Dec 30, 2012, Seattle, WA, USA; St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (8) scrambles out of the pocket against the Seattle Seahawks during the third quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

St Louis Rams and the NFC West: Title contender in 2013?

The St Louis Rams have definitely improved since Stan Kroenke became the owner of the franchise.  The 2012 version of the St Louis Rams behind new head coach Jeff Fisher even managed to gain 5 wins over what the team managed in 2011 as well as setting up the team for the future with the RGIII draft pick trade.  In 2012 the Rams also managed to go 4-1-1 against the NFC West, a division that featured the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers and a Seattle Seahawks team that was mere seconds away from playing said 49ers in the NFC Championship game.  The 49ers and Seahawks were already very talented football teams at the beginning of the offseason, and each has made some moves that should make them even better in 2013.  So does anyone honestly believe that the Rams have a chance to compete for a division title in 2013?

Surprisingly enough Chris Sprow from ESPN wrote an article for ESPN Insider about the St Louis Rams and their ability to compete for a division title next season.  The article mostly focuses on the financial aspects of building a championship caliber team, and the advantages that having a young team with 4 first round draft picks over the next two years provides the Rams in the future.  Sprow also mentions that while teams who make significant improvements from one year to the next often slide backwards a bit the following season, he doesn’t expect that to happen to the Rams as they held leads in 6 of their 8 losses on the season as well as having 80% of their point differential on the season wrapped up in the disaster against the New England Patriots in England.  Sprow also noted the relatively poor luck in the turnover category (see the Marshawn Lynch fumble in Seattle) and one of the NFL’s toughest schedules, with wins against two of the NFL’s toughest teams.

As a Rams fan it is nice to see a member of the mainstream media giving them a little bit of lip service this offseason, but is it realistic to believe the Rams can compete against teams as talented as the 49ers and the Seahawks?  The Rams were clearly outmatched on paper against their division rivals last year, but Jeff Fisher coached circles around his division rivals en route to what could easily have been an undefeated division record.  Losing players like Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola hurt for sure, but for Rams fans it probably hurts more emotionally than it actually hurts the team.  Steven Jackson is a once in a generation player who will instantly make the Falcons offense more difficult to defend with his versatility, and Danny Amendola is a great slot player with huge potential when healthy.  The Rams will find it difficult to replace their abilities, but they feel very good about the young players they have in Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson as well as the big free agent addition in “Tight End” Jared Cook.  With two first round draft picks the Rams should be able to add two high impact players with the ability to contribute in 2013.  The Rams offensive line suddenly looks like an above average unit on paper, and if the 5 starting lineman can stay healthy throughout the season Sam Bradford could be more comfortable than he has been since his Heisman Trophy season at Oklahoma.

The Rams have a young defense that is rapidly closing in on “elite” status, as well as an offense filled with explosive young talent that is still developing.  This team should almost certainly be a contender within the next 2 or 3 years but if the Rams are to compete in 2013 they need one player in particular to reach his potential.  Sam Bradford may not be in a “make or break” season in the eyes of the Rams decision makers, but his play in 2013 will make or break the Rams season.  The Rams will be Bradford’s team without a doubt, there is no SJ39 or “Big Game” Torry Holt to share the burden of leadership on offense.  Bradford draws plenty of mixed feelings from most Rams fans, on one hand you can see the immense talent but on the other hand his huge contract and status as the #1 overall draft choice in 2010 leave you wanting more.  Bradford may have inherited the most difficult situation for a #1 overall draft choice in recent memory, the Rams were an absolute disaster when they drafted Bradford with issues from ownership all the way down to the coaching staff.  With a shaky offensive line and a limited group of playmakers around him Sam Bradford has done well to post even average numbers in his first 3 seasons.  Even if you are willing to give Bradford a pass due to the difficult situation he inherited, it is time for Bradford to produce like a number one overall draft choice.  As Les Snead and Jeff Fisher have slowly chipped away at the deficiencies that were holding Bradford back the expectations for Bradford have been raised.  Fisher was quoted as saying he believes Bradford could become the best quarterback in the NFL, former Rams coach Dick Vermeil even called him the “QB version of Marshall Faulk”.

Two young NFC West signal callers had impressive seasons in 2012, if the Rams are to compete in the division they need to have their young franchise quarterback play as well or better than his division rivals.  The Rams appear to be building a Super Bowl contender for the future, but none of that will be possible without Bradford and this offense taking a huge step forward in 2013.  Thanks for reading and as always Go Rams!!!


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