It wasn’t supposed to go this way.
While repeating would have been extremely difficult, the Los Angeles Rams weren't supposed to be where they currently stand. They were supposed to be contenders and make the playoffs. Lose in the playoffs? Fine. They won the Super Bowl last year. Miss the playoffs completely? That’s a disappointment.
This is a team that sits at 3-6 through 10 weeks. It’s the first time since the 2013 and 2014 seasons that the Rams only have three wins in their first nine games.
The Rams have entered unprecedented territory not only under McVay but as defending Super Bowl champions. Of the 56 times that teams have won the Super Bowl, there have been 16 instances where the defending champion missed the playoffs the following season — 17 if you want to include the current 2022 Rams.
As it stands, the Rams currently have less than a 25 percent chance to make the postseason. They’re currently on track to become just the seventh defending Super Bowl champion to finish with a losing record.
NFC playoff matchups if season ended today.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) November 14, 2022
(1) Eagles: Bye
(7) 49ers at (2) Vikings
(6) Cowboys at (3) Seahawks
(5) Giants at (4) Bucs
Chances of getting in, using implied odds from betting markets, below.
Packers with 25% chance of making it after Sunday's win. pic.twitter.com/801QafeyLj
The last team to miss the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl was the 2016 Denver Broncos who were recovering from a retired Peyton Manning. The Rams were a team that brought back their core group of players.
The last team to have a losing record after winning the Super Bowl was the 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even they came up on the wrong end of several one-score games. Only one of the Rams’ six losses this season have come by one score.
It’s worth asking at this point, are the Rams the worst defending Super Bowl champion ever?
On offense, the Rams returned eight of their 11 starters from the 2021 season and eight of 11 starters on defense. Where the Rams did lose starters i.e. linebacker and wide receiver, they made upgrades with Bobby Wagner and Allen Robinson.
The only place that the Rams took a significant hit was at left tackle with Andrew Whitworth sailing off into retirement. It’s worth mentioning that right guard Austin Corbett also left in free agency.
This was a team that was ready to make another run in 2022 and instead have crashed and burned. The Rams are currently only the fifth defending Super Bowl champion to start the next year with a 3-6 record.
Out of those teams, the 1982 San Francisco 49ers dealt with a strike-effected season and the 1999 Broncos were experiencing life after John Elway.
While some of that can be put on the Rams’ first-place schedule, they actually have the easiest strength of schedule among the previous defending Super Bowl champions. Pro Football Reference calculates strength of schedule using their simple rating system. The Rams’ -6 strength of schedule is the lowest number among the other 16 teams.
Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric only goes back to 1981 which leaves out three defending champions who missed the playoffs (1980 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1970 Kansas City Chiefs, 1968 Green Bay Packers). The 1981 Oakland Raiders were the worst team in DVOA finishing at -15.6 percent. Through nine games, the Rams aren’t far behind as they have recorded a DVOA of -13.7 percent.
In point differential, the Rams rank last among the defending Super Bowl champions to miss the playoffs. With a point differential of -52, the next closest would be the 1987 Giants who were at a -42 point differential through nine games. They finished 6-9.
The Rams’ 148 points scored on offense are only ahead of the 1981 Raiders who were shutout in three straight games and the 1991 New York Giants. Their 200 points given up on defense are also the fourth-most.
When it comes to the worst defending Super Bowl champion in NFL history, it comes down to the 1981 Raiders, 2013 Baltimore Ravens, or the 2022 Rams. While the Rams have the fourth-ranked defense in the NFL in yards, their offense ranks 31st. They’re the only defending champion with a unit that ranked in the bottom-three in the league the following season.
In 1981, Jim Plunkett’s magic wore off as he led the Raiders to a NFL-record three straight shutouts on offense. Plunkett was benched for Marc Wilson in the middle of the season.
Joe Flacco threw 22 interceptions in 2013 after an incredible postseason run in which some started to call him elite. In the run game, Ray Rice averaged only 3.1 yards per carry as the Ravens offense finished 29th.
The Rams have some of those same issues. Matthew Stafford hasn’t played at the same level that he did in 2021. He went from ranking sixth in EPA per play to 29th. Cam Akers returned from an achilles injury and has averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. The result has been the 31st ranked offense in the NFL.
A serious case could be made for the Rams as the worst defending Super Bowl champion. However, that will be decided by where they end up at the end of the season.
Out of these 16 teams, only eight of them returned to the playoffs the following season. For some, it was the end of an era. After back-to-back Super Bowl titles, the 1979-1980 Steelers missed the playoffs the next two years before returning in 1982.
The New York Giants also missed the playoffs for two straight years before returning and winning a Super Bowl in 1990. Following their Super Bowl win in 2012, the Giants didn’t win another playoff game with Eli Manning and only returned to the postseason one more time.
Throughout much of the 2000s, the New England Patriots set a standard that had never been seen before when it came to winning. Maintaining a winning team is extremely difficult in the NFL and especially in the salary cap era.
With Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald all tied together until 2024, the Rams’ window is starting to close, but by no means has been shut. The Rams will need to re-tool and fix the mistakes that have plagued them in 2022 if they want to compete for a Lombardi Trophy over the next two years.
By giving up future draft capital, the Rams were all about taking advantage of this window. This run was always going to be short-lived. There was never going to be a dynasty. While they might be the worst defending Super Bowl champion ever, it doesn’t mean that they can’t turn it around in 2023.