necessarily built to win playoff games. When a team has an offense that puts huge numbers each week, it allows the defense to relax, and not have to great to win. In the regular season you can get away with that, but when it comes to playoff time, your defense better be ready to go. The Rams shot themselves in the foot multiple times on special teams in their wild card loss to the Falcons, but even if they would have advanced to the next round, the defense did not have enough elite talent to go into a hostile environment in Minnesota or Philadelphia and win a big game. That is a different story now. Adding three Pro Bowlers to any roster is going to drastically improve a team. Peters and Talib are perfect corners for defensive coordinator Wade Phillip’s defense, with Talib playing under Phillips in Denver for years. The thought of Suh next to Donald is a scary one for every offensive line in the league. FS LaMarcus Joyner moved from the slot to free safety last season, and exceeded every expected set for him, including being selected to his first Pro Bowl. The Rams have two of the top ten interior defensive lineman in the league, and a top three secondary. If someone can step up at defensive end and linebacker, this defense could finish the season as a top ten unit, going together well with their high-powered offense.
There are concerns about how all the personalities in the locker room are going to mesh together, and that is a valid point. Talib, Peters, and Suh have all been outspoken and difficult players in their respective locker rooms in the past, sometimes causing a divide with the coaching staff. Some question if a young head coach like McVay is ready to manage these players. My question to the skeptics is if McVay was impressive enough to earn one of the 32 NFL head coaching positions at the age of 30, don’t you think he is special enough to make sure everyone is on the same page, and bring the locker room together? Suh is a vet that has never been apart of a winning franchise, Peters is hungry to win, and Talib knows what it takes to get a ring. The Rams are going to roll through this season, and I fully expect them to be a Super Bowl contender come January.
Favorite Potential Storyline: Is Sean McVay the next Bill Belichick? Just start the conversations now. Do it.
Prediction: 14-2 (1st in NFC West, 1st seed in NFC Playoffs)
There is a major rebuild starting up in Arizona this year. QB Carson Palmer, who led the Cardinals to the NFC Championship in 2015, announced his retirement from the NFL after a fourteen-year career– the last five with the Cardinals organization. With Palmer out, the Cards decided to select UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen 10th overall in the NFL draft, hoping that he can be the future of the franchise. Free agent quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon look to hold down the fort early on this season to give Rosen a chance to learn the system and so he does not turn to mush behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. All-Pro running back David Johnson returns after suffering a season ending wrist injury in the first game of the 2017 season. With Johnson in a contract year, expect the Cardinals to feed him early and often. WR Larry Fitzgerald is looking to continue to add to his Hall of Fame resume, while mentoring young receiver rookie Christian Kirk to become a go-to threat. The rest of the offense is below average, along with a bottom three offensive line. Bradford has been injury prone his whole career, and this is the least safe he has been in his NFL career. Rosen has also been fragile throughout his career. Mike Glennon might be the last man standing by season’s end, and you can ask the Chicago Bears how you should feel about that.
The defense is not much better than the offense, which is hard to believe. New head coach Steve Wilkes will have his hands full with this unit. The front seven has one above average player, DE Chandler Jones. Other than Jones, the defensive line and linebacking cores are comprised ranging from average to just bad players. Second year linebacker Hassan Reddick was highly regarded coming out of Temple, but disappointed in his first season in Arizona. If Reddick can bounce back, that will give Jones a partner in crime. The secondary lost star safety Tyrann Mathieu to the Houston Texans after the team decided not to extend him, but still have their franchise CB Patrick Peterson ready to suffocate WR1’s all throughout the league. Second year rookie Budda Baker had a productive rookie year, and now looks to be one of the top slot corners in the league. The safety position is now controlled by veterans Antoine Bethea and Tre Boston, who both played exceptional last season. Although the Cardinals secondary is serviceable, they will be asked to do a lot with a bottom tier front seven and could have to hold coverages for an unreasonable amount of time. In a division with the Rams, 49ers, and Seahawks, this defense could have a few long weeks in the office.
The roster is just not good. They are one of the tougher divisions in football. They are in the NFC. Congratulations to the Arizona Cardinals, you will be selecting first in the 2019 NFL draft! Nick Bosa will look great in a Cards jersey.
Favorite Potential Storyline: I want to battle between Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen to see who can stack up the most random injuries in a season.
Prediction: 2-14 (4th in the NFC West)