As the 2013 NFL Season creeps closer, the Place to Be Nation staff has you covered with complete team by team coverage and predictions. Visit the full archive here.
St. Louis Rams
After finishing 2-14 in 2011, the St. Louis Rams were aggressive in the next year’s draft, trading down twice in the first round to pick up a slew of future picks. After winning just seven games in 2012, the team targeted improving the offense as a priority, and was active in both free agency and the draft. The new starters will have their work cut out for them improving on that win total, as they face one of the leagues toughest schedules. If they fall out of playoff contention, the team’s biggest priority will be the continued development of quarterback Sam Bradford. The size of his contract doesn’t leave the Rams with many other options, so it’s in their best interest to help him succeed.
Key Additions & Losses
Additions: TE Jared Cook, OT Jake Long, WR Tavon Austin (R), OLB Alec Ogletree (R)
Losses: RB Steven Jackson, WR Danny Amendola, WR Brandon Gibson, C Rob Turner, CB Bradley Fletcher, S Quintin Mikell, S Craig Dahl.
For the first time since 2003, the Rams will head into the season without Steven Jackson in the backfield. After racking up more than 10,000 yards, the most in team history, Jackson signed with Atlanta in March. Daryl Richardson will replace him in the starting lineup; he was effective in a backup role last year. Several new faces will join Richardson, as St. Louis invested heavily in the offense this offseason. They signed marquee free agent Jake Long to take over the left tackle position. There are injury concerns, but Long is one of the best in the league when healthy, and should help stabilize an offensive line that lost starting center Rob Turner to free agency. The Rams also picked up tight end Jared Cook, hoping he will finally play to his potential, and traded up in the draft to select college star Tavon Austin, who is undersized but has game-changing athleticism. These moves give Sam Bradford a number of new weapons to throw to, and should improve the team’s average offense.
Of course, all the resources invested in the offense had to come from somewhere, and the defense saw a lot of turnover in the offseason. Starting safeties Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl are gone, along with third corner Bradley Fletcher. The front seven, on the other hand, is unchanged for the most part; the only new starter is Alec Ogletree, the team’s other first round pick. He’s been a star in the preseason, and if that carries over to the regular season he should help the Rams survive the losses in the secondary.
Arizona (Week 1); Atlanta (Week 2); SAN FRANCISCO (Week 4, Thursday); SEATTLE (Week 8, MNF)
The Rams won’t have to wait long to see Steven Jackson in another uniform, as they travel to Atlanta in week 2. Their first three division games (two in primetime) are all at home, which is good for their chances for starting strong. But the good news ends there, as they face the fourth-toughest schedule in the league and play in what looks to be the toughest division.
Player to Watch
Yet again, all eyes will be on the young quarterback looking to prove he can lead a franchise to the championship. The Rams had the misfortune of drafting Bradford under the terms of the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, and are heavily committed to him from a financial perspective. Luckily for him, that means the team has every incentive to make sure he succeeds, as can be seen from their offseason additions to the offense. Bradford’s career has been up-and-down to this point, and this should be the season we find out what he’s capable of.
Better or Worse
2012 Finish: 7-8-1, Third in NFC West
2013 Predicted Finish: 7-9, Third in NFC West
I’m not sure what to make of St. Louis’s 2012. On the one hand, they improved by five wins over the previous season, went 4-1-1 in one of the league’s strongest divisions, and finished twelfth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. On the other hand, they lost to a mediocre Miami team, struggled to beat a crappy Buffalo squad, and were massacred by the Patriots 45-7 at home. They were outscored by almost 50 points, and actually exceeded their expected win total (6.6). They had a top-10 defense, but a bottom-10 offense, and made addressing that weakness an offseason priority. The Rams are likely to be better in 2013, but so is the rest of the division, and the improvements aren’t likely to show up in the team’s record.
It’s difficult to predict the future of any NFL team, but the Rams are especially tough to read. The players they picked up in the offseason should pay immediate dividends on offense, and in Sam Bradford’s continued development. But they face a brutal schedule, so any improvement may not show up in the win column. There is always the possibility of division rivals San Francisco and Seattle faltering, but for now, the division appears to be theirs. There is a lot of talent on the roster, and the Rams have two first-round draft picks next year. This may not be the year the team returns to the playoffs, but the future is bright.
– Andrew Flanagan
– Bob Colling