Every NFL season brings with it outliers who far exceed expectations or disappoint miserably. With the futures odds set for the 2021-22 NFL season, we examine that broad range of possibilities for the Los Angeles Rams.
When Last We Met
The Los Angeles Rams rode a season of ups-and-downs in 2020 but performed above expectations. Los Angeles improved on its preseason win projection totals of nine — the same number of games they won in 2019, finishing with a 10-6 record to return to the postseason.
In the playoffs, the Rams upset NFC West rival Seattle, before bowing out in the divisional round against the conference’s Super Bowl favorites, the Green Bay Packers.
Despite coming up short, the Rams reminded everyone they’re still very much a Super Bowl threat and are going all-in this season following a blockbuster trade.
To Miss the Playoffs (+150)
A team as stacked as the Rams can still miss the playoffs due to playing in the NFC West, arguably the toughest division in football.
The Rams have the 10th-hardest schedule thanks to playing six games against Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona, who combined for a 56.7 win percentage against non-divisional opponents.
The Rams scratched out a 3-3 record in their division. But with a tougher non-division slate this season and improvements by their NFC West rivals, they can ill-afford to lose more than three games here. It is plausible for this team to win fewer than 10 games and miss the postseason.
The additional game on the NFL schedule this season also did the Rams no favors. They have to face the Baltimore Ravens, a fellow Super Bowl contender who also have an elite defense.
Speaking of defense, this will continue to be Los Angeles’ bread-and-butter. They led the NFL in several defensive stats, including allowing the fewest passing yards and passing touchdowns. That is due to two All-Pros in defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
If the Rams can’t replicate their defense and/or they lose key players like Ramsey or linebacker Leonard Floyd to injury, they will have to depend more heavily on their offense.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, acquired in a trade with the Detroit Lions, takes over the reins, but he has been banged up in the past. Despite his lofty passing stats, he can be prone to inconsistency.
Los Angeles also lost plenty of coaches in the offseason. Defensive coordinator Brandon Staley left for a coaching gig with the Chargers, as did cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant (Lions) and assistant head coach Joe Barry (Packers).
Sean McVay is still the person in charge but the high turnover rate among the coaching staff, a new quarterback, and injuries may just throw a couple of speed bumps Los Angeles’ way. This team may get off to a slow start and not overcome it in time to make the playoffs.
To Make the Playoffs (-180)
The NFL betting odds are skewed toward Los Angeles making the playoffs for a good reason. The Rams were already good enough to make the playoffs and win a wild-card game. Now they’ve upgraded the most important position on offense: quarterback.
Stafford is significantly better than his predecessor Jared Goff. Not only does he possess better arm strength, he’s also much more experienced in having to carry a team after playing for an atrocious franchise in the Lions.
The former Pro Bowler has 34 career game-winning drives and set the NFL single-season record with eight in 2016. On top of this, he holds practically every Detroit franchise record for QB stats, and owns the all-time NFL mark for most passing yards in his first 100 games.
Is it football season yet?
Best of Matthew Stafford from the 2020 season! pic.twitter.com/tBWA50ig0D
Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) July 8, 2021
Stafford shouldn’t have issues notching one of his best seasons with the array of weapons in front of him.
Receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp could both record 1,000-yard seasons if healthy. The additions of deep threat DeSean Jackson and rookie Chatarius “Tutu” Atwell, a promising talent who fell to the Rams in the second round of the NFL Draft, further improve LA’s offense.
The Rams did not make any big-name additions to their defense, but they also didn’t lose any key players. The pass rush, led by three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Donald, will continue disrupting opposing offenses while their two young running backs, Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson, can help balance the offense.
Another thing that could potentially cost the Rams the playoffs is an injury to Stafford. As the Rams play in a tough division and have a hard schedule, none of the inexperienced backups will be reliable in helping Los Angeles win games.
But with a durable offensive line, Stafford’s chances of staying upright (and healthy) improve greatly.
With their win totals set at 10½, the Rams should be able to win double-digit games comfortably even if they split all six division games.
To Win the NFC West (+185)
The Rams are neck-and-neck with the 49ers in terms of the online betting lines. San Francisco has been bet down to +180, nudging them into the position of favorite, while Seattle is just behind them at +280. Arizona brings up the rear at a tight +550. But any of these four can emerge as the division winner, realistically.
Both Los Angeles and San Francisco made splashes in the offseason. The 49ers, not to be outdone by the Rams snagging Stafford, drafted prized quarterback prospect Trey Lance third overall. San Francisco also bolstered both of its lines with signings and draft picks.
However, the Rams have one big advantage under center. Stafford is a dramatic upgrade over either Jimmy Garoppolo or rookie Trey Lance. This could be what finally swings the odds in favor of Los Angeles, as San Francisco has had its number in recent seasons.
The Rams have lost four straight times to the 49ers, getting swept in each of the past two seasons regardless of who was quarterbacking for the Niners.
Last season, the Rams lost to backup Nick Mullens while Garoppolo looked like a star against them, throwing for three touchdowns and posting a 124.3 passer rating. San Francisco also went 5-1 against the division in 2019 with a healthy Garoppolo, while Los Angeles posted a 3-3 record.
The divisional race may come down to a tiebreaker with both San Francisco and Los Angeles posting similar records. That will be decided by their head-to-head matchups followed by their divisional records. The 49ers hold the edge here unless the Rams can finally find a way to beat them.
Again, it comes down to Stafford. He’s only beaten the 49ers once in four tries but that’s mostly due to playing for the Lions. Stafford managed eight touchdowns to just one interception against the Niners and averages almost 293 yards — despite getting sacked about three times each outing.
The 49ers also have the easiest schedule in the division. It may just be two or three easier opponents, but that might be two wins that make the difference for San Francisco. Still, Stafford gives the Rams a higher ceiling than the 49ers. If they can continue to maintain their defensive intensity and get clicking on offense, the Rams will be a tough team to stop regardless of who they’re facing.
To Win the NFC (+600)
Clocking in with an 11 percent chance to win the NFC, the Rams have the third-best shot, according to the oddsmakers. This implies that once in every 10 chances, the Rams will make it to the Super Bowl. It’s tough to argue against Los Angeles, as only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+350) and San Francisco (+500) have better odds.
The Rams can improve their chances if they win the division and lock in the top seed in the NFC. That would mean LA would receive the conference’s only bye and have home-turf advantage until the Super Bowl.
What makes this dicey is how tough the NFC can be. Just like the Rams potentially missing the playoffs with a winning record, they can get knocked out early in the postseason if they match up against a strong opponent due to the seedings.
The Rams may end up facing the New Orleans Saints or the 49ers in their first playoff game, as the two best teams in the NFC could come from the same division. Yet due to the seeding, the second team will receive a seed lower than No. 4.
But while the Rams need a little bit of luck to make it to the Super Bowl, this team boasts arguably the best defense in the NFL and now has a prolific QB to lead the offense. The Rams can get it done regardless of seeding.
To Win the Super Bowl (+1200)
While a 5.6 percent chance to win the Super Bowl doesn’t seem like much, the Rams are actually tied for fifth (with the 49ers) in terms of probability. Only Kansas City (+400), Tampa Bay (+600), Buffalo (+1100) and Baltimore (+1100) have a better shot, if we’re going by book odds.
The Rams will likely have to get a top seed in the NFC to make it to the Super Bowl. Since 1975, 26 of the 46 Super Bowl champions have been a No. 1 seed. That’s over 56.5 percent of the past winners.
The next best chance is the No. 2 seed, which has won nine (19.6 percent) of the last 46 Super Bowls.
This means that 35 of the last 46 Super Bowls were won by a top-two seed. The Rams were a two-seed when they made the Super Bowl in 2018, and Tom Brady’s Buccaneers in 2020-21 were the only Super Bowl winner in the last eight seasons that did not earn a top-two seed.
But if the saying “defense wins championships” still rings true, the Rams have that covered.
Los Angeles also is not far removed from their Super Bowl LIII loss. This team knows what it takes to get to the Big Game, and is an even better version this season.
Stafford significantly raises this team’s offensive prowess. Not only is he more prolific than Goff, he’s also a more experienced veteran who gives the Rams a shot at playing from behind, something they never had with their ex-pivot.
The defense will continue to be a powerful force even if it is a bit lacking in depth. Barring any long-term injuries to their starters, the Rams should once again be a top-three defensive unit in the league.
Consider the Rams on the short list of most likely Super Bowl champions this season.