Los Angeles Rams 2023 season preview and predictions
This appeared in the original VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on June 29, 2023.
Zachary Cohen: After winning the Super Bowl in 2022, the Los Angeles Rams went 5-12 and finished in third place in the NFC West last season. Sean McVay’s team was completely ravaged by injuries, and the roster probably wasn’t playoff-caliber to begin with. Things won’t be too different in 2023, but Matthew Stafford will be healthy in Week 1. Having his sturdy presence under center should make Los Angeles a lot more competitive. So, while the Rams likely won’t be winning more Super Bowls any time soon, this team could still help bettors win some money.
Stafford said that he felt “refreshed” heading into the offseason, and that should be huge for the Rams’ 2023 outlook. Last year, the veteran dealt with elbow and back issues while also suffering from concussions. It was a completely lost year for the former Pro Bowler, but he’s back and ready to show off his cannon this season. And having somebody with his arm strength should open the Rams’ offense, which still has Cooper Kupp catching passes on the outside.
The question is whether Los Angeles will get anything from the running game. Everything McVay likes to do is built off the threat of the run, but the Rams’ offensive line was in shambles last year. Los Angeles will need to do a better job up front if it is going to take any type of step forward this season. Perhaps rookie Steve Avila will help stabilize the unit. The Rams used the 36th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft on the TCU product.
Aaron Donald’s 90.5 PFF grade suggests the 32-year-old is still playing at an elite level. The problem is that he’s the only guy on this defense that’s doing so — or even close. Los Angeles was solid against the run last season, which is part of having Donald around to clog up lanes. As long as he’s playing, Los Angeles should be a nightmare for opposing running backs. But that’s not going to mean much if the Rams don’t improve against the pass.
Last year, Los Angeles was just 24th in the league in pass DVOA. And the Rams didn’t do much of anything to address their secondary this offseason. In a passing league, that was a questionable decision by the front office. Perhaps Cobie Durant will take a big leap in his second year in the league. But the Rams have a lot invested in him and other players that weren’t exactly highly regarded as prospects. If that blind faith doesn’t end up paying dividends, this will be a bad team again.
Stafford should make this team a lot more palatable to watch, and the group might hang around a little more than last year — the Rams were just 6-10-1 against the spread in 2022. However, it’s still hard to see a path to this team winning eight games. The Rams have a middle-of-the-pack strength of schedule. When you combine that with a below-average roster, you’re probably looking at under 7.5 wins.
This appeared in the Updated VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on August 31, 2023.
Michael Lombardi: Listening to the Rams preseason broadcast team of Andrew Siciliano and Andrew Whitworth during the Raider preseason game, they kept mentioning that this was the Raiders’ first team driving down the field against the Rams’ second team. Yes, Aaron Donald was not on the field, but other than Donald, the Rams’ first and second teams look alike. There is no distinction in terms of their talent from group one to group two.
The Rams have one great player in Donald, and then some good players in Cooper Kupp, Matthew Stafford and maybe Tyler Higbee. Other than that, even the most sophisticated NFL fan would have a hard time naming their starting corners or linebackers. They will have one first-round player on defense, Donald, and no one else drafted before the third round. They might lead the league in college free agents that make their team, and if anything happens to Stafford or Donald, it could go from bad to worse quickly. Even their kicking game will feature 2023 college free agent Tanner Brown as the kicker and seventh-rounder Ethan Evans as the punter.
Sean McVay is a great offensive mind, and with Stafford and Kupp, he will scheme them to make plays. Once teams uncover the methods of McVay, he won’t have many different options. Call me skeptical about the Rams even when healthy.
Player to Watch: CB Akhello Witherspoon
Pittsburgh released Akhello Witherspoon after the corner spent two years in the Steel City. Witherspoon has now caught on in Los Angeles, where it looks like he’ll start opposite Cobie Durant. Witherspoon has drawn rave reviews from Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, and he’s a player that should benefit from Los Angeles’ lack of depth. Witherspoon has had some good years in his career — he had three picks and nine passes defended in just nine games for the Steelers in 2021 — so it isn’t outrageous to think that this low-risk, high-reward signing will work out for the Rams. Witherspoon did, however, hurt his groin towards the end of the preseason, so that might prevent him from hitting the ground running during the regular season. – Zachary Cohen
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