Optimism abounds this time of year. Even for long-suffering Rams fans there's always plenty of hope to go around in the early dog days of summer. That holds especially true this year now that the Jay Zygmunt statue in front of Rams Park has been torn down and beaten with shoes. But will these changes translate immediately to success on the field for the Rams?
Playing in the NFC West essentially means anything can happen. Realistically, it's tough to see the Rams fighting their way back above .500 this season. Not that it couldn't happen, just tough to prognosticate that outcome so heavily constrained by precedent. With that, and a quiet offseason day on our hands, let's put on the old prognosticating hats and make a quick run through the NFC West.
Arizona gets the de facto nod for the division title here. On paper, they still have all the parts they need to make a run at it. However, Kurt Warner is 38-years-old (today!) and coming off a 20 game season. He looked like a 20-year-old during their run last year, but Warner has never had back-to-back seasons in which he started all 16 games. Can Matt Leinart step up if he has to? This is a much better team than the one he last quarterbacked.
Seattle, to me, seems to be in a place more akin to where the Rams have been in recent seasons: some young talent here sprinkled here and there, but mostly an aging core trying to recapture faded magic. San Francisco will try and build off the success they enjoyed last season after making Mike Singletary the head coach. Beware the fleeting improvement of a coaching change though. Most teams perform well in the weeks after such a move; carrying that momentum over to a new season is different task entirely. They also have quarterback issues and an offensive line that was worse in pass protection than our own. And at the risk of being branded a heretic, I'm not a Frank Gore believer: the 49ers offensive line contributed more to the success of their running game than Gore did in his 14 games played. Just take a look at the difference in adjusted line yards (4.30) versus RB yards (3.96) from Football Outsiders. On top of that, they were very poor on first and second downs, and their running game had a league worst -20.1% DVOA in the second half of the season, amidst their Singletary-inspired swoon.
Ok, enough Hater-Aid, let's have a fearless prediction. Arizona wins the division again, but doesn't sweep their division mates like last year. San Fran can leverage the strength of their defense to get to second place. The Rams improve considerably (from 2 wins to 5 or 6), Seattle finds out just how hard it is to drive a car held together with duct tape and bailing wire, finding themselves at the bottom of the division this year.