Following a dominant 33-0 victory over the dilapidated Arizona Cardinals, the Rams were pegged as co-favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy by season’s end. Bovada odds have LA sharing the same chances (+650) as the New England Patriots to win Super Bowl 53. Were those odds warranted, though? Is a Rams team coming off a first-round playoff exit and two victories over winless teams worthy of being considered the favorite in today’s NFL?
Let’s first take a look at how we got here. The Rams entered the year with one of the more well-rounded rosters in all of football. Last year, in his first year on the job, Sean McVay successfully completed the first ever worst-to-first offensive scoring transformation in NFL history. Already possessing a roster filled with young talent, the Rams took an aggressive approach to this past offseason. In addition to the signings of Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Ndamukong Suh, netting Brandin Cooks in a deal with the Patriots signaled that the team was ready to compete for a championship.
The early results were a bit shaky. LA came out uncharacteristically flat to begin their opening week tilt with the Oakland Raiders. Jon Gruden’s squad played McVay’s team very well through the game’s first half, but then the Rams flipped the switch.
Since the start of the second half in Week 1, the Rams have outscored their opponents 57-0. They’ve looked every bit of the All-Star team that they’ve been labeled as. It all starts with McVay and his work with the offense, but from top to bottom, the Rams have been picture-perfect to begin the year.
Last season, Jared Goff silenced plenty of critics by posting one of the better statistical seasons for a quarterback in the league. Goff finished the year with a stellar 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio while finishing with a 7.98 yards per attempt average — good for third in the league. While that should have been enough to consider the 23-year-old fit to be a franchise quarterback, detractors were quick to point out McVay’s scheme as a driving force in Goff’s production. Thus far, Goff has done his part in putting those critiques to rest as well.
This was a beautiful throw from Goff to Woods. It may seem like the pass is behind Woods, but Goff puts it in the perfect spot between defenders. pic.twitter.com/fDeH53sdzR
— Sosa (@QBsMVP) September 18, 2018
Throws like the one above are ones that Goff couldn’t/wouldn’t make earlier in his career. The confidence level Goff is currently operating at is well beyond what we’ve seen from him before. He trusts his wide-outs, and the coaching staff has instilled their faith in Goff making the correct play for each situation. With an accurate Goff, and a healthy Todd Gurley, this team has a chance to repeat as the league’s highest scoring offense.
Goff did Arden Key dirty. Wicked pump fake. pic.twitter.com/tSt1UL8tbE
— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dkurtenbach) September 11, 2018
While the offense has come along at a methodical pace, LA’s defense wasted zero time making their presence felt in 2018. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has his group playing as well as any unit in the league. They’ve been able to find contributors at every level, and have been relentless in their pursuit to disrupt opposing quarterbacks. While they’ve only registered 2.0 sacks thus far, the Rams’ front-seven has been able to produce consistent pressure from both the inside and out.
Safeties LaMarcus Joyner and John Johnson have been effective in containing big plays. A group of unknown linebackers have stepped up — including former Washington standout Cory Littleton who has filled the void left by Alec Ogletree. Most notably, nearly all of LA’s most recent signings are already paying dividends.
The Rams offseason additions are working out well so far. pic.twitter.com/LOAvkeek26
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 18, 2018
And then there’s Aaron Donald. The reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year is one of the best players in all of football, and doesn’t seem to have missed a step after sitting out for a majority of the Rams’ preseason activities. He’s been his usual disruptive self clogging the middle. Teams can’t feel too confident running the ball with Donald and Suh patrolling the interior of LA’s defense.
The Rams and the Fitzmagic-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers remain the only 2-0 teams in the NFC. Few people give the Bucs much of a chance to sustain their current prolific pace, making the Rams the perceived leader in the conference. With the NFC in hand, it comes down to them or the Patriots as the overall favorite.
The biggest reason why the 1-1 Patriots are still on an even-playing field with the Rams from a betting standpoint is because the AFC is a bit weaker at the top. New England doesn’t have a clear adversary, while the Rams have Philadelphia, Minnesota, Atlanta, New Orleans and Green Bay to contend with in a rugged NFC. Of the 15 teams with the best odds to win this year’s Super Bowl, 10 of them come from the NFC.
With the Steelers and Chargers both starting the season in underwhelming fashion, the AFC is as ripe for New England’s taking as ever. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Patriots are a better team than the Rams — just that their path might be easier. But the Rams are the more complete team — equipped with a better rushing attack, more options in the passing game, and a far more imposing defense.
Even with the Patriots sharing the same odds as LA, the Rams have evolved into a betting favorite because they are the most complete team in all of football. Only time will tell if the Rams can put it together over the course of a full year, but LA fans have to be excited with the direction this team is already heading.
Sources: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports, Twitter/QBsMVP, Twitter/DKurtenbach, Twitter/PFF