2020 LA Rams Season Betting Preview: Can defense carry them?

Betting analyst Drew Haynes dives into his top plays for this 2020 Los Angeles Rams team in his season-long betting preview.

The 2019 Los Angeles Rams, more often than not, displayed the same offensive inefficiencies that plagued them in Super Bowl LIII, which saw them score just three points. Before that Super Bowl, Sean McVay was the hottest coach in the NFL, and his offense appeared unstoppable with Jared Goff at the helm. However, following a 2019 campaign that saw the Rams miss the playoffs with a 9-7 record behind Goff, who turned the ball over an astounding 26 times, we are left wondering if the NFL has caught up to McVay’s wizardry. I’ll dive into how I expect the 2020 version of the Rams to look and where they may present value for season-long bets in this 2020 Rams betting preview.

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2020 LA Rams Season Betting Preview

Out with the old on offense

It was out with the old and in with the new for the Rams as they ditched a couple of veterans whose production carried them to the 2018 Super Bowl. They released running back Todd Gurley just two years removed from being the offensive player of the year, replacing him with Florida State prospect Cam Akers with the 52nd pick in the draft.

Gurley’s unique and unfortunate health concerns, coupled with his massive contract, made releasing him a relatively easy decision, and I believe Akers certainly has all the talent necessary to fill his shoes. He will be joined by underrated veterans Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson, and this group should be highly efficient.

Bringing in receiver help through the draft

Five picks after selecting Cam Akers, the Rams selected wide receiver Van Jefferson from Florida with the 57th pick. Jefferson will likely be called upon early in 2020 as this group will be without Brandin Cooks, who left in a trade to the Houston Texans. However, I do not believe Jefferson will able to replicate his predecessor’s success as quickly as Akers.

Related: 2020 NFL Draft Grades: Los Angeles Rams

In Cooks, the Rams had a weapon that opposing defenses had to respect down the field with his blazing speed. This not only opened up the run game but also helped to free up the short-intermediate routes that Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp have killed opposing defenses on over the past few years.

The problem with Van Jefferson

Jefferson is a fantastic route runner, which is something that was likely instilled in him at a young age by his father, former NFL veteran receiver Shawn Jefferson. He also displays excellent hands; a quality often overlooked in receiver scouting. That being said, his route running and hands should be reasonably polished, considering he will be 24 years old to start the season.

What Jefferson lacks is something that cannot be taught; size, speed, and athleticism. PFN Draft analyst Scott Gorman thought the Jefferson pick screamed reach following the draft in April, and I couldn’t agree more.

His slim frame often does not allow him to get off the line with ease. Furthermore, his lack of speed will not scare many NFL corners, much less warrant a safety over the top. He struggled to consistently get targets and produce in the SEC, whether it was at Ole Miss or Florida. His skill set mimics what the Rams already have at receiver, just to a lesser athletic degree. I do not see him bringing anything new to this offense and certainly not filling to the role left by Cooks.

The Rams have clearly shown a willingness to plug and play whoever on offense, relying more on the mysticism of McVay’s scheme than the talent of their players. However, the Jefferson selection was not only a huge reach, but it left the Rams without a cog on the offense that is critical to its success in a deep threat scheme, and I expect the run game and the intermediate passing game to suffer dearly. The Rams’ sole hope lies in McVay’s magic fairy dust turning Josh Reynolds into a deep threat that consistently keeps defenses honest, but I doubt it. I have serious concerns about this offense in 2020.

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Star-studded defense returns for the Rams

Where the Rams lack in firepower on offense, they certainly make up for on defense with superstars Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald. Donald has been the most consistent defensive performer in the entire NFL since entering the league in 2014 and elevated his game to an entirely new level in the past two years. Donald’s no-nonsense demeanor, coupled with his incomparable production from the defensive tackle position, makes him an invaluable player and leader for this franchise.

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Ramsey’s game has more talking in it, but he backs it up with a track record of shutting down some of the NFL’s best receivers on a regular basis. He is in elite company atop tier-one corners in this league and, therefore, a nearly invaluable asset for an NFL team, especially one that sees Deandre Hopkins twice a year.

Often criticized, Ramsey’s competitive fire, coupled with his elite talent is what makes him such a rare and unique player. This competitive fire, when focused, not only makes Ramsey nearly unstoppable but can also ignite his teammates, as we saw with the historically productive defenses in Jacksonville as Ramsey was bursting on to scene professionally in 2017 and 2018.

I expect Ramsey to not only once again prove himself elite, but also help to ignite the very-talented core of defensive starters around him. Look for guys like Michael Brockers, Micah Kiser, Taylor Rapp, and Troy Hill to have career years backed by the mentality set by their veteran leaders. Look for Donald to fill the role of the quiet, ultra-productive leader along the defensive line, much like Calais Campbell did for the 2017 Jaguars. Look for this defensive to be elite, potentially better than the 2017 Jaguars that made Ramsey a household name.

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Strength of Schedule

Strength of schedule is crucial to evaluating any team’s season-long bets, and this 2020 Rams season betting preview is no different. But before even looking at metrics on the Rams strength of schedule for next season, I know it will be tough because they play in the NFC West.

The 49ers are the defending NFC Champions, the Seahawks are perennial contenders behind the leadership of Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson, and the Cardinals should be much improved with the natural development of Kyler Murray and the arrival of DeAndre Hopkins. I have no problem with calling this division the strongest in all of football in 2020.

The most accurate measure of strength of schedule is to base it off Vegas’ forecasted win totals, and Sharp Football Stats ranks the Rams schedule as the seventh most difficult using this metric. Non-divisional matchups against teams like the Cowboys, Eagles, and Buccaneers help to make this schedule near the most difficult in the NFL. These Rams have the talent to beat any team on this schedule, but they will be tested each and every week.

2020 Rams season betting preview and picks

I do not expect to see the brand of football that we have become accustomed to from McVay’s Rams in 2020. Instead, I expect the blueprint to look much like the one we saw from the 13-3 NFC West rival 49ers in 2020. These Rams will be built on their defense, which possesses even more talent than the stout 2019 49ers defense. They will also have a stable of running backs that they will feed early and often, gauging who has the hot hand and riding their shoulders to victory, taking the pressure off the passing game.

What angle do we look to attack in 2020?

So, finally, how will we best want to attack this style of play from a betting perspective? With the disparity in confidence I have in the Rams offense and defense, respectively, I find it challenging to make a definitive win total prediction. I’m leaning towards the over on the eight wins expected for Los Angeles here, despite the Rams’ suspected ineptitude down the field on offense and because of how great I feel about the defense.

The most valuable play, however, based on how I see this Rams team handling games, is Goff under 4325.5 yards on DraftKings. The Rams will lean on their run game to open up their passing game, much like last year’s 49ers. With no real deep threat on the field, look for the Rams to target short and intermediate routes following the play-action. These throws are Goff’s forte, and the drafting of Jefferson exemplifies the Rams and McVay’s dedication to these sorts of routes.

Furthermore, I do not expect many fourth quarters with the Ram’s trailing significantly thanks to their incredible defense, limiting the amount of desperation passing yardage Goff may garner in 2020. Add in the additional risk that Goff misses a game or two due to illness, and I believe we have a melting pot for one of the best prop bets on the board as we approach the 2020 NFL season. Therefore, I will put four units on his under yardage prop.

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Follow Drew @DHaynesPFN and @PFNBets on Twitter for all the best betting advice for the 2020 NFL season.

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