Los Angeles Rams 2022 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

For years, the Rams have pursued an aggressive team building strategy, frequently trading away premium draft picks to acquire stars in trades and giving expensive contracts to the acquired players, their own homegrown players, and, with the money they had left over, other team’s players in free agency. The result was a top heavy cap structure, which can be a dangerous strategy, especially if stars underperform or get hurt as they age, but the Rams bet on their coaching staff’s ability to find and develop non-premium draft picks and under-the-radar free agents to fill in around their expensive stars. 

The Rams haven’t selected in the first round since 2016 and have made just one pick in the top-50 in their past six drafts, but they’ve still made 8.8 draft picks per year over that stretch and have found good values in the middle and late rounds, with 11 of their 22 players who played 500 snaps on offense or defense on last year’s team being drafted by the Rams in the second round or later in the past six drafts. The strategy finally paid off in a Super Bowl Championship in the 2021 season, with quarterback Matt Stafford coming over from the Lions last off-season in a blockbuster trade and proving to be their missing piece, but the Rams will find it a juggling act to keep enough talent under the cap to consistently contend year after year going forward, still not possessing a first round pick until 2024. 

Making it tougher to keep all of their talent under the cap long-term, the Rams had to give Stafford a top of the market deal and a big pay raise, making him the 6th highest paid quarterback in the league in average annual salary on a 4-year, 160 million dollar extension ahead of what would have been the final year of his contract in 2022. I often bring up that since the start of the salary cap era in 1994, just 5 of 28 Super Bowls have been won by a quarterback whose cap hit was more than 11% of the salary cap and all of those quarterbacks are Hall of Fame caliber players, as a cautionary to teams paying non-elite quarterbacks elite quarterback money, which makes it it’s very tough to surround a non-elite quarterback with enough talent to win if that quarterback is taking a significant percentage of the cap. 

Stafford is right on that Hall of Fame borderline in my opinion and he was right on that 11% borderline last season, but it’s going to be increasingly harder to keep his cap number close to that proportion going forward, so they may need an even better performance from Stafford, to justify his new deal and keep this team as consistent contenders, after his cap hit starts to jump significantly in 2024 and beyond. Stafford didn’t have an elite regular season last year, finishing 11th among quarterbacks on PFF in overall grade and completing 67.2% of his passes for an average of 8.13 YPA, 41 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions, but he played well enough to lead a talented team to 12 wins (9th in offensive efficiency and 5th in overall efficiency) and then he was able to elevate his play a little in the post-season, to help the team secure the title.

For Stafford, it was his 8th season in the top-13 among quarterbacks on PFF in 11 straight seasons as a healthy starter and, in the first 10 of those seasons when he was in Detroit, he completed 63.3% of his passes for an average of 7.36 YPA, 263 touchdowns, and 123 interceptions, despite underwhelming supporting casts. However, he’s also only finished in the top-10 among quarterbacks on PFF in 3 seasons, so there’s an argument to be made that he hasn’t been a consistently elite quarterback in his career and that the Rams are overpaying him slightly. They also didn’t really have a choice though, after he just led them to a Super Bowl victory, and it’s possible he could play well enough to justify his salary and keep this team consistently in Super Bowl contention for the next several seasons, still only going into his age 34 season.

The Rams will obviously need Stafford to stay healthy and on the field, something he’s done a good job of in his career, making every start in 10 of the past 11 seasons. If Stafford did happen to miss time in 2022, the Rams would have to turn to career backup John Wolford, who is a smart quarterback who has been in the system since 2019, after the 2018 undrafted free agent showed promise in the now suspended AAF, but he also has just 42 career regular season passes and has been inconsistent at best in limited action. He would likely struggle if forced into significant action, but there’s a good chance that doesn’t happen and that Stafford again is an above average starter for at least most of the season.

Grade: A-

Offensive Line

The Rams did a pretty good job keeping talent around Stafford this off-season, even if they had to already go over the 2023 and 2024 cap to do so, but they couldn’t keep everyone and their most affected group is their offensive line. There was nothing the Rams could do about Andrew Whitworth retiring, ahead of his age 40 season, but he was owed a reasonable 11.5 million for 2022 and was PFF’s 5th ranked offensive tackle in 2021, so his retirement definitely hurts this team, especially since they had to pay even more (3 years, 40 million) to keep replacement Joe Noteboom in free agency, even though Noteboom has not yet established himself as close to the same caliber of player as the potential Hall of Famer Whitworth.

A 3rd round pick in 2018, Noteboom was originally drafted to be Whitworth’s replacement and it’s a testament to Whitworth’s longevity that Noteboom isn’t taking over until his 5th season, but, as a result, Noteboom is very unproven, with just 17 career starts to his name. The first 8 of those starts came at guard, 6 of them in 2019 and 2 in 2020, but Noteboom struggled at the position, finishing 88th out of 89 eligible guards on PFF across 376 snaps in 2019, before going down for the season with a ACL, and then looking on his way to a similar start in 2020, before suffering another injury and being moved back to left tackle upon his return, when Whitworth suffered an injured of his own.

Noteboom played pretty well in his first 7 starts at left tackle in 2020 in place of Whitworth, especially in pass protection, finishing as PFF’s 19th ranked offensive tackle in pass protection from week 10 on, but he returned to the bench upon Whitworth’s return in 2021, making just 2 starts. He was again impressive in those 2 starts, but he’s still very inexperienced and has struggled as a run stopper, so the Rams are taking a big chance paying him like an established above average starting left tackle. The upside is there, but he’s a projection to a season long starting role and his injury history is concerning as well.

Noteboom’s contract also likely made it so the Rams couldn’t retain right guard Austin Corbett, who was PFF’s 27th ranked guard as a 17-game starter for the Rams in 2021, but signed a 3-year, 26.25 million dollar deal with the Panthers this off-season. Either of the options to replace him figure to be a significant downgrade, as Logan Bruss is a 3rd round rookie who would probably struggled if forced into a significant role in his first season, while Bobby Evans is a 2019 3rd round pick who has not yet developed, making just 8 career starts and earning a below average grade from PFF in all three seasons in the league. 

Still only in his age 25 season, Evans may still have some upside and is probably the favorite for the starting job, but he’s not guaranteed to win it and could easily continue to struggle if he does win it. With Noteboom replacing Whitworth and Bruss/Evans replacing Corbett, the Rams figure to get significantly worse play at both left tackle and right guard this season. The Rams could also get worse play at center as well, as Brian Allen was PFF’s 5th ranked center in 15 starts in 2021, but the 2018 4th round pick is a complete one-year wonder, struggling in 9 career starts prior to 2021.

In the only starting experience of his career prior to last season, Allen was PFF’s 26th ranked center out of 36 eligible in 2019. It’s very possible Allen has permanently turned a corner as at least a solid starter, but, even if that’s the case, there is no guarantee at all that he repeats the best season of his career again in 2022. Fortunately, the Rams didn’t have to overpay to keep him in free agency, re-signing him on a 3-year, 18 million dollar deal that is very reasonable even if he does decline.

Left guard David Edwards and right tackle Rob Havenstein also return and both are more proven players that have a good chance to at least come close to repeating last season’s performance, when they were PFF’s 42nd ranked guard in 17 starts and PFF’s 15th ranked offensive tackle in 15 starts respectively. Edwards was just a 5th round pick in 2019, but he’s been an average or better starter on PFF in all three seasons in the league (41 starts), including a 15th ranked finish in 2020. Still only in his age 25 season, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if he took another step forward and had the best season of his career in his 4th season in the league in 2022. Going into the final year of his rookie deal, he’ll be due a big pay raise in the next year.

Havenstein probably has the highest upside of any of their offensive line, finishing in the top-16 among offensive tackles on PFF in three of the past four seasons, but he’s now going into his age 30 season, so he could start to decline, and he’s been a bit inconsistent in his career, finishing below average in 2019 and finishing outside of the top-30 offensive tackles on PFF in 4 of his 7 seasons in the league in total. He could remain one of the best right tackles in the league, which he has been somewhat regularly lately, but it’s also very possible that age or his history of inconsistency lead to him having a significantly worse season in 2022 as well.

Depth is also a concern for a unit that is promoting a pair of key reserves into the starting lineup to replace departed starters. Assuming Evans beats out the rookie Bruss to be the starter, the Rams will have just one reserve who has ever started a game in the NFL, with 2018 undrafted free agent center Coleman Shelton just making the first two starts of his career last season and showing himself to be an underwhelming option across 238 career snaps.

The Rams don’t even have highly drafted prospects in the pipeline who look ready for reserve roles, with Shelton at center, Bruss likely to be their top reserve guard, and their swing tackle likely to either be 2021 undrafted rookie Alaric Jackson (61 underwhelming snaps as a reserve as a rookie) or 7th round rookie AJ Arcuri. They could still be an above average starting five, but they’re not likely to be as good as a year ago and depth is a big concern if injuries strike multiple starters.

Grade: B+

Receiving Corps

For years, having a talented wide receiver group has been a fixture of Sean McVay’s Rams, dating back to when they traded a first round pick for Brandin Cooks, giving them a trio of Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp who played together for two seasons (2018 and 2019) and who all had 1,000 yard seasons at different points in that span, as well as it other points in their careers. Cooks was traded for a second round pick after 2019, but the Rams replaced him with 2nd round rookie Van Jefferson and, when Jefferson got off to an underwhelming start to his career, the Rams added another former multi-time 1,000 yard receiver Odell Beckham in a mid-season addition in 2021.

Beckham’s addition coincided with Robert Woods going down for the season with a torn ACL, just a few days after Beckham’s addition, so Jefferson was still involved in the offense even after Beckham’s addition and both Beckham and Woods are now gone, but the Rams added another multi-time 1,000 yard receiver Allen Robinson on a 3-year, 46.5 million dollar deal in free agency and are expected to be interested in bringing back Beckham, who is now dealing with his own ACL rehab. For now, Kupp, Robinson, and Jefferson are the Rams top-3 wide receivers, but Jefferson could ultimately take a back seat to Beckham, who could be healthy enough to play by mid-season.

Kupp took advantage of a receiving corps that was in flux behind him and he also built great chemistry with Matt Stafford, en route to leading the league with 191 targets, which he took for a 145/1947/16 slash line on 3.12 yards per route run, which also all led the league, making him just the 4th receiving triple crown winner since the merger. Kupp probably won’t be quite as good as he was a year ago, just because no one ever does that two seasons in a row, but the 2017 3rd round pick averaged 2.05 yards per route run and a 85/1058/7 slash line per 16 games in four seasons in the league prior to 2021. Kupp also did that despite playing with an inferior quarterback in Jared Goff, so, even if he does regress this year, he has a good chance to still exceed his pre-2021 averages, still in his prime in his age 29 season. He might not lead the league in receiving again, but he’s likely to at least be among the league’s leaders.

Kupp is also still the clear #1 receiver on this team, even with Robinson being added on a big contract. Robinson’s contract suggests the Rams think his very disappointing 2021 campaign, in which he had a 38/410/1 slash line in 12 games and averaged 1.13 yards per route run, was mostly the result of being on a bad passing offense in Chicago and that he can bounce back in 2022, still only in his age 29 season, on a much better passing offense. 

Robinson has actually never been on a great passing offense with a great quarterback, but, despite that, from 2015-2020, prior to last year’s down year, he averaged 1.82 yards per route run and a 84/1118/8 slash line per 16 games. He was also PFF’s 5th ranked wide receiver as recently as 2020, when he finished with a 102/1250/6 slash line and averaged 2.06 yards per route run, despite playing on a mediocre passing offense. He comes with a lot of downside because of how he played last season, but he comes with plenty of upside as well.

Van Jefferson would then be the #3 receiver behind Kupp and Robinson and, though the Rams have been hesitant to commit to him in a significant role thus far in his career, he has a decent 1.44 yards per route run average in two seasons, actually a higher figure than the 1.27 yards per route run that Odell Beckham averaged in half a season with the Rams in 2021. Jefferson is already going into his age 26 season though, so he might not have much further upside and, while he could be a solid #3 receiver, the Rams may still think Beckham has a higher upside, if he can be something resembling his old form (2.25 yards per route run in his first seven seasons in the league prior to the first ACL tear), in his age 30 season, after back-to-back seasons ended by torn ACLs. 

A major bounce back for Beckham is probably wishful thinking, but I would still consider the Rams the favorites to ultimately re-sign Beckham this off-season. The Rams also have Tutu Atwell, who they selected in the 2nd round in 2021, but he played just 10 snaps with zero touches on offense as a rookie, focusing primarily on being a return man before missing much of the season, and it’s unclear what role, if any, they have planned for him on offense in 2022. He has blazing speed, but is very undersized at 5-9 165 and may be limited to gadget plays and situational deep threat work.

Given how much wide receiver talent they consistently have, the tight end position is not heavily featured in this passing game, but veteran Tyler Higbee, a 4th round pick by the Rams in 2016, has been a solid starting tight end for them over the past three seasons, averaging 1.65 yards per route run and a 62/645/5 slash line per 16 games, both above average for a tight end, while also providing value as a blocker. He’s an unspectacular player, but he’s still in his prime in his age 29 season and should remain a solid starter in 2022.

Higbee sees significant action (50.8 snaps per game over the past 5 seasons), but the Rams rarely use multiple tight end sets and their leading reserve tight end in terms of snaps played last season was Kendall Blanton with 149. Even despite his limited role, the 2019 undrafted free agent Blanton struggled mightily and, given that last season was the first action of his career, he should not be locked into any sort of role in 2022, with competition likely coming from 2020 4th round pick Brycen Hopkins and 2021 4th round pick Jacob Harris, who have played just 61 snaps and 17 snaps in their careers and are almost complete unknowns at the professional level. The Rams won’t need much from their reserve tight ends though, unless Higbee gets hurt, given that they have a talented wide receiver group and a solid starting tight end.

Grade: A

Running Backs

The Rams used a 2nd round pick on running back Cam Akers in 2020 and he led the team in yards and carries as a rookie, rushing for 625 yards and 2 touchdowns on 145 carries (4.31 YPC), but his 2021 season looked over before it started, tearing his achilles in an off-season workout in July. Somewhat miraculously though, Akers returned to the lineup in week 18, less than six months after the injury, and, even more incredibly, he was their lead back throughout their post-season run. However, he was highly inefficient, averaging 2.43 YPC on 72 carries in total between week 18 and the post-season.

Akers should be close to fully healthy by week 1 though and, still only going into his age 23 season, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if Akers had the best season of his career in his third season in the league in 2022. How much work exactly that Akers is going to get remains to be seen though. In his absence last season, Sony Michel, who they traded for as a replacement when Akers got hurt, led the team with 208 carries and 845 yards (4.06 YPC), but Darrell Henderson was also heavily involved as the #2 back, averaging 4.62 YPC on 149 carries, and was their primary passing down back. 

A 3rd round pick in 2019, Henderson was also heavily involved in Akers’ rookie season in 2020, averaging 4.52 YPC on 138 carries, while again being the primary passing down back. He could retain the same role in 2022, but Akers outcarried Michel and Henderson combined by a margin of 67 to 30 in the Rams’ post-season run, while taking the majority of the passing down snaps as well, even though Akers was coming off of an injury, which could be a sign of things to come this season. Henderson could remain involved, but it’s very possible Akers takes over as more of a true feature back this season. 

The Rams also used a 5th round pick in this year’s draft on Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams, who could see carries as a rookie, but he might be more of a threat to Henderson’s role than Akers, especially since he showed a lot of potential as a receiver in college (77 catches in his final two collegiate seasons). Despite being the primary passing down back, Henderson has actually provided very little in the passing game, with a career 0.80 yards per route run average, which is significantly less than even than Akers’ 1.16 mediocre career average. Most likely, all three backs will see passing down work, with Akers as the clear lead back in early down situations and Williams having the most receiving upside of any of the three options. It’s not a bad backfield, with Akers having breakout potential in a feature back role.

Grade: B

Edge Defenders

The Rams were one of the most balanced teams in the league last season, ranking 9th in defensive efficiency, same as they did in offensive efficiency, leading to an overall efficiency that was 5th best in the NFL in the regular season. They did lose some key players this off-season on defense as well though, most notably edge defender Von Miller, who proved to be a difference maker in their Super Bowl run, after being acquired as a half-year rental in a trade deadline deal in which they sent a second and third round pick to the Broncos. 

Including his play in Denver, Miller finished last season as PFF’s 7th ranked edge defender overall in the regular season and, in 12 games with the Rams between the regular season and playoffs, Miller had 8 sacks, 6 hits, and a 15.2% pressure rate, before signing a 6-year, 120 million dollar deal with the Bills this off-season. The Rams also lost key reserve Ogbo Okoronkwo, who only played 255 snaps last season, but flashed a lot of potential in limited action, finishing 17th among edge defenders on PFF, playing the run well and pressuring the quarterback at a 12.7% rate.

The Rams didn’t really replace Miller or Okoronkwo either, meaning they will be expecting significantly more snaps out of their holdovers. It would be hard for them to get more out of Leonard Floyd, who has played snap counts of 917 and 932 respectively in two seasons since joining the Rams, and he figures to have a similar season in 2022 as he did in 2020 and 2021, when he finished above average on PFF for the third and fourth straight season overall and combined to total 20 sacks, 15 hits, and a 10.2% pressure rate in 33 games. He’s not anywhere near the same level as Miller though, never finishing higher than 34th among edge defenders on PFF in six seasons in the league.

Terrell Lewis (367 snaps) and Justin Hollins (222 snaps) are their other holdovers who played at least some action last season and both figure to have a significantly expanded role in 2022. Lewis was a 3rd round pick in 2020 and could have a little bit of a breakout year in his third season in the league, but he also hasn’t shown much on 491 career snaps thus far, so he would be a big projection to being even an average player in a significant role. The upside is there, but he could easily prove to be overstretched in a larger role. 

Hollins, meanwhile, was a 5th round pick in 2020 and has been a solid run defender thus far in his career, but he also has a miniscule 6.5% pressure rate off the edge for his career and he has never played more than 349 snaps in a season. He’s also a projection to a larger role and, while he could continue playing the run well in a larger role, he figures to continue being a major liability if he has to take on a bigger pass rush role. Hollins will have to see at least a somewhat expanded role this season, for lack of a better option, with their other choices being 2021 7th round pick Chris Garrett (4 rookie year defensive snaps) and 2022 7th round pick Daniel Hardy, who will compete for deep reserve snaps. This is now a very underwhelming position group.

Grade: C+

Interior Defenders

The Rams also lost Sebastian Joseph-Day to a 3-year, 24 million dollar deal with the Chargers, but, while he was a solid interior defender for them, he was limited to just 340 snaps in 7 games last season anyway, so he won’t be that big of a loss. The Rams do bring back their top-3 in terms of snaps played at the position last season, although, without any replacements for Joseph-Day, depth is a significant concern. Fortunately, one of those top-3 is Aaron Donald, who is not only hands down the best defensive player in the NFL, but he never comes off the field either, playing 89.3% of the Rams defensive snaps in the regular season and leading all defensive linemen regardless of position with 1,040 snaps.

That’s nothing new for a player who has played 127 of a possible 129 games in 8 seasons in the league, while averaging 55.1 snaps per game and finishing in the top-2 among interior defenders on PFF in all 8 seasons in the league, including seven straight #1 finishes. Also a dominant run defender, Donald has totaled 98 sacks, 130 hits, and a 15.0% pressure rate in his career as a pass rusher, despite almost exclusively rushing the passer from the interior and seeing more double teams than any defensive lineman in the league. 

Donald is now going into his age 31 season, so it’s possible we could start to see a little decline from him, but we haven’t seen it yet, as he was PFF’s #1 ranked interior defender and had 12.5 sacks, 12 hits, and a 13.1% pressure rate last season, and, even if he does start to decline in 2022, he would still be one of the top players in the league at his position even if he’s not quite at his best. The Rams gave him a new contract this off-season that not only makes him the highest paid defensive player in the league, that also gives him 40 million in new money without adding any years to his deal, a significant amount added to what was already originally a 6-year, 135 million dollar extension. It’s hard to argue he’s not worth it though and it sounds like Donald legitimately considered retirement if he didn’t get that money, so it’s understandable why the Rams paid up.

Fellow returning defensive linemen Greg Gaines (780 snaps) and A’Shawn Robinson (517 snaps) are also coming off good seasons, finishing 32nd and 21st among interior defenders on PFF. Robinson is primarily a nose tackle at 6-4 322 and has mostly been a solid run defender in his career, but he does get a little bit of pass rush too, with a 5.8% pressure rate in his 6-year career. Gaines, meanwhile, broke out as an every down player last season, holding up against the run and totaling 4.5 sacks, 7 hits, and a 8.0% pressure rate in passing situations, after the 2019 4th round pick played just 384 snaps in his first two seasons in the league. Gaines flashed potential in limited action early in his career though and, while he’s unproven, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if he remains an above average, well-rounded starter.

Robinson will play almost all of the base package snaps between Donald and Gaines, who will both have significant roles in base packages and sub packages, so depth isn’t needed that much at this position, but injuries could strike, which would expose their lack of experience behind their top-3 on the depth chart. The Rams are hoping for more from 2021 4th round pick Bobby Brown (22 rookie season snaps) and 2021 5th round pick Earnest Brown (0 snaps), because their only other options aside from undrafted rookies are 2020 undrafted free agent Michael Hoecht (110 snaps), 2020 undrafted free agent Jonah Williams (97 snaps), and 2019 undrafted free agent Marquise Copeland (108 snaps), whose minimal action last season was a career high in snaps. The Rams’ lack of depth is a concern, but they have a great top-3, with Donald obviously elevating this group significantly by himself.

Grade: A-

Linebackers

While the Rams did lose some key players this off-season, they did make one key signing, adding off ball linebacker Bobby Wagner, a 10-year veteran of their division rival Seahawks, on a 5-year, 50 million dollar deal. Troy Reeder (682 snaps) and Kenny Young (384 snaps) both played significant roles for the Rams last season and are no longer with the team, but they finished 72nd and 59th respectively out of 94 eligible off ball linebackers on PFF and Wagner should be an obvious upgrade.

Wagner comes with some risk, going into his age 32 season, which is a big part of the reason why the Seahawks cut him ahead of a 16.6 million dollar non-guaranteed salary, but Wagner’s new contract is a much better fit for the contending Rams than his old salary was for the rebuilding Seahawks and Wagner hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down yet, playing 70.6 snaps per game in 16 games last season and finishing as PFF’s 16th ranked off ball linebacker, his 8th finish in the top-16 in 10 seasons in the league, while averaging 63.8 snaps per game in 151 games (out of 161 possible). A top-4 off ball linebacker on PFF in 5 seasons in his prime, Wagner’s best days might be behind him, but he could easily remain an above average every down linebacker in 2022.

Ernest Jones is the Rams’ top returning linebacker, with the 2021 3rd round pick playing 440 snaps as a rookie, and, even with Wagner being added, Jones has the opportunity to earn a bigger role in year two, without much competition for snaps and likely to be healthier, after missing 6 games as a rookie and playing 40 snaps per game when healthy. Jones is still unproven, but he showed promise as a rookie, finishing slightly above average on PFF, and he won’t have to play quite every down, with the Rams frequently using three safeties in sub packages in obvious passing situations, with one operating as a de facto linebacker. 

Depth is a concern behind Wagner and Jones, with 4-year veteran special teamer Travin Howard looking like their top reserve, despite playing just 205 career defensive snaps, but he showed a little bit of promise on those snaps, so he might not be a horrible option if forced into a larger role. Wagner elevates the whole group by himself and is a big addition to this defense, even if he isn’t quite what he used to be, but Jones is also a promising player as well and their lack of depth is their only significant concern.

Grade: B+

Secondary

The Rams also lost starting cornerback Darious Williams in free agency to the Jaguars on a 3-year, 30 million dollar deal and he was a solid starter in 2021 (13 starts), but the Rams are replacing him with a familiar face in Troy Hill, who they originally lost to the Browns on a 2-year, 9 million dollar deal last off-season. Hill looked like a steal on that contract, after finishing 13rd among cornerbacks on PFF on 538 snaps in 2019 and 18th among cornerbacks on 974 snaps in 2020, but Hill was middling at best on 533 snaps in his lone season in Cleveland, leading to the Browns drafting his replacement and trading him for a 2023 5th round pick to get out of the 4.5 million he’s owed in 2022. He’s now going into his age 31 season and has been somewhat inconsistent in his career, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was at least a solid option on the slot for another season, especially now that he’s back in the Rams’ defensive system.

Hill probably won’t take over all of Williams’ departed snaps though, so Rams are also hoping to get more out of at least one of their young cornerbacks, David Long (517 snaps) and Robert Rochell (233 snaps). Long was a 3rd round pick in 2019, but he barely played in his first two seasons in the league, before finishing 94th out of 134 eligible cornerbacks in his limited role last season. Long is only in his age 24 season, so there could easily still be untapped upside here, but he could also continue struggling if forced into a larger role. 

Rochell, meanwhile, was a 4th round pick in 2021 and was nondescript as a rookie in his very limited action, but he could take a step forward in year two. It’s possible he’s a better option than Long, but both are unproven projections who could end up struggling as season long starters. The Rams also used a 4th round pick on South Carolina State’s Decobie Durant, but he probably won’t see much action as a rookie and, if he does, he would likely struggle in his first season in the league.

Fortunately, the Rams still have top cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who is one of the stars on this roster and arguably the top player in the league at his position. It was a risky decision to acquire him from the Jaguars during the 2019 season for a pair of first round picks (2020 and 2021), even though he was a recent high draft pick (5th overall in 2016) and had an elite season on his resume (2nd among cornerbacks on PFF in 2017), because he was less impressive in his other two full seasons (24th among cornerbacks in 2016, 31st in 2018), he was off to a slow start in 2019, and he was expecting to be made one of the highest paid cornerbacks in the league long-term, ahead of the final year of his rookie deal in 2020.

The move paid off though, as Ramsey rebounded from his slow start in 2019, ranking as PFF’s 3rd ranked cornerback from week 11 on and he didn’t look back from there, finishing 7th and 1st among cornerbacks on PFF in 2020 and 2021 respectively, justifying the 5-year, 100 million dollar deal the Rams gave him that currently makes him the 3rd highest paid cornerback in the league in average annual salary, while locking him up through the next four seasons, over which time his average annual salary will continue to fall down the rankings. Still in his prime in his age 28 season, I don’t expect anything different on the field from Ramsey in 2022 or any time soon.

Not much changes at the safety position, where Taylor Rapp and Jordan Fuller made 17 starts and 16 starts respectively last season and Nick Scott saw 415 snaps as the 3rd safety, frequently coming in for a linebacker in obvious passing situations. Rapp and Fuller remain locked into their starting roles, coming off solid seasons, going into just their age 25 and age 24 seasons respectively. A second round pick in 2019, Rapp was a part-time player as a rookie (823 snaps) and then was limited to 365 snaps by injury in 2020, but he earned solid grades from PFF for his play in that limited action, so it wasn’t a surprise he was able to put it together for a full season, finishing as PFF’s 45th ranked safety. Now in his 4th season in the league and his 2nd full season as a starter, it’s very possible he could take a step forward and have the best season of his career in 2022.

Fuller, on the other hand, was only a 6th round pick in 2020, but he has proven to be a steal and has already surpassed Rapp in impact, earning a middling grade from PFF across 12 starts as a rookie and then taking a step forward in year two and finishing 20th among safeties on PFF as a full-year starter. He’s still a one-year wonder in terms of playing at that level and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he regressed a little this season, but he’s also young enough that he could keep getting better and, even if he doesn’t, he could easily remain an above average starting safety for years to come. He and Rapp should again make a solid young duo in 2022.

Scott, however, struggled mightily in his limited action last season, finishing 93rd out of 98 eligible safeties on PFF in the first significant action of the 2019 7th round pick’s career (208 defensive snaps played in his first two seasons in the league), and he could easily lose that job to 2020 3rd round pick Terrell Burgess. Burgess hasn’t done much in two seasons in the league, struggling on just 141 career snaps, but he still has theoretical upside, only in his age 24 season, and it wouldn’t be hard to be an upgrade on Scott, even if Burgess also proved to be a liability himself. This isn’t a perfect secondary, but it’s at least an above average group.

Grade: B+

Special Teams

The Rams also had a strong special teams unit last season, ranking 5th in special teams DVOA, one of the few teams in the league to be above average in all three phases of the game, a big part of the reason why they were able to win it all. The Rams probably won’t be quite as good in 2022 though. The biggest reason why is they lost their two best core special teamers Troy Reeder and Jamir Jones from a year ago, without replacing them, leaving them without a single core special teamer who finished in the top-50 at the position on PFF in 2022. 

The Rams also downgraded at punter, losing long-time above average punter Johnny Hekker and replacing him with either mediocre veteran Riley Dixon or undrafted rookie Cameron Dicker, both of whom would be considerable downgrades. The Rams do still have kicker Matt Gay, who was one of the better kickers in the league last season, but he’s been inconsistent in the past, now on his 3rd team in four seasons in the league. The biggest bright spot is still return man Brandon Powell, who is consistently among the best in the league, but this looks like a much more middling group than a year ago, which could hurt this team somewhat significantly.

Grade: B

Conclusion

The road back to another Super Bowl Championship for the Rams won’t be easy, but it never is for any team and the Rams did a good job keeping most of their talent and adding replacements this off-season, especially given their financial constraints. Already over the cap in 2023 and 2024, it’s going to keep getting tougher for the Rams to keep everyone together forever, which would be a problem if they can’t consistently keep finding starters in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, something that is very tough to do long-term, but their Super Bowl window is still very much open in 2022. 

The Rams weren’t the best team in the league in the regular season last year, but they still did finish 5th in efficiency and were the only team in the league to finish in the top-10 on offense, defense, and special teams, so it’s not terribly surprising they went on to win it all in the post-season. Even if they’re not quite as good in 2022, they should remain a contender and one of the best teams in the now weaker NFC. I will have a final prediction at the end of the off-season when all previews are completed.

Prediction: TBD, TBD in NFC West

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Los Angeles Rams: Super Bowl LVI Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (13-7) vs. Los Angeles Rams (15-5) in Super Bowl LVI

The Bengals have had an improbable run to the Super Bowl, maybe even more so than most people realize. Not only have they pulled upsets over higher seeded teams in their last two playoff wins to qualify for the Super Bowl as a 4-seed, after entering the season with the worst odds in their division, but all three of their wins have come by one score with two of the wins coming on the last play and, most importantly, they have actually lost the first down rate and yards per play battle by all three games, with their +5 turnover margin across the three games being the primary driver of their close victories. 

Unfortunately for the Bengals, yards per play and first down rate tend to be significantly more predictive of future winning than winning percentage or point differential, while turnover margin is highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. The Bengals, for example, had an even turnover margin in the regular season, despite facing one of the easiest schedules in the league. They weren’t particularly good in first down rate or yards per play in the regular season either, ranking 18th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which is based on first down rate and yards per play. That was the 3rd worst among 14 playoff qualifiers.

It’s possible the Bengals could continue beating the odds, but it’s unlikely and I would bet against it, especially against a team like the Rams, who have legitimately been one of the best teams in the league this season. They rank 9th, 6th, 5th, and 3rd in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, making them probably the most well-balanced team in the league. When you factor in that they’ll at least have some homefield advantage with this game being in Los Angeles, I have the Rams calculated as at least 7 point favorites, so we’re getting significant line value with them at -4.

Los Angeles Rams 27 Cincinnati Bengals 20

Pick against the spread: Los Angeles -4

Confidence: High

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams: 2021 NFC Championship

San Francisco 49ers (12-7) at Los Angeles Rams (14-5)

It’s well known that the 49ers have dominated this matchup recently, winning six straight meetings, including two this season. However, it’s unclear how much that really matters. Historically, teams that have won six straight matchups against their opponent do win that seventh game at a 60.1% clip, but that is usually because the team is better in general and not because they happen to “have their number.” When we look at underdogs, like the 49ers are this week, that winning percentage drops to 34.5% and they only even cover the spread at a 50.2% clip. That alone isn’t a reason to take the Rams, but the Rams are also the healthier and more talented team at home. 

One of the least injury affected teams in the league this season, the Rams actually did have some late season absences, but, aside from safety Jordan Fuller, all have since returned, with center Brian Allen, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, tight end Tyler Higbee, and right tackle Rob Havenstein all missing time returned in recent weeks and safety Taylor Rapp and left tackle Andrew Whitworth set to join them this week. The 49ers, meanwhile, have had many more injury issues this season and, while they may be healthier now than they have been, they will still have their quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and their stud left tackle Trent Williams playing at less than 100% with injuries that could be reaggravated and cause them to be knocked out of the game. 

There isn’t a big gap between these two teams, with the Rams ranking just 1.5 points better in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, but my roster rankings have the Rams about 2.5 points better with injuries factored in and, with the Rams having at least some homefield advantage, this line of 3.5 might be a little low, especially since the margin of victory in conference championship games is actually higher than in the regular season. If this was the regular season, this would be a no confidence pick, but I like the Rams a little bit more because this is a post-season game.

Los Angeles Rams 27 San Francisco 49ers 23

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2021 NFC Divisional Round Pick

Los Angeles Rams (12-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)

These two teams met in Los Angeles back in week 3, with the Rams pulling the home upset as 1.5-point underdogs, but this game is in Tampa Bay and the Rams regular season win actually works against their chances of covering this spread. In total, teams are 46-59 ATS in a rematch in the post-season against a non-divisional opponent who they beat in the regular season, including 5-12 ATS as underdogs after previously winning as underdogs.

These teams are not the same as they were in week 3, as the Buccaneers lost starting wide receivers Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin, starting running back Leonard Fournette is legitimately questionable, and starting offensive linemen Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen figure to be limited, while the Rams added talented edge defender Von Miller and wide receiver Odell Beckham, but lost key wide receiver Robert Woods, stud left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and starting safeties Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp. All of that more or less evens out, with the Buccaneers holding a 2-point edge in my roster rankings and being favored by 4 points on my calculated line, after being the slightly better of these two teams in the regular season.

Given that, we are getting some line value with the Buccaneers as just 2.5-point home favorites, as the public seems to be paying more attention to Tampa Bay’s injuries and not as much to the Rams’ injuries, while putting too much stock into the result of the week 3 matchup between these two teams. Tom Brady has also been close to automatic in his career in tough games like this where all he has to do to cover is win, going 57-27 ATS in his career as an underdogs or favorite of less than three points, including 10-3 ATS in the post-season. I wouldn’t like the Buccaneers as much at 3, but they’re bettable at 2.5.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 Los Angeles Rams 24

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams: 2021 NFC Wild Card Round Pick

Arizona Cardinals (11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (12-5)

Last week, I bet on the Rams as 4-point home favorites against the 49ers. The Rams led 17-0 at one point in the first half, but blew the second half lead and lost in overtime, the first ever blown halftime lead by Sean McVay’s Rams in five seasons. This was in large part due to the absence in the second half of both of the Rams’ starting safeties Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp, who were both out with injury. 

Unfortunately for the Rams, Fuller and Rapp remain out this week, as they are once again 4-point home favorites, this time against the Cardinals. Fortunately for the Rams, the Cardinals should present less of a challenge for the 49ers, who are legitimately playing at a high level in the second half of the season. The Cardinals started the season 7-0 and 10-2, but they also ranked 2nd in the turnover with a +12 turnover margin during that 10-2 start, which was never likely to continue, even if the Cardinals had stayed healthy, which they did not. 

Absences further hurt the Cardinals chances down the stretch, leading to a 1-4 finish by the Cardinals in their final five games, a stretch in which they had an even turnover margin. Even at 11-6, you could still argue the Cardinals are not as good as their record, ranking 13th, 19th, 20th, and 15th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, which are based on first down rate and yards per play and are much more predictive than the Cardinals 4th ranked turnover margin. 

The Cardinals are especially not as good as their record if they don’t get key players back with injury and for right now it seems like stud interior defender JJ Watt, talented running back James Conner, starting left guard Justin Pugh, starting slot cornerback Marco Wilson, and rotational wide receiver Rondale Moore are all legitimately gametime decisions, while top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and top cornerback Robert Alford both remain out.

The Rams are not fully healthy either without their starting safeties, but they are otherwise in pretty good shape injury wise and they fared much better on the season in efficiency metrics, ranking 9th, 9th, 4th, and 6th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, en route to overtaking the Cardinals for the division lead late in the season, winning 4 of their last 5 while the Cardinals lost 4 of 5, including a week 14 Rams victory over the Cardinals in Arizona, setting up a third matchup in Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs.

The Cardinals beat the Rams in Los Angeles back in week 4, but the Cardinals were much healthier back then and the Rams still won the first down and yards per play battle, as they did in their week 14 victory as well. Given all the injury uncertainty the Cardinals have, it’s hard to bet the Rams with confidence right now, as the Cardinals could make this a close game if most of their questionable players play, particularly JJ Watt, but if they don’t, the Rams could be a good bet as 4-point favorites. Additionally, this line could drop if Watt and others are able to play, which could also give us enough line value with the Rams for them to be worth betting. For now, this is a low confidence pick at -4, but I may update this before gametime.

Update: All of the Cardinals’ questionable players will play, but Watt probably won’t be 100% and this line has dropped to three in some places. I would take the Rams at that number.

Los Angeles Rams 27 Arizona Cardinals 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (9-7) at Los Angeles Rams (12-4)

The Rams are arguably the top team in the league and, even if they aren’t quite, there are a few reasons why I think highly of them. For one, they are probably the most balanced team in the league, ranking 9th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, 8th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, 6th on special teams, and 5th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, making them the only team in the league to rank in the top-10 in schedule adjusted efficiency in all three phases. 

On top of that, the Rams are one of the relatively healthiest teams in the league. That hasn’t always been the case, especially in recent weeks, as they were missing center Brian Allen and cornerback Jalen Ramsey against the Cardinals, safety Jordan Fuller, right tackle Rob Havenstein, and tight end Tyler Higbee against the Seahawks, and left tackle Andrew Whitworth against the Vikings, but the Rams still managed to win those games and all of those players have since returned. 

The Rams did lose Robert Woods to a mid-season injury, but they replaced him somewhat with Odell Beckham and that has been the Rams only big injury loss this season, meaning that, when you include the addition of Von Miller on defense in a mid-season trade, the Rams are a rare team that actually has become more talented as the season goes on, with most of the league losing talent as the season goes on. As a result, they rank 8.5 points above average in my roster rankings.

The 49ers, on the other hand, have had a lot of key personnel absences this season. They had been getting healthier in recent weeks, but they will either be starting raw backup Trey Lance or injured veteran Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback in this game, while stud left tackle Trent Williams, talented safety Jimmie Ward, and impressive slot cornerback K’Waun Williams are key players could all miss this week’s game after playing last week. Given that, it is pretty strange that this line shifted from favoring the Rams by 6.5 points on the early line last week to just 4 points this week.

The 49ers could get starting linebacker Dre Greenlaw, rotational interior defense Maurice Hurst, and starting cornerback Emmnauel Moseley back from extended absences this week, but they are questionable at best like the aforementioned players and, even in the 49ers’ best case injury scenario, I have the Rams 4 points better than them and calculated as 5.5-point home favorites in this matchup. In the worst case scenario for the 49ers, I have the Rams calculated as 11 point favorites.

Given that we’re getting significant line value either way, I want to lock this pick in while the line is still only four. In fact, without another good choice, I am going to make this my Pick of the Week, as it seems very likely the 49ers will at least be without Williams in this matchup, a huge loss as he’s been arguably the best offensive lineman in the NFL this season. Assuming Williams is out, the best I could have the 49ers at is 7.5-point underdogs, even if all the other aforementioned players play, as he’s that important to the 49ers’ offense.

Los Angeles Rams 24 San Francisco 49ers 16

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -4

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (11-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-7)

The Rams hit a mid-season skid a few weeks ago, losing three straight games, but they all came against quality opponents, they have still been one of the best teams in the league this season despite those losses, ranking 9th, 9th, 5th, and 5th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, and they have won four straight games since their mid-season skid. 

That winning streak has also come despite the Rams missing some key players, as they were without center Brian Allen and cornerback Jalen Ramsey against the Cardinals, safety Jordan Fuller, right tackle Rob Havenstein, and tight end Tyler Higbee against the Seahawks, and left tackle Andrew Whitworth against the Vikings. All of those players are expected to play this week for the Rams, who are not only healthier than they have been in weeks, but one of the few relatively healthy teams left right now.

The Ravens cannot say the same, although they will be in slightly better shape than last week’s skeleton crew, even if mostly by default. They’ll get backup quarterback Tyler Huntley back from COVID protocols and he will start in place of the injured Lamar Jackson, after third string Josh Johnson was forced into action last week, while defensive lineman Calais Campbell, edge defender Justin Houston, and cornerback Jimmy Smith are set to return on defense, but, in addition to Jackson, the Ravens will still be without their two best running backs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards, a pair of starters on the offensive line in Ronnie Stanley and Ben Powers, starting defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, their two best cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and starting safety DeShon Elliott.

The Rams are favored by 5.5 points in this matchup, but the talent gap between these two teams is even bigger than that suggests, as I have about 10.5 points between these two teams in my roster rankings, giving us a calculated line of Rams -8.5, as long as nothing changes in terms of COVID protocols with either of these two teams. I want to make sure nothing unexpected changes before locking this pick in, but I will likely be betting on the Rams before gametime.

Update: Nothing has changed here, so I want to lock this one in at -5.5 before the line potentially moves.

Los Angeles Rams 26 Baltimore Ravens 17

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -5.5

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (10-4) at Minnesota Vikings (7-7)

The Vikings are in the playoff mix in the NFC at 7-7 and are a trendy sleeper pick because it’s well-documented that the Vikings haven’t lost more than 8 points this season and could have easily won a few more games. That doesn’t tell the whole story though. For one, two of their losses required the Vikings to get a pick six to make the final score (Arizona and Baltimore) closer than it would have been and they lost both the first down rate and yards per play battle by a wide margin in both of those games, which is more predictive than the final score. 

On top of that, most of their wins have been close, with just one coming by more than 8 points, so, while they could easily have a couple more wins, they could also have a couple more losses. Their point differential of +19 is about in line with their record and schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, shows them to be even worse than that, as they rank 16th, 26th, and 5th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively and 23rd in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency.

The Vikings were winning by two scores against the Bears last week before a garbage time touchdown, but that game was relatively close throughout, as the Vikings’ offense didn’t allow them to separate from a skeleton crew Bears team, even though the Bears lost the turnover battle by two, went 2/12 on third down, and went 2/5 on fourth down. The Bears won the first down rate and yards per play battle in that game by margins of 12.88% and 2.12 yards per play respectively, holding the Vikings’ offense to a pathetic 3.16 yards per play, despite legitimately being without most of their regular secondary, as well as stud edge defensive Khalil Mack.

The Vikings are likely to benefit from the return of wide receiver Adam Thielen with injury this week, but now they will be without feature back Dalvin Cook, which should cancel out Thielen’s return. The Vikings also face a much tougher challenge this week, with the Rams coming to town. The Rams will be without left tackle Andrew Whitworth due to COVID protocols, but they will return tight end Tyler Higbee, safety Jordan Fuller, and right tackle Rob Havenstein, who missed last week, while cornerback Jalen Ramsey and center Brian Allen missed the previous game, two games the Rams still won despite being short-handed.

Even without Whitworth, the Rams are relatively healthier than most teams in the league right now, including the Vikings, who are without their top two edge defenders on the defensive side of the ball, in addition to Cook’s absence and the uncertainty around Thielen’s injury. The Rams have also been one of the best teams in the league this season, ranking 7th, 6th, 17th, and 4th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, while my roster rankings show them to be even better than that, even with Whitworth missing.

Given that, the Rams should be able to beat the Vikings with relative ease and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them hand the Vikings their first multiscore loss of the season. My calculated line is Rams -5, so I don’t necessarily foresee a blowout, but we are getting some line value with the Rams at -3.5. I would need this line to go down to 3 to be at all confident in the Rams though, as right now the line value does not cross a key number. The Rams are the better side for pick ‘em purposes either way though.

Update: This line has moved to 3 in some places. As I said, I would like the Rams better at that number, so I am increasing this to a low confidence pick.

Los Angeles Rams 24 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3

Confidence: Low

Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (5-8) at Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

The Rams were the third team to have a game rescheduled because of COVID this week. They actually had more cases than Washington or Cleveland at one point, knocking out about half of their roster, but it never affected their quarterback room and, overall, they had less significant absences than the other two teams whose games were rescheduled. Rescheduling this game for a couple days later allowed the Rams to get edge defender Von Miller back and, while they will still be without top safety Jordan Fuller and stud right tackle Rob Havenstein, they will get back top cornerback Jalen Ramsey and talented center Brian Allen, who both missed last week’s win over the Cardinals and are probably more impactful losses.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks are arguably more impacted by COVID absences then their opponents. They don’t have as many positive cases overall as the Rams, but will be without top cornerback DJ Reed, starting right tackle Brandon Shell, talented wide receiver Tyler Lockett, and starting running back Alex Collins, so they are arguably missing more impactful players than the Rams will be, as many of the Rams positives are players that don’t make much of an impactful.

This Seahawks team is still better than their record, now that quarterback Russell Wilson is back to 100% and leading a more effective offense, to complement their 21st ranked schedule adjusted defensive efficiency and their 5th ranked special teams efficiency, but I still have the Rams calculated as 7.5-point favorites in this game, so we’re getting some line value with them as touchdown favorites. The Rams rank 6th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency and, even not quite at 100%, they are still one of the top teams in the league. It’s not nearly enough value to bet on the Rams, especially given all of the uncertainty in this game, but the Rams are the pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Los Angeles Rams 27 Seattle Seahawks 19

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -7

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (8-4) at Arizona Cardinals (10-2)

The Cardinals stand alone with the league’s best record at 10-2 and their +119 point differential, third in the NFL, seems to suggest they have been as good as their record. However, they have benefited significantly from the turnover margin, ranking second in the NFL at +12, which is not a predictive metric. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on more predictive metrics, yards per play and first down rate, the Cardinals rank 9th, 14th, 12th, and 8th in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively.

The Cardinals’ offense should be better now that they have gotten starting quarterback Kyler Murray and top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins back from injury, but their defense has not been the same since losing top interior defender JJ Watt for the year and, as a result, the Cardinals are not the same team they were when they got off to their hot 7-0 start, even if their offense has gotten significantly healthier in recent weeks. 

As part of that 7-0 start, the Cardinals beat the Rams in Los Angeles and by a pretty convincing margin, with a final score of 37-20, but the Rams actually had a slight edge in first down rate (+2.95%) and yards per play (+0.1). That loss also puts the Rams in a good spot this time around, as divisional home favorites cover at just a 42.4% rate in a same season regular season rematch against a team that they previously beat as road underdogs, which was the case for the Cardinals in Los Angeles earlier this year.

The Rams have fallen back to earth after a 7-1 start and now sit at 8-4, but their efficiency metrics suggest they have been better than their record, ranking 5th, 6th, 20th, and 5th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively. Their offense hasn’t been the same since losing talented wide receiver Robert Woods for the year, while quarterback Matt Stafford has not been 100% with an injury of his own, but the Rams acquired Odell Beckham who can somewhat replace Woods and is growing into his role after being with the team for about a month, while Stafford looked healthier in the Rams’ big blowout win over the Jaguars last week. 

Meanwhile, the Rams’ defense is getting better as another key mid-season acquisition, edge defender Von Miller, is growing into his role as well, so, despite losing three of their past four games, the Rams are still well-positioned for the stretch run. I wish we were getting a full field goal with the Rams as underdogs in this game, but we are still getting some line value with the Rams at +2.5 because my calculated line is Rams -1. 

Between that and the good spot the Rams are in, the Rams seem like a decent bet this week, but I’d rather bet the moneyline at +120 (or +115) than the spread unless we happen to get a field goal before gametime. I would also consider betting on the Rams if the Cardinals continue to be without starting left guard Justin Pugh and/or running back Chase Edmonds, who are considered legitimate gametime decisions to return from extended absences.

Update: Another team I picked loses significant players to COVID protocols before gametime. I knew the Rams would be without running back Darrell Henderson when I wrote this, but he was out last week with injury anyway, so that wasn’t a big deal. However, now the Rams will be without talented right tackle Rob Havenstein, stud cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and starting tight end Tyler Higbee. At least I only locked in a money line pick and not a pick against the spread. I am keeping this as a low confidence pick, as the line moved up to a full field goal, meaning we’re getting an appropriate adjustment for the Rams’ key absences. It’s only a half point, but three is the biggest key number, with about 1 in 6 games being decided by exactly a field goal. I would guess the Cardinals are going to win this game if I wasn’t locked into a Rams money line bet, but I would still take the Rams against the spread for pick ’em purposes at +3.

Los Angeles Rams 24 Arizona Cardinals 23 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +3

Confidence: Low