Super Bowl hangover is like a nagging itch that won’t go away. Year after year, teams that have made the Super Bowl have floundered in the years directly after the big game; with the New England Patriots as the only standouts.
This is a strange and outstandingly usual theme within the NFL as dynasties don’t happen. In a league in which injuries rule overall, an organization will be lucky to make it to a Super Bowl once in a decade. The Rams made it to the big game for the first time since the early 2000’s this past season, eventually losing to the Patriots, but they showed life after a decade-plus of dormancy. This Rams team now faces a challenge that has thwarted many that have come before them – the Super Bowl hangover.
First, we need to tackle the many reasons and factors that could keep the Rams in Super Bowl contention this upcoming year. In no specific order, they are as follows: new additions, recent player losses, coaching changes, the strength of schedule, and expectations. All of these factors matter and the Rams season will hinge on them.
Rams New Additions
*Note* Rookies are not listed as new additions. Check out our stat projections for the Rams 2019 draft class.
The Rams had an exciting offseason and one of the first big bubbles to pop in free agency was Safety Eric Weddle. Weddle spent the last two years with the Baltimore Ravens and has been on a steady decline during that timespan. Although he has been getting worse, Weddle ranked as the 10th best safety in the league, per Pro Football Focus, with his tackling on the downturn and his coverage staying steady. Weddle earned an 80.7 grade in 2018. Pairing budding-star John Johnson III with Weddle in the back-end of the defense will make for a top-end safety duo and one of the best in the league.
Pairing these two up in this section seemed fitting for the duo. Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen are two enigmas that Rams fans have been wondering about for the past year. With limited snaps, Noteboom has shown some solemn promise, earning a 70.8 grade which is above-average among left tackles leaguewide. Now, with an opening at left guard, Noteboom has a chance to make his name known and with offensive line coach Aron Kromer at the helm of his development, there’s a lot of reason for optimism for the upcoming season.
Allen is another name in the shadows on the Rams 2018 roster. The fourth-round selection out of Michigan State played mostly in the preseason and didn’t get action in the regular season due to the Rams’ supremely healthy offensive line. In 2019, this will change. Allen will get the lion’s share of snaps at center. Kromer has shown complete confidence in him this offseason. Expect Allen to grow and use tools he learned by sitting on the bench all of last year.
Clay Matthews III
Clay Matthews has been a Green Bay Packer for what has seemed like a lifetime, but now he’s with the Rams. Matthews was a controversial signing, but he adds veteran leadership to a young edge group and linebacking core. Matthews was given a 65.6 grade by Pro Football Focus last season, and he is only getting older. However, veterans like him are a necessity when it comes to winning Super Bowls. The Rams will likely use him in pass-only scenarios as an edge-rusher, and he will make the most out of his opportunities in that spot.
In the most enigmatic and sleep-inducing move of the offseason, the Rams brought quarterback Blake Bortles to come into the fray to back up Jared Goff. Bortles has won his share of games but also has had his share of embarrassing moments. This signing is as much of a win for him as it is for the front office. Bortles now gets a chance to improve his game behind a Pro Bowl quarterback and a great coach in Sean McVay.
For the Rams, this move fortifies the quarterback room and gets rid of the lackluster play that the team had with Sean Mannion. Bortles ranked 29 of 32 starting quarterbacks from last year, per Pro Football Focus. Even with that staggering number coming with him, Bortles should easily win the number two job and sit behind Goff for a season.
Rodger Saffold will be the most missed ex-Rams player this upcoming year. Saffold was ranked the ninth-best guard in the league last year, and he was the longest-tenured Rams player on the roster. His leadership will be irreplaceable, but his play can be.
As mentioned before, Joe Noteboom will be taking Saffold’s spot, and he won’t replace his productivity right away, but he will have the opportunity to develop over the next few years. Saffold’s punishing lead blocks in the run game and rock-solid pass protection were some of the lone bright spots the past nine years. He will be missed, but maybe not as much as some think.
John Sullivan has been a staple in the offensive line since Sean McVay’s hiring in 2017. In 2018 however, Sullivan’s play took a significant drop as he was ranked the 23rd starting center in the NFL. Both Sullivan and Austin Blythe were the weakest points in the Rams offensive line, but Sullivan was by far the worst. The former Minnesota Vikings center has been in the league eleven years, and his loss from the team might be an improvement once Brian Allen and Jared Goff develop chemistry.
Ndamukong Suh was only in Los Angeles for one year, but he ranked as the 20th-best interior defensive linemen in the NFL, grading at 82.6, per Pro Football Focus. Suh had a dampened regular season. As many noticed, he regularly took plays off while still finding ways to be effective. During the playoffs, Suh took his game to another level, and the pair of him and Aaron Donald were nearly unstoppable.
The Rams will miss Suh, but the team drafted nose tackle Greg Gaines to play a more traditional 3-4. he may not be as dominant as Suh right away, but he’ll still be a viable option.
Rams Coaching Changes
Zac Taylor Out, Shane Waldron In:
The Sean McVay coaching tree is growing by the year. Former Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur earned a head coaching job in Green Bay with the Packers, and now Zac Taylor will get his opportunity in Cincinnati as well.
While Taylor was the offensive coordinator, this remains Sean McVay’s offense. Shane Waldron, a familiar face in the Rams organization, will step in and have a more significant role with the offense. Waldron will replicate what LaFleur and Taylor did because of the system Sean McVay and offensive assistant Jedd Fisch have in place.
Wes Phillips Continues Family Destiny
Wes Phillips, son of Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, will now get an opportunity to work alongside his father. Phillips will coach the tight ends, after experience as an offensive assistant across the NFC East with Dallas and Washington. With a talented core, Phillips can put his stamp on a position group with a lot of talent.
Eric Henderson Looks to Fortify Defensive Line
Eric Henderson could have been the most effective pick-up the Rams had this offseason in terms of coaching. Henderson spent the last two years coaching the Los Angeles Chargers talented defensive line. The former Chargers coach will now head to the other side of Los Angeles to coach the likes of Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers.
Zac Robinson Brings Analytical Spark to Rams:
The most shocking hire of the group is Zac Robinson. Robinson was employed at Pro Football Focus and focused primarily on quarterbacks. He will do the same with the Rams. Robinson could provide a new perspective that could push Goff to the next level.
Rams Strength of Schedule
The Rams will have the 31st most difficult schedule in 2019 which looks like this:
Week 1 – at Panthers. Sept. 8, 10 a.m.
Week 2 – vs. Saints. Sept. 15, 1:25 p.m.
Week 3 – at Browns (SNF). Sept. 22, 5:20 p.m.
Week 4 – vs. Buccaneers. Sept. 29, 1:05 p.m.
Week 5 – at Seahawks. Oct. 3, 5:20 p.m.
Week 6 – vs. 49ers. Oct. 13, 1:05 p.m.
Week 7 – at Atlanta. Oct. 20, 10 a.m.
Week 8 – vs. Bengals (London). Oct. 27, 10 a.m.
Week 9 – BYE
Week 10 – at Steelers. Nov. 10, 1:25 p.m.
Week 11 – vs. Bears (SNF). Nov. 17, 5:20 p.m.
Week 12 – vs. Ravens. Nov. 25, 5:15 p.m.
Week 13 – at Cardinals. Dec. 2, 11:05 p.m.
Week 14 – vs. Seahawks. Dec. 8, 5:20 p.m.
Week 15 – at Cowboys. Dec. 15, 1:25 p.m.
Week 16 – at 49ers. Dec. 21/22, TBD
Week 17 – vs. Cardinals. Dec. 29, 1:25 p.m.
The first three weeks of the season will undoubtedly be a test to see where the team is. Carolina, New Orleans, then Cleveland is sure to be one of the tougher stretches of any team’s schedule across the league. The Panthers and Saints will both be playoff contenders in the NFC while the Browns might be the most talented roster in the AFC.
From there it gets slightly easier with the Buccaneers, Seahawks, and 49ers, but won’t be automatic wins by any means. The Falcons and Bengals will get the Rams into the bye week.
After the bye, the Rams face three good-to-great defenses in the Steelers, Bears, and Ravens. These three teams will give the Rams some trouble, but hosting the Bears and Ravens at home will help. Weeks 13-17 have the Rams facing all three division rivals with the Cowboys mixed in the middle.
If the Rams are going to three-peat as division champions, they will need to be just as dominant in their division games as they have the last two years.
Expectations for the Rams
The most polarizing aspect of the Rams’ upcoming season is expectations. After their Super Bowl loss, fans have witnessed analysts and sports-talk personalities saying teams have figured out Sean McVay out and the Rams are headed in the wrong direction.
Many still have them as a division-clinching team, and an NFC contender as well.
Opinions about the Super Bowl loss are mixed and will sit with people until the start of next year. The Rams will, for the first time, have legitimate doubters and critics of their every move. For home fans, expectations are now high as the Rams have proven that they are annual contenders, which is much different than it was the previous ten years.
To avoid Super Bowl hangover is to avoid allergies in spring: nearly impossible. The Rams are one of the teams that have retained most talent, added vets, and have had continuity in the coaching staff – they have the formula.
However, it all comes down to execution and mental focus. Playing that extra two months of the season puts a lot of extra fatigue on the body and mind. The Rams aren’t just fighting against their opponents and doubters across the sports world; they are fighting against the meanest hangover in the game. This upcoming season will be the first test for a potential perennial contender; the first obstacle is one that you can’t even see: the obvious, the terrifying, the daunting, the one and only Super Bowl Hangover.