The city of Los Angeles has waited a long time for a Super Bowl team. The last time an L.A.-based team reached a Super Bowl was the Raiders in 1983. While the Rams made it a couple times during their St. Louis stay, they haven’t done it in their natural home of Los Angeles since 1979. But that drought may be coming to an end—the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl chances are very well, as the playoffs lurk around the corner.
In Sean McVay’s first year as a head coach, the Rams have clinched the first division title for the franchise since 2003 and the first in Los Angeles since 1985. Next week’s regular season finale against San Francisco is essentially meaningless—the Rams are locked into hosting a game on the first weekend of the playoffs and whether that’s as the #3 or #4 seed is not particularly consequential. So let’s ask—can this Rams team get to the Super Bowl and can they win it?
If you believe postseasons, regardless of the sport, are a time when elite individual talent comes to the fore, then Los Angeles has the playmakers to go a long way…
*Todd Gurley is the best running back in the league. His 1,305 rushing yards are the most in the NFL. His 64 catches and 788 receiving yards are in the top 15 of all pass catchers, and lead his team. There is no running back that means more to his offense than Todd Gurley and he has to be in the conversation with Tom Brady for league MVP.
*Aaron Donald is one of the top defensive lineman in football and you can make a good case that he’s the best player in the NFL at any spot.
*Lamarcus Joyner is an elite strong safety and in a conference where the top two teams—Eagles and Vikings—rely on possession-type receivers who run into the area where the strong safety traditionally patrols. Do you like Joyner’s chances of neutralizing Zach Ertz or Adam Thielen? If so, then you like Los Angeles’ chances of winning an NFC championship.
Gurley, Donald and Joyner are the types of players who can have a dramatic impact on any single game and the presence of at least a few players like this are essential to a Super Bowl run. In fact, it’s reasonable to say that the team that plays with Hollywood in the backdrop, has the most star power of any team in the playoffs.
But at the same time, the NFL isn’t the NBA and it does take more than star power to advance. Here’s what the Rams can offer as support to their stars…
*Jared Goff can get the ball down the field in the passing game and do it at minimal risk. He ranks at the top of the league for yards-per-completion and is top five at avoiding interceptions. It’s going to be essential that he loosen up defenses. As good as Gurley is, an outstanding defense—something Philadelphia and Minnesota both have—can take out a running back if he doesn’t get support. Goff has to make some big plays and it would be ideal if these playoffs can be a coming-out party for Sammy Watkins on the outside.
*Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn have to get to the quarterback on the defensive side. With Donald drawing attention from opposing blocking schemes, Brockers has to get pressure up the middle and Quinn on the outside.
*The Los Angeles offensive line is one of the more underrated strengths of any unit in the postseason. The acquisition of free agent left tackle Andrew Whitworth away from Cincinnati prior to the season was one of the real personnel coups and Whitworth leads a line that’s pretty steady throughout. No, they won’t remind you of the Hogs of the 1980s or the Dallas Cowboys line of the early 1990s, but this is a good unit—and a big area of strength compared to the Eagles and Vikings, who have serious problems up front.
*The secondary is more than Joyner. The Rams get steady play on the corners. Combined with the defensive front, it’s the reason Los Angeles ranks 8th in the NFL in scoring defense. That kind of defensive play is good enough to win, given that the Los Angeles offense is the most prolific in the league.
That’s the basic outline of this Rams team and I think it can be summed up thusly—there are no real weaknesses. You might like another team’s strengths better—maybe you’re behind Philadelphia’s great defensive front, Minnesota’s outstanding overall defense or the veteran leadership of a Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan or Russell Wilson. But there’s nothing about the Los Angeles Rams that should dissuade believers.
I’m one of those believers, at least within the confines of the NFC. I expect the Rams to win three postseason games and reach the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. On the flip side, the smart money in Las Vegas isn’t quite as bullish—they have the Rams as a 5-1 shot to win the NFC, trailing the Vikings, Eagles and Saints. And if you want to believe Vegas over me…well, let’s just say the track record backs you up on that.
When it comes to actually winning the Super Bowl, the Patriots and Steelers are the only AFC teams to come in ahead of the Rams. If the Super Bowl is Los Angeles-New England, I’d be loathe to bet against Belichick and Brady.
But that’s about the most negative thing I can say about the Los Angeles Rams. I think they’re the best team in football, with the playoff readiness of McVay and Goff being the only lingering factor still out there to be decided.