The last time the Rams went around the NFC East horn, the results were mixed and an improved performance could’ve sent LA to the Super Bowl a year earlier than their recent appearance. It’s three years later and the Rams are again facing off against all four NFC East division teams, all of which take place within the first five weeks of the season.
Can they get a sweep this time after going 2-2 in 2017?
During Sean McVay’s first season, LA disarmed the Colts 46-9 in Week 1 but then he took his first loss as a head coach, dropping a home game 27-20 to his previous employer, the Football Team. Washington pulled out to an early 13-0 lead and the Rams came back to tie the game at 20-20 with a little over seven minutes remaining. On his best behavior, Kirk Cousins helped convert enough plays — including two passes to Terrelle Pryor that gained a total of 31 yards — to drive into the red zone and he finished it off with an 11-yard score to Ryan Grant.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Jared Goff was intercepted by linebacker Mason Foster and the game ended three Samaje Perine runs later.
Two weeks later, LA came back from a 24-13 deficit on the road to beat the Dallas Cowboys 35-30. In Week 9, he had his biggest blowout since Indy, beating the New York Giants 51-17. Cut to Week 14 and the 9-3 Rams are hosting the 10-2 Philadelphia Eagles with rumored MVP frontrunner Carson Wentz at quarterback.
Wentz tossed four touchdowns but even after he left the game with a torn ACL that would end his season and LA took a 35-31 lead in the fourth quarter, the Eagles were apparently going to be 2017’s team of destiny regardless. Goff was sacked by Chris Long, lost a fumble back to Philadelphia, Eagles kicker Jake Elliott missed from 54 — but a penalty on Aaron Donald setup a new first down after 4th-and-21.
Elliott was good from 33, the Eagles took a 37-35 lead, and won 43-35.
Had the Rams defense managed to hold on against Washington and Philadelphia, or had Jared Goff been able to help maintain the league, LA could have been 13-3 and they would’ve had the number one seed in the NFC instead of the eventual champion Eagles.
But because they didn’t win those games, and because they lost in the wild card round at home 26-13 to the Atlanta Falcons, speculation about “what might have been” is going to run up against a reality that the Rams probably just weren’t ready yet. They returned in 2018 to go 13-3 and make the Super Bowl, but took a step backwards last season.
Now it’s 2020 and the NFC East is back on the table:
Week 1 - vs Dallas Cowboys, SNF
Week 2 - at Philadelphia Eagles
Week 4 - vs New York Giants
Week 5 - at Washington Football Team
By mid-October, the Rams will be done with their NFC East schedule. Can they go 4-0 in those games?
Returning a roster that includes Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, Demarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee, plus additions like CeeDee Lamb, Gerald McCoy, and Dontari Poe, the Cowboys have quite a few people picking them as Super Bowl champions next season. Most importantly perhaps, they’ve replaced head coach Jason Garrett with Mike McCarthy, who was basically Jason Garrett two years ago.
It may be a better fit on both ends. LA has the advantage of playing at home for the debut of SoFi Stadium, but without fans in attendance, we don’t know the eventual impact of that variable on homefield advantage.
The Eagles are next and though they’ve underwhelmed in their two post-championship seasons, they’ve also been to the playoffs both years and have kept their core together better than a lot of successful teams. That includes Wentz, Zach Ertz, Jason Kelce, Alshon Jeffery, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Malik Jackson, Miles Sanders, plus the return of Jason Peters, and the additions of Darius Slay, Javon Hargrave, former Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman, and rookie receiver Jalen Reagor.
They’ll also look to welcome back DeSean Jackson a year after he returned by got injured.
The next two matchups after a Week 3 game against the Buffalo Bills seem to be easier, though appearances can be deceiving.
The Giants went 4-12 last season and drafted tackle Andrew Thomas to help reinforce the offensive line, which will need it after the opt out of Nate Solder. Daniel Jones is going into the all-important year two, Saquon Barkley enters year three, and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence was also a 2019 first rounder who is hoping to build upon his first season. Unfortunately for the Giants and several other parties, 2019 first round cornerback Deandre Baker is facing serious criminal charges and may not ever return.
Other notable starters include Leonard Williams, Jabrill Peppers, James Bradberry, Dalvin Tomlinson, Markus Golden, Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Will Hernandez, Kevin Zeitler, Dion Lewis, Blake Martinez, and Evan Engram. On paper, New York does not seem ready to contend unless rookie head coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett have a huge surprise in store for the league.
Considering that no NFC East team has won the division in back-to-back years since 2004 and that worst-to-first-and-reverse is so common among these teams, I won’t count out the Giants. Or Football Team.
Washington finishes things off in Week 5 and their success may hinder on their change at head coach — Jay Gruden for Ron Rivera — and how it impacts the development of their second-year quarterback, Dwayne Haskins. Though his rookie numbers were very bad, let’s consider some more context.
Haskins’ passer rating+ of 79 would indicate he could be well below average for the NFL. Not uncommon for rookies thrown into action before they may be ready. Rookie QBs in this century to do worse include: Mark Sanchez (75), David Carr (75), Blake Bortles (74), Matthew Stafford (72), Josh Allen (70), and Jared Goff (64), among many others. Though Goff was basically at the bottom.
Haskins also ranked dead last in DYAR, DVOA, and QBR with -443, -42-percent, and 26.4, respectively.
As a rookie in 2016, Goff had -881 DYAR, -74.8-percent DVOA, and a QBR of 18.3.
Now we get to see what Haskin’s 2019 offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell has in store for his 2020 QB Goff. And in Week 5, he’ll be doing it against his old team with a new team name.
In Haskins’ corner this year is offensive coordinator Scott Turner, receiver Terry McLaurin, running back Adrian Peterson, guard Brandon Scherff, and whether or not any other offensive notables will emerge remains to be seen. On defense, second overall pick Chase Young is the headline name, while Landon Collins, Da’ron Payne, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson, Ryan Kerrigan, Thomas Davis, and Kendall Fuller are among those there to support him. Their new defensive coordinator will be Jack Del Rio, returning to the league after a three-year absence.
Overall, I see the NFC East looking like this:
If there is any homefield advantage remaining in this world, then 3-1 or 4-0 does seem plausible to me for the Rams. It’s a dream scenario to sweep any division, but Football Team and the Giants present obvious opportunities. Dallas is always capable of stumbling and the Eagles are the very definition of a wild card team.
Get a sweep here and LA could easily be entering mid-October in first place and with high hopes.
What will the Rams record be vs the NFC East
This poll is closed