There’s something strange going on with respect to how people view the 2018 Los Angeles Rams and I’m not just talking about the fact that for the first time in a long, long, long time, people actually expect us to win.
It’s how much they expect us to win. And how nearly unanimous that expectation is.
In our final staff predictions for the 2018 season, every single one of us had the Rams winning games in the double digits. Even more, an overwhelming majority (biased though we are) had us winning at least 13 games. In nearly every season preview that included a win-loss projection, the Rams were coming up with 10 or 11 or 12 or 13 wins.
So it’s not limited just to inside our bubble. Everyone is looking at 10+ wins.
Which is very, very, very strange since the over/under that was coming out of Vegas and online bookmakers was right around 9.5 or 10 wins. Which means that there’s money backing up the under.
There just aren’t any voices saying so.
This was Rich Hammond just yesterday:
One thing that should have been obvious to me, and wasn’t, is how much angst there will be if the Rams don’t completely dominate this year. I picked them to go 11-5 and took (polite) heat. Did you know the Vegas over/under is 10 wins? Money to be made if you’re that confident.— Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) September 6, 2018
Why did Hammond take any heat for an 11-win season? The obvious answer is that Rams fans are overwhelmingly excited by the prospects of the 2018 season. But it’s also clear that they’re being incited by a national referendum on the Rams that has avoided even the possibility of ending up with single-digit wins.
Consider this piece from Sports Illustrated’s Max Meyer, the only piece I’ve seen from the offseason that seriously considered taking the under (which is exactly what he does at 9.5 wins).
On the coaching changes that saw former Rams Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur take the same job title, albeit with broader responsibilities, with the Tennessee Titans while the Rams’ 2017 quarterbacks coach, Greg Olson, took a promotion to become the OC with the Oakland Raiders:
McVay is also still running the show with play calls and calling audibles pre-snap, but don’t underestimate the loss of those two quarterback gurus.
On the offensive line and field position:
The offensive line was excellent in 2017, but will that group be able to put up a similar effort this time around? Left tackle Andrew Whitworth will be 37 in December. Center John Sullivan turned 33 in August. The starting five of Whitworth, Sullivan, Rodger Saffold, Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown didn’t miss a single game due to injury last season. The Rams also had the best starting field position average in the league at the 32.31-yard line, per Football Outsiders. Everything went perfectly for the Rams in 2017, and it’s highly unlikely they’ll be able to replicate that success in this upcoming campaign.
And the competitive balance of the NFC:
Despite being the NFC West favorite, the team may still have a tricky path to double-digit wins. Los Angeles plays the NFC South and AFC West along with the Eagles and Saints due to the first-place schedule. The Rams will need a lot to go right for them to be one of the NFC’s best teams, and especially with the juice on the over being as high as it is, I’m willing to gamble that this season will have more adversity they’ll have to overcome.
Now look, I’m not about to change my 12-4 prediction or anything like that. Obviously, this isn’t a season to be necessarily hesitant to support. The starting roster is stacked. Last season was a blessing.
But I find it unusually strange not that fans and media are excited about the Rams’ 2018 season, but the near unanimity supporting the Rams this year.
NFL seasons are, as last year proved yet again as they tend to every year, weird. They’re unpredictable. There are Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars teams that take a jump forward. There are Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans teams that looked set up for success that were felled by injury. And there were Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants and Oakland Raiders teams that just fell below the bar for various reasons.
Which is why I find it so odd that nearly everyone...nearly EVERYONE is backing the Rams to manage the process, to navigate the weirdness successfully.
It’s heartening, sure. But it’s also piling on to those lofty expectations that have been building since February.
Buckle the hell up, Rams fans...