There is no time like the NFL offseason for optimism among the fan, with every team starting with a clear slate and, for the most part, a fully healthy roster. At this point, every team is tied for the No.1 spot in their division, with hopes that they’ll retain that spot until playoff time in January. The offseason is also a time for bold predictions, with analysts and “expects” placing their bets on teams’ win totals, which players will finish the year as top performers, and even which franchise will be holding up the Lombardi trophy in February 2015. In the spirit of those bold predictions, we thought we’d throw in some of our own, St. Louis Rams-specific predictions for the upcoming season.
1. Sam Bradford will play all 16 games in the regular season
While that might not seem like the boldest of predictions, his mere presence on the field might be the fulcrum with which the St. Louis Rams’ post-season hopes teeter. After a commendable rookie season, Bradford ended up missing the backend of his sophomore year; the historically injured-plagued 2011 season. Incurring a high ankle sprain, which reportedly was on the borderline of needing surgery, the (at that point) reining Offensive Rookie of the Year would only manage to play in 10 total games. In hindsight, that putrid season did set up the St. Louis Rams nicely for the future, handing them the now-infamous No.2 pick in the 2012 draft, and forcing massive changes on the coaching staff and in the front office.
Bradford would finished his opening year in the Jeff Fisher era missing only eight total offensive snaps the entire season. However, in 2013, in this fourth year in the league, Bradford torn his ACL on an awkward fall during Week 7 against the Carolina Panthers.
Now, nearly fully rehabilitated from that dreadful injury, Bradford appears to be in the best shape of his life. With that additional bulk, a much improved offensive line (courtesy of Greg Robinson and the return of Rodger Saffold), a hardened offensive philosophy firmly set in place, and, what appears to be, a more developed corps of receivers, Bradford seem to have all the pieces in place for a “breakout season.” However, in order for that to happen, he’ll have to stay on the field for the entire season. We think he will…
2. The St. Louis Rams will have a 1,000 yard receiver
By now, everyone is well aware that the St. Louis Rams haven’t had a 700+ yard receiver since Torry Holt was on the team. While that statistic is a tad misleading, with Brandon Lloyd posting 689 yards in only 11 games in 2011 and Chris Givens managing 689 yards in 12 games in 2012, the fact remains that the Rams have not had a true, reliable No.1 receiver in the corps during the Sam Bradford era. That will change this season…
Kenny Britt was an under-the-radar pickup this offseason, with a resume over the last couple of season marred by inept coaching and quarterbacking, as well as a number of injuries. However, in coming to St. Louis, Britt re-unites with his former head coach, Jeff Fisher, and gets a much needed “fresh start” in the NFL.
Under Fisher, even with moderate talent at quarterback, Britt managed back-to-back 40+ reception, 700+ yard seasons. With a stable coaching staff, superior talent on the offensive line, and Sam Bradford throwing the football, Britt should be poised for his “comeback year”; assuming he can stay healthy. Bradford has excelled in the past when given an genuine, starting-caliber receiver, including Mark Clayton, Brandon Lloyd, and even Danny Amendola. This receiver-quarterback love affair should heat up pretty quick, and could very well lead to the Rams first 1000+ yard receiver in the last half-decade.
3. The St. Louis Rams defense will lead the NFL in turnovers
Despite the inept defensive play-calling of Tim Walton, the St. Louis Rams still managed respectable numbers in the turnover game last year. They ranked tops in the league in forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, and fumbles that resulted in defensive touchdowns; largely thanks to both Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree managing six or more forced fumbles in 2013. However, they failed to pull their weight in the interception department, not even to crack the Top 15 last season.
Heading into 2014, there are two reasons to be optimistic that will change:
a) Gregg Williams is now manning the controls of the defense. His aggressive style should put more pressure on the opposing quarterback and put his secondary in better position to make plays on the football (i.e. no more “soft zone”).
b) The secondary, theoretically, should be significantly better that last year. T.J. McDonald has returned to full health, Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins have another year of experience under their belts, and the Rams added Lamarcus Joyner, Mo Alexander, EJ Gaines, Marcus Roberson, and a number of other young defensive backs to compete for snaps in the secondary. While the backend of the defensive depth chart has yet to play out, it would be hard to imagine that the 2014 unit will not be a major upgrade over the grouping from last season.
With the forced fumble numbers likely to remain high, and the interception figures likely to improve, it wouldn’t be unimaginable to see that St. Louis Rams jump from 8th overall in the takeaways last year to No.1 overall by the end of this upcoming season.
4. Jeff Fisher will finally finish the season above the .500 threshold in St. Louis
Even with vast improvement across the entire roster, the St. Louis Rams have still yet to manage a .500 or better record in the Jeff Fisher era. However, this season, with some sustained health, improved talent, and a little bit of luck, the Rams could certainly be staring down their first “winning record” in the last decade. Here is why:
a) To start, the Rams open up the season with three easily winnable games, taking on the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys.
b) After their bye in Week 4, they’ll have three games versus sub-.500 squads from last season, including the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, and Oakland Raiders.
c) Their toughest non-divisional games will be against teams that struggled mightily against dominant pass rushing units last season; those being the Kansas City Cheifs and Denver Broncos.
d) Four of their first six games, and three of their last five games are at home.
Those are nine non-conference games that some might be considered “winnable” for the St. Louis Rams in 2014. They will also face an unstable San Diego Chargers squad and a Philadelphia Eagles roster that typical relied on “out-athletic”ing their opponent last season; something that is not likely against the Rams young defense, especially with DeSean Jackson out of the picture. Toss in the fact that Sam Bradford has managed a winning record within the division, including 5-2-1 in his last full year, and you should have all the ingredients to break through the .500 barrier.