After an offseason like no other, the NFL is finally ready to get down to business. The regular season opens on Thursday, but more importantly for St. Louis the Rams get under way on Sunday taking on the Philadelphia Eagles. What happens on Sunday may or may not be a fair indicator of what is going to happen for the entire 2011 season. Regardless of the results on Sunday against the formidable Eagles there is absolutely no reason in the world, with the exception of health, that the St. Louis Rams should not be the NFC West Champions in 2011. Here are the 10 reasons why the Rams should be division champions.
#1 The NFC West is Awful: This is the number one reason that every team in the division thinks they have a shot this season. It took the Seahawks only seven wins last season to go to the playoffs and that is certainly a reason why everyone around the NFL doesn’t hold much respect for any of the four teams. Realistically with the division having to play every NFC East and AFC North opponent this year it will probably only take nine wins at most to make the playoffs and possibly as little as eight. You have to look at the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals to be worth four to six of those wins for whoever winds up winning the division. The Rams should be able to accomplish that.
#2 Bradford is the Best QB in the West: A number of you have fantasy football leagues and I suspect that in at least 95% of them the first quarterback from the NFC West selected was Sam Bradford. It doesn’t take a football genius to know that he is the best QB going in the division and has the potential for a huge season. The NFL is usually simple. The team with the best quarterback wins. Bradford is the best quarterback and the Rams should win because of that. Who would you rather have Alex Smith, Kevin Kolb, Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst or Sam Bradford? Case Closed.
#3 Jackson is the best RB in the West: 49ers Running Back Frank Gore is a very nice running back and isn’t too far behind Jackson, but SJ39 should be better than everyone else at the position in 2011. Gore is starting to show wear and tear while Jackson continues to be a dominant force in the NFL. Meanwhile in Seattle and Arizona they have two of the worst running games in football. Advantage Rams.
#4 The Rams Offensive Line is the Best: With the addition of Harvey Dahl the Rams have on paper the best offensive line in the NFC West. The Seahawks are starting two rookies and have two players with nagging injuries. The Cardinals couldn’t and can’t run the football to save their lives and the 49ers are shuffling their offensive line. Meanwhile the Rams bring four of five starters back and bring in a borderline Pro Bowler at Guard. The Rams are better now on the line and should prove it in 2011.
#5 The Best Pass Rush: The Rams quietly had one of better defensive units in the game in 2010 in getting to the quarterback. Then they added Robert Quinn who is going to be a pass rush specialist in the first round of the Draft. In addition the outside linebackers are better than they have been at any time in Steve Spagnuolo’s tenure. All of that leads you to believe that the Rams with Chris Long and James Hall are going to be one of the top five units in the NFL in sacks. The Cardinals, Seahawks and 49ers are all nothing more than middle of the pack teams in those areas. The Rams should feast on some of the offensive lines and quarterbacks in the NFC West.
#6 James Laurinaitis: When you have a middle linebacker who can dominate games and quarterback your defense you are so far ahead of the game. With the Rams having someone that special at the position they should be a top 10 defense in 2011. Patrick Willis may be better with the 49ers, but Laurinaitis is just a little step behind.
#7 Lance Kendricks: You don’t want to heap too much praise on a rookie, but you can already see that the Rams have an emerging top flight tight end in 2011. With Kendricks the Rams red zone abilities should increase dramatically. Imagine what Sam Bradford can do with a tight end like Kendricks. We are about to find out. The 49ers may have a better one in Vernon Davis right now, but in two to three years I don’t know that it will be that clear cut.
#8 The Wide Receivers: Last season on opening day the Rams leading receivers were Mark Clayton, Danny Amendola, Laurent Robinson, Daniel Fells and Billy Bajema. This year it should be Amendola, Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson, Lance Kendricks and Danario Alexander. I am not saying that this year’s receiver class is the next “Greatest Show on Turf,” but they are better and being better might have been the difference between seven wins and nine wins last season. Imagine a full season of “better” and what that might mean for Sam Bradford and the Rams.
#9 Josh McDaniels: It is going to be hard for the St. Louis Rams to live up to the greatest impact hire they ever made at offensive coordinator, but McDaniels has an opportunity to make a big enough impact that he will completely revive his career. In 1999 the Rams hired an offensive coordinator in Mike Martz that revolutionized the game. In 2011 the Rams hired a guy who is not going to revolutionize the game, we think, but will make Sam Bradford and the offense a more combustible unit in 2011. The Rams scored 289 points in 2010. If they score anything less than 350 then something has gone horribly wrong. Again that is the difference between seven wins and nine or ten wins especially with a better defense.
#10 The Special Teams: It appears that the return game is not going to be too important in the NFL this season, but the kicking game will remain of utmost importance. The Rams have the best kicker and punter in the division. Josh Brown is better than everyone else at the position in the NFC West and Donnie Jones is as good as anyone in the NFC West. When you have someone who can consistently make 50+ yard field goals and someone who can drop the ball inside the 20 consistently then you have something special there too.
The Rams needed to get better and they did. The difference now is expectations. The Rams were not expected to deliver a playoff berth in 2010 and they almost did. In 2011 they are expected to make the playoffs and we shall see if they deliver. If they stay healthy there is no reason that this team should not win enough games to take the NFC West. They just needed to get a little better at every position and for the most part they have. The journey begins on Sunday against Philadelphia.
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