Los Angeles Rams
Win total: 10.5 (O +120/U -140)
2018 Pythagorean Wins: 11.73 (+1.27)
Key additions: S Eric Weddle, OLB Clay Matthews, QB Blake Bortles
Key losses: C John Sullivan, OG Rodger Saffold, LB Mark Barron, S LaMarcus Joyner, DT Ndamukong Suh
Early Round Rookies: S Taylor Rapp, RB Darrell Henderson, CB David Long, OT Bobby Evans
Coaching changes: N/A
Sean McVay coaching records: Straight Up (26-10) Against the Spread (18-17-1)
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Head Coach Sean McVay earned the right to be schooled by Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl in just his second year in the league. In all seriousness, it was a hell of an accomplishment making the Super Bowl in just his second year. However, the story around the Rams hasn’t been a potential Super Bowl hangover, but rather Todd Gurley‘s knee.
It was reported a month after the big game that he has arthritis, which had to play a role in his decreased workload down the stretch last season. I, however, don’t think that will play as big a role as most think. They also lost Ndamukong Suh and went through some turn over on the interior of the offensive line. Last but not least, Cooper Kupp will be limited coming off a torn ACL in 2018. How will all of this affect the defending NFC champions headed into the 2019 season?
For most of the 2018 season, the Rams defense operated like finely sliced swiss cheese.
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Despite missing Aqib Talib for eight games, the unit still finished top 10 in pass defense DVOA according to Football Outsiders. Aaron Donald anchored the defense and led them to a middle of the road finish in terms of pass rush and raw sacks.
The unit stepped up in the playoffs. They held the Dallas Cowboys to 14 points up until the final two minutes of the 4th quarter. In the New Orleans Saints game, they held their ground in the red zone amidst two early turnovers and kept the game within striking distance for their offense.
As for the Super Bowl, well, the unit was the only reason that game was even close. It’s amazing to think that despite how bad the offense played, they still had a chance to come out as Super Bowl champions.
The Rams resigned Dante Fowler to maintain another pass-rushing presence upfront, as well as bringing in Clay Matthews for the same effect. Veteran safety Eric Weddle might not necessarily step into the void left by LaMarcus Joyner. The team may play rookie Taylor Rapp in that spot, which would mitigate Weddle into more of a box safety role in passing downs.
The cornerback trio of Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Nickell Robey-Coleman remain intact. Peters is looking to bounce back off a down year, while Talib hopes to play all 16 games. Linebacker Cory Littleton finished with Pro Football Focus‘ 4th best coverage grade, which was echoed by LA’s 4th ranked DVOA defense against passes to opposing running backs.
Defensive strength of schedule
Warren Sharp gives them the 13th easiest strength of schedule in terms of opposing passing offenses. I think it is going to end up being a bit harder than that, however, as he is counting the four games against the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers as “easy” matchups. A healthy Jimmy Garoppolo and new offensive philosophy in Arizona will make those matchups harder than they appear.
With the best defensive player in the league as an anchor, and arguably the best defensive mind in the league (outside of Belichick), the unit will be in good hands in 2019. The question is, will their age catch up to them and make the group a liability in 2019?
All of the talks regarding the Rams offense and the Rams, in general, has been centered around Todd Gurley’s knee. It is worthy of a discussion, but I am more concerned with the turn over along the interior of the offensive line.
Los Angeles parted ways with starting center John Sullivan and long-time guard Rodger Saffold. Brian Allen, a second-year, fourth-round pick, projects to start at center, while 2nd year, 3rd round pick Joseph Noteboom is slated to replace Saffold. They have the draft pedigree, but it remains to be seen whether that will translate onto the field. Combine two brand new starters along the interior with stellar offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth entering his 14th season, and there could be some trouble brewing in Los Angeles along the offensive line.
These concerns could be all for naught, however. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has an impressive resume with the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears. Perhaps that is why they were ok with moving on from Sullivan and Saffold.
Sean McVay runs the most amount of play-action in the league as well, which can help the offensive line mask some of its deficiencies. The replacements have draft capital, so they could end up being good, and Whitworth has shown no signs of slowing down. If there are issues, however, we will know right away.
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**Sheldon Rankins tore his Achilles tendon in the playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles and may begin the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.
The gap in the table (week 5) is an away game at Seattle. There won’t be any breaks for this unit. Should any kinks exist, they will have to be worked out the hard way.
Offensive strength of schedule
All in all the Rams face the 13th easiest schedule of passing defenses, including the 14th easiest schedule overall, according to Warren Sharp. It is good that they don’t project to have a demanding schedule, as Cooper Kupp is coming off an ACL tear from late in the 2018 season. A study by The Guardian shows running backs and wide receivers who suffer an ACL tear see their performance “drop by a third.” Adrian Peterson is the exception, not the norm when it comes to recovering from this type of injury.
I bring this up because Kupp is Goff’s go-to target. If he isn’t 100%, on top of the offensive line potentially experiencing a decline, this offense could see a drop in efficiency in 2019.
Strength of Schedule
I touched on a few aspects of their schedule above. Overall Warren Sharp gives them the 7th easiest schedule in 2019. That is predicated on the Carolina Panthers, 49ers and Cardinals all being easy opponents. I expect all three to improve this year, so the schedule should be a bit harder than it appears.
The Rams’ travel schedule to start isn’t exactly ideal. They travel to the Eastern and Central time zone three times before their week nine bye, with a trip to London right before their bye. On the bright side, the Rams don’t leave the Pacific time zone from weeks 11-16. A trip to Dallas in week 15 will be the only time they leave the time zone after their bye week.
Not much has changed in the offshore market concerning the South Point opening number. That said, I like the under here. I think their schedule will be harder than it appears, the turnover along the offensive line could prove to be an issue, the secondary could show it’s age and Cooper Kupp not being fully healthy will hurt Jared Goff‘s efficiency. They should also see some regression in their performance in one-score games this year. The Rams were 6-1 in one-score games last season, 8-1 if you include the postseason.
Another factor to take note of is the amount of turnover year to year in the NFL. Since 2011, of the 32 teams who have appeared in their conference’s championship game, only 11 have made a return appearance the following year. If you take out the anomaly that is New England, only four teams have had back to back appearances.
Since 2015, only four teams have made it back-to-back to the conference championship game, all of them being New England. The odds of them having a winning record are greater: 62% of teams have had a winning record the year after making the conference championship game. However, that number dips to 41% in terms of how many of them made the playoffs the year after.
One final aspect I like about their under win total is I could be dead wrong and still hit the under. None of my worries could come to fruition, the Rams could go 10-6 and win the division, and the under would still cash. I love that suck out opportunity. The “no” on their “will they make the playoffs” prop at Bovada is (+240), but I’d rather stick with their under of 10.5.
Suggested Bets: U 10.5 (Bovada currently has the best number at -135)
James Aguirre is a writer for PFN covering NFL betting and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter @PFN_James