- Win Over/Under: 10 (-120/+100)
- Make NFC Playoffs: -260 (72%)
- Win NFC West: -125 (55%)
- Win NFC Championship: +800 (11%)
- Win Super Bowl: +1600 (6%)
The Action Network’s Projected Wins: 9.61 (6th)
Going from Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay was like swapping out a silent black-and-white film for IMAX 3D.
McVay led the Rams to double-digit wins for the first time since the Marc Bulger “Pretty Good Show on Turf” Rams of 2003, eclipsing their win total and posting a winning record against the spread for the first time in five years.
The offense jumped from last to first in points scored as McVay kept defenses off balance with tactics like using play action on more than half of first-down pass attempts — the only team in the league to do so — and running on at least 40% of its plays in three-wide personnel (per Football Outsiders).
Quarterback Jared Goff went from looking like a Hollywood extra’s Hollywood extra to one of the stars of the show, finishing second in the league in yards per attempt overall (8.0) and on play action (10.6, via Pro Football Focus).
McVay continuously schemed wide receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp open for Goff by isolating Sammy Watkins and letting him draw coverage away. McVay’s play designs were so brilliant that it didn’t matter that Goff ignored Watkins more than Fisher had ignored every modern-day NFL trend since 2008.
McVay also figured out that if you take a top running back talent, give him a halfway decent offensive line and don’t allow the defense to use 11 men in the box, he’ll average way more than 3.2 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, Wade Phillips took the Rams’ defense from No. 23 in points allowed in 2016 to No. 12 last season — the sixth such time in six stints as a defensive coordinator that he’s elevated a defense’s ranking at least 10 spots in Year 1.
In addition to their franchise-altering coaching hires, the Rams have made sharp roster moves to maximize the window of their rookie-deal quarterback.
While the team’s NBA counterpart had a more noteworthy offseason, the Rams’ acquisition of Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters is closer to acquiring four LeBrons than it is to acquiring one LeBron James and a bunch of Rajon Rondos, Lance Stephensons and Javale McGees.
Phillips’ defense will now have its own version of the Broncos’ No Fly Zone: Talib, Peters and the aptly named slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman all earned top-15 coverage grades from PFF last season.
And not to be outdone, safeties Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson III earned the Nos. 2 and 11 coverage grades at the position.
Ultimately, the Rams have Super Bowl upside … but they could also lose you an over bet on their win total.
As I mentioned in the Vikings preview, the over on double-digit NFC win totals is 0-8 over the past three seasons and 3-12 since 2013.
The reason the Vikings are my one double-digit over pick is that, unlike the Rams, they don’t really have a weakness on defense.
For as much star power as the Rams’ defense has, it is concentrated to the perimeter and interior line.
Alec Ogletree wasn’t good in coverage or run defense last season, but neither were the linebackers the Rams are counting on to start: Cory Littleton, Mark Barron, Matt Longacre and Samson Ebukam. All four will have to step up for this defense to function at its highest level.
The hope is that Suh helps the run defense by creating another force that offenses can’t double-team next to Aaron Donald and helps the pass rush by freeing up Michael Brockers.
But the run defense has a long way to go after allowing 4.7 yards per carry last season. Brockers has to prove he can replace the pass-rushing production of Robert Quinn, at least to some degree. But while Quinn had 8.5 sacks last season and has averaged 9.6 over the past six years, Brockers has never exceeded 5.5 in a season (and that was in 2013).
The defense also isn’t as deep as Minnesota’s, so it can’t afford a holdout from its All-Pro leader in Donald or any antics that could lead to potential ejections or suspensions, such as penalty-flag throwing (Peters), chain-snatching (Talib) or helmet stomping (you know who).
And Goff will have to use the knowledge gained from another year in McVay’s system to ward off the natural regression that comes with finishing as the league’s No. 1 offense.
Goff has to be better under duress after finishing 43rd of 48 qualified passers in accuracy percentage under pressure (PFF). And he has to do it despite what looked like a drop-off in play from left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who turns 37 in December.
Goff has to be more willing to throw downfield with Cooks than he was with Watkins, whom he targeted only 70 times.
The quarterback has to be able to manufacture Watkins’ eight touchdowns from deeper out, too, since Cooks isn’t the same type of threat that Watkins is in the red zone. Goff will also need to improve on his 5-of-23 touchdown conversion rate when targeting Kupp inside 20 yards.
The Rams even have to ward off regression in the injury department after having the league’s best injury luck in 2017, according to Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost metric.
All of that would go a long way toward maximizing the Rams’ star power, which should lead to an improvement on their 4-4 record at home (including playoffs but excluding Week 17) and 2-4 record vs. NFC teams with winning records (including playoffs).
Like the Packers, the Rams are a team I want to hold high-upside futures on while fading bets on what could be a tightly contested playoff and division race.
McVay and Co. did in one year what Fisher could never do in his five seasons with the team: lay the groundwork for an NFC title run. But that road is still littered with obstacles. – Chris Raybon
The Bets: Win NFC, Win Super Bowl
Los Angeles Rams 2018 Schedule
- Games Favored: 14
- Avg. Spread: -3.0
- Strength of Schedule: 23rd (1 = Easiest, 32 = Hardest)
Survivor Pool 101
- Use the Rams: Week 2 vs. ARI
- Use Rams’ opponents: Week 9 @ NO
Fantasy Football Outlook
- Top Picks: RB Todd Gurley, WR Brandin Cooks, K Greg Zuerlein, Rams D/ST
- Sleepers: QB Jared Goff
Best of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+
“They are leading the ticket count for Super Bowl bets by a large margin. We moved them from 25-1 to 10-1 and also have taken bets on the Rams to win the division and moved them from -110 to -180.”
– Westgate bookmaker Jeff Sherman to The Action Network’s Michael Leboff
Todd Gurley Over/Under 15.5 Total Touchdowns? (-115/-115)
This is no slam dunk — I currently have Gurley getting exactly 15 total touchdowns — but there are reasons to lean toward the under.
After his whopping 19 total scores in 2017, the laws of regression are not in favor of a repeat, especially with his six receiving touchdowns on 64 catches. He had as many receptions in his first two seasons combined and went scoreless.
The dramatic offensive turnaround under McVay makes me believe Gurley is more likely to approach 2017’s numbers than regress all the way back to his 2015-16 rates. But another path to the under on this prop will be if rookie preseason star John Kelly can carve out a role that allows the Rams to spell Gurley more. – Sean Koerner
The Bet: Under 15.5 Touchdowns
Stack Jared Goff and Todd Gurley in DFS
Gurley’s return to relevance in 2018 was fueled by McVay’s decision to embrace his receiving ability.
The fourth-year back is one of the league’s best talents with the ball in his hands, but Fisher actually decided Benny Cunningham was better off playing on passing downs in Gurley’s first couple of seasons.
Ultimately, Gurley had more games with at least four receptions in 2017 (8) than he did in 2015-16 (7).
This naturally made Gurley a great stacking partner with Goff: The quarterback and No. 1 RB posted a .38 positive correlation in 2017, well above the NFL average of .10, according to the FantasyLabs NFL Correlations dashboard. – Ian Hartitz