Can The Rams Reach Super Bowl 52?
In one of the big surprises this season, the Los Angeles Rams have risen from an afterthought to division leader. Led by rookie head coach Sean McVay, rising stars Todd Gurley and Jared Goff, the Rams at 7-2 sit alone atop the NFC West, a designation that has foreshadowed Super Bowl appearances in recent years.
Three out of the last five NFC champions have come from out west, and only last year did the conference championship not feature a team from the NFC West.
The Rams look to join in their division rivals' playoff success, and end their 13-year playoff drought from when the team played in St. Louis.
Since then, the Rams have had only one .500 season, four fired coaches, and memories of the testy breakup between fans and the organization after the decision to return to the franchise's original home, Los Angeles.
Flash forward to 2017, where the NFL's top scoring offense is piling up the points with an attack led by last year's number one overall pick Goff, who has seen his quarterback rating rise from 63.6 to 101.5, throwing 11 more touchdowns and three fewer interceptions than a season ago.
The Rams' offensive outburst wouldn't be possible though without running back Gurley's return to his rookie of the year form from 2015. Gurley is averaging over four yards per carry this year like he did then, and leads the league with 10 total touchdowns.
To support their two young talents, L.A. welcomed an all-new trio of pass catchers to town this season in former Buffalo Bill Sammy Watkins, free agent Robert Woods and 2017 third-round pick Cooper Kupp. The group has well rounded stats despite their different roles, with all three along with Gurley having amassed at least 350 yards and three touchdowns receiving.
The team's deep offensive roster is matched on the defensive side, with all-pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald anchoring a unit with 28 sacks on the year. Linebacker Mark Barron leads the team in tackles with 56, and also paces the defense with three interceptions.
The team is third in the league allowing 18 points per game and is in the top 10 against the pass, but one area where they can improve is their 24th ranked run defense, as opponents are averaging 4.5 yards per carry for 118 rushing yards a game.
Stopping the run would help add pressure from an already dangerous front seven. Donald leads the team with 5 sacks, while Connor Barwin and Matt Longacre each have 4.
The balance in production from veterans in areas like this has bolstered the Rams' young talent, and the team is developing a nice blend that they hope will aid them in the upcoming playoff push.
With games remaining against Minnesota, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Seattle and Tennessee, all of whom are in the playoff hunt, the Rams will certainly be battle-tested before the postseason begins.
Tough games will serve the team well as they try to become L.A.'s first playoff team since 1989.
Fans in the city of angels took one on the chin watching the Dodgers lose game seven of the World Series, but this Rams team has the makeup to spark some fresh playoff magic, and with the way stories are told in L.A., it wouldn't shock anyone here to see them in Super Bowl 52.