*Photo Credit: Industry Tap
2016 Record: 4-12
NFL Draft: Rd 2- TE Gerald Everett; Rd 3- WR Cooper Kupp; Rd 3- S John Johnson; Rd 4- WR Josh Reynolds; Rd 4- OLB Samson Ebukam; Rd 6- DT Tanzel Smart; Rd 6- FB Sam Rogers; Rd 7- DE Ejuan Price
Pitt Players: DE, Aaron Donald #99; DE, Ejuan Price #51; LB, Nicholas Grigsby #55
Former Pitt star Aaron Donald has been a walking highlight reel in his first 3 seasons as a pro, and that won’t stop this year. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to watch him in any preseason games yet, as he is holding out for a big payday (he is currently scheduled to be paid less than $2 million this year despite being named Pro Football Focus’ most dominant player), but that shouldn’t put any doubts into our minds as to his ability to produce during the season. There are rumors that he could hold out through the regular season, but this seems unlikely as Donald is as competitive a player as they come and I expect him to play this year. He will be the foundation of one of the most talented front sevens in the league, which also boasts two-time pro bowler Robert Quinn.
Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in NFL history, will be entering his first season as the Rams’ head coach. Former head coach Jeff Fisher was fired last season following an embarrassing loss that tied him with the record for most losses by a head coach. This occurred just over a week after he signed a 2 year contract extension. McVay is the youngest NFL head coach ever for a reason; other coaches and NFL executives have been very high on him and he takes every opportunity available to him to become a better coach. He is a much better offensive coach than Fisher, which is a good sign for QB Jared Goff and recently acquired WR Sammy Watkins. Expect the Rams to improve on their bottom of the barrel offensive performance from last year (they were last in yards per game and points per game).
Goff should benefit from the acquisition of playmaker Sammy Watkins and a head coach who can run a competent offense. Fantasy owners should expect Todd Gurley to benefit from the extra attention Sammy Watkins will draw from opposing defenses, as teams may not be able to stack the box with safeties as often. This, along with a strong defensive showing against the Cowboys in Saturday’s preseason game, leads me to believe the Rams will be an improved team in 2017.
Game by Game Predictions:
Week 1: Home vs Indianapolis Colts
Even if Andrew Luck returns for week one of the regular season, his absence in training camp may have already done enough damage to keep the Colts from winning their first game of the season. Scott Tolzien simply cannot provide the kind of competition the Colts’ revamped defense needs to improve during practice. The Rams should win their home opener, assuming Aaron Donald is back and ready to attack whichever QB will be under center for the Colts.
Predicted Score: 17-14 Rams (Current Record: 1-0)
Week 2: Home vs Washington Redskins
Kirk Cousins is playing under a franchise tag once again and will be looking to put together big numbers this year to cash in on a long-term contract. The Redskins should be a decent all-around team this year, but nothing special. They should be better than the Rams though, and Aaron Donald can’t win this game on his own.
Predicted Score: 17-10 Redskins (Current Record: 1-1)
Week 3: Away at San Francisco 49ers
Aaron Donald might as well change his address to “the 49ers backfield” for this game, because he will be living behind the line of scrimmage in this division rivalry game. 49ers QBs were sacked 47 times last year, good for 3rd worst in the league. Add the fact that the Rams are now running a 3-4 defense, moving Aaron Donald from DT to DE in the process, and we have the makings of a multi-sack game for the young defensive star. This will be a painful game for Brian Hoyer.
Predicted Score: 21-10 Rams (Current Record: 2-1)
Week 4: Away at Dallas Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliott may not be with the Cowboys for this game, but that won’t alter the outcome of this game. The Dallas Cowboys are a much better team than the Rams, and there is no way the Rams take one from them on the road.
Predicted Score: 28-13 Cowboys (Current Record: 2-2)
Week 5: Home vs Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks are a better team than the Rams, but this rivalry usually produces pretty tight, defense-heavy games. Last year, the Rams beat the Seahawks 9-3 at home, and I think they can pull off a similar upset this year. The Rams improved offense should be able to get a little more going against Seattle this year, but expect another low-scoring, down to the wire game in LA.
Predicted Score: 13-10 Rams (Current Record: 3-2)
Week 6: Away at Jacksonville Jaguars
I don’t trust the Jaguars. I thought they would be better than they were last year, but they had another very poor season. However, they are a better team than they were last year and they will have homefield advantage. I expect the Jaguars defense to handle what should still be a shaky Rams offense well enough to give them the win.
Predicted Score: 24-14 Jaguars (Current Record: 3-3)
Week 7: Home vs Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals always look like an average team on paper, but they tend to play above their skill level. I attribute this to excellent coaching from Bruce Arians. They didn’t play very well last year, but I expect them to bounce back this year. Last year, the Rams lost 44-6 at home to the Cardinals, and I don’t expect things to go much differently.
Predicted Score: 32-12 Cardinals (Current Record: 3-4)
Week 8: Bye-Week
This is the perfect time for a bye-week. The Rams made it through the beginning part of their schedule just one game below .500. They faced some of the toughest teams in the beginning of their schedule, but also some of the easiest. The second half of the schedule may not look threatening to a good team, but the Rams are not looking to be a good team this year. This will give them time to forget about their loss to the Cardinals and prepare for a rough game across the country in New York.
Current Predicted Record: 3-4
Week 9: Away at New York Giants
The Rams got lucky with this game, as they can travel to New York and get settled in a little earlier than they could following a game. That won’t be enough to help them win, however. The Giants should be one of the better teams in the NFC this year and the Eli Manning to Odell Beckham Jr connection is one of the best in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Rams, Donald can’t play corner, so I expect Odell to have a big game at home, handing the Rams a loss right out of the Bye-Week.
Predicted Score: 28-12 Giants (Current Record: 3-5)
Week 10: Home vs Houston Texans
If Tom Savage performs well early in the season, we could get to see Aaron Donald face off against his former college teammate from Pitt. If Deshaun Watson is starting, we will still get to watch the two most dominant defensive players wreak havoc on the opposing teams offenses for 60 minutes. Either way, this is a game I want to see, not because there’s going to be an offensive light show (there won’t be), but because it will be fun to watch two of this years better defenses play each other. As with many of the Rams’ games this year, this should be a low scoring affair, but the Texans should be able to pull out a win.
Predicted Score: 16-10 Texans (Current Record: 3-6)
Week 11: Away at Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are not the same team with Sam Bradford as they are with Teddy Bridgewater, and Latavius Murray is an overrated running back. However, the Vikings could have another top 10 defense this year, so I don’t think the Rams offense will be able to put together many drives longer than 30 yards. The Vikings should not have a hard time winning this game.
Predicted Score: 24-14 Vikings (Current Record: 3-7)
Week 12: Home vs New Orleans Saints
The Saints made it a point to address their defensive woes in the draft, but they will still likely be a bottom of the barrel defense. I also don’t expect Adrian Peterson to be a big threat this year, he is old and has lost a step; so don’t expect him to run through this Rams defense like he might have done in the old days. The Saints should be a better team than the Rams, and will likely be favored in this game, but this game has huge upset potential. With a little magic from Watkins and Gurley, and some help from their home crowd, I think the Rams pull off a stunner against the Saints with a last second field goal.
Predicted Score: 24-21 Rams (Current Record: 4-7)
Week 13: Away at Arizona Cardinals
Last year, the Rams stole one while on the road against the Cardinals. I don’t see that happening this year. As I said, I expect the Cardinals to bounce back this year and should complete the sweep of the Rams in this early December game.
Predicted Score: 21-14 Cardinals (Current Record: 4-8)
Week 14: Home vs Philadelphia Eagles
I smell upset potential here, too, but I’ll resist. The Eagles will be a competent team this year, and I don’t expect them to give one up at home to a team they are clearly better than. As Sam Bleifer mentioned in his piece about the Eagles, this will be the first time the number one and two 2016 draft picks — Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively — face each other. Wentz looked good in preseason, and Goff looks like he could be a bust, so expect the Eagles to outplay the Rams and defend Lincoln Financial Field.
Predicted Score: 24-17 Eagles (Current Record: 4-9)
Week 15: Away at Seattle Seahawks
The Rams are better than they were last year, and the Seahawks aren’t the same team as they were a few years ago, but Centurylink Field is still one of the hardest NFL stadiums to play in. The Seahawks, who usually heat up toward the end of the season, will win this game handily.
Predicted Score: 24-12 Seahawks (Current Record: 4-10)
Week 16: Away at Tennessee Titans
The Titans should be a good team this year. They have done a great job of building their offense around Marcus Mariota the last few years, and are poised to make a run for the playoffs this year. I do not expect the Rams to do too much to get in the way of Mariota’s first playoff appearance this year.
Predicted Score: 21-14 Titans (Current Record: 4-11)
Week 17: Home vs San Francisco 49ers
This game could very likely decide the last place team in the NFC West. Last year, Rams lost 22-21 at home during their Week 16 matchup after 49ers orchestrated a 4th quarter comeback, ending with Colin Kaepernick completing a touchdown pass and 2-point conversion with 31 seconds left in the game. With an improved offense, I think the Rams will win this game and avoid losing the division.
Predicted Score: 17-14 Rams (Current Record: 5-11)
Five wins seems appropriate for this team. The Rams have improved since last year, but while their schedule is not particularly difficult, it is not an easy one for a team looking to escape the dark days of the Fisher regime. In their second year in LA, they will look to avoid last place in the division and continue to build their fanbase in a city that is still new and often fickle with its many professional sports teams. An essential piece of their success will be to lock up Aaron Donald in a long-term contract, and they will need to do what they can to put the tools around Jared Goff to make him successful. Last year, the Rams lost a lot of games because they couldn’t keep their offense on the field. An improved offense this year should keep the defense fresher and give them more of a chance to win games. They should still finish in the bottom half of the league, but Sean McVay will benefit from a patient Rams front office who will give him the chance to succeed. This is another rebuilding year for the Rams, but I see success in their future.
Predicted Record: 5-11