The St. Louis Rams finished on the bottom of the NFC West last season, five wins shy of their nearest division rival. In four of the last five seasons, the Rams have been in the division basement thanks to years of institutional neglect and a rash of injuries. But this could be the year that changes.
Every season at least one team in the NFL climbs from the last place in their division into the top spot, the worst-to-first phenomenon. Last year it was the Broncos. Could the Rams be in line for a jump in the standings this season? Over at SB Nation, my colleague Joel Thorman thinks they could be.
Coaching changes and a production year from Sam Bradford could be just enough for the Rams, but they first have to get around the 49ers. Interestingly enough, the article notes that the 49ers still have questions, even after last year's turnaround. San Francisco is a more talented team, but a variety of factors could intervene to knock them off the top spot.
As far as the Rams, I think there are a list of things that could put them back on top.
1) Injuries - St. Louis suffered an unusual amount of injuries last season. Statistically speaking, they should return to the mean this year. Healthy starters should automatically translate to a couple more wins.
2) New, Experienced Coaching - Speaking of San Francisco, look at what rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh did there. Granted, Jeff Fisher is not taking on as loaded of a roster as Harbaugh, but this isn't exactly a team filled with rookies and street free agents, like the one Steve Spagnuolo inherited in 2009. Fisher's the perfect coach to stoke the fires of a band of hungry players.
3) Bolstered Defense - The Rams already had a decent defensive line and an okay secondary, prior to injuries. The defensive line got some much needed help in the middle. The secondary is now deeper and better equipped for run support. With a strong pass rush and tight coverage, it looks like the kind of unit capable of stealing a game or two on its own.
4) Offensive Formula - Even in the Rams' 2010 season, the offense struggled to score points. Les Snead did not add any magic bullets at wide receiver, but the group has some potential to create mismatches with defenses. Using an approach similar to the one from Bradford's rookie season, as well as a quarterbacks coach, could push them much closer to competency this year.