Los Angeles Rams Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: DAL, @PHI, @BUF, NYG, @WAS, @SF, CHI, @MIA, BYE, SEA, @TB, SF, @ARI, NE, NYJ, @SEA, ARI

Additions: DL A’Shawn Robinson (FA), EDGE Leonard Floyd (FA), RB Cam Akers (Draft), WR Van Jefferson (Draft), EDGE Terrell Lewis (Draft)

Losses: WR Brandin Cooks (Trade), S Eric Weddle (Retired), RB Todd Gurley (Cut), EDGE Dante Fowler Jr. (FA), LB Cory Littleton (FA), K Greg Zuerlein (FA), CB Nickell Robey-Coleman (FA), PR/KR Jojo Natson (FA), S Marqui Christian (FA), EDGE Terrell Lewis (Injury), DL A’Shawn Robinson (Injury), LB Travin Howard (Injury)

Analysis:

Was last year’s four-win drop just Super Bowl Hangover or indicative of who this team really is? I’d say more the latter than the former. Los Angeles made a series of all-in trades that left them with alarming cap and draft pick situations. Had they won in 2018, it might’ve all been worth it. Of course, they didn’t, so hindsight has the moves looking much more questionable.

I just can’t see the Rams running it back with a seemingly worse roster and returning to contender status. Their biggest weakness in 2019, the offensive line, returns the same underwhelming rotation. Don’t let the sack numbers fool you: they were bad last year. Sean McVay’s play-action and quick passing calls were responsible for the low sacks, not a strong line. One thing in this group’s favor is youth. With a ton of young guys on the line, betting on internal development wasn’t the worst idea.

On the other hand, expecting improvement from Jared Goff might be unrealistic. We pretty much know who he is at this point—you can rely on him to keep the gears turning in a great offense, but not to carry a bad one. He’s still a franchise quarterback; he’s just not in the league’s upper-echelon.

Unfortunately for Goff, this year’s offense looks closer to the 2019 disappointment than 2018 juggernaut. At receiver, losing Brandin Cooks will hurt a little. Only a little, though. Rookie Van Jefferson seems poised to make an early impact and Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are more than capable of picking up the slack. The tight ends should remain stout as well. Both Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett flashed last season, so this could end up being one of the best groups in the league.

In the backfield, the running back-by-committee won’t come close to matching Todd Gurley’s brilliant 2018 season. Meeting last year’s standard is far more realistic. Actually, a broken-down Gurley might still be better than the Malcolm Brown-Darrell Henderson-Cam Akers trio. The 2020 rookie seems like the only one capable of matching the new Falcon’s ceiling, though he has to get a chance first.

Even McVay deserves a little blame for last year’s fall from grace. Defenses seem to have figured out the constant jet sweep trickery, so Kid Genius needs to come up with something new. To be fair, if anyone is capable of completely reinventing his offense in one offseason, it’s the Rams coach.

After L.A.’s offense cratered last year, it could be the defenses turn in 2020. They did a remarkable job of withstanding last season’s departures, but this year’s wave is much larger and scarier. Outside of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, two of the best players at their respective positions, standouts are in short supply in this unit. For a team whose strategy has been to acquire as many stars as possible, that’s worrisome.

Ramsey’s secondary-mates are promising, but calling them elite is a reach. Maybe after the year it won’t be, though. Troy Hill, Taylor Rapp, and John Johnson have each looked great in stretches, so if they can maintain that over a whole season, the Rams may not be dead yet.

The defensive line is a similar story. We know Donald is a one-man wrecking crew, so anything the other guys can add is gravy. Michael Brockers had one foot out the door, but he’s back in the supporting role he’s held for years. Sebastian Joseph-Day is a nice complementary piece as well. If A’Shawn Robinson ever gets on the field, this group could be really good.

Sandwiched between two promising groups are the awful linebackers. Throw in the edge rushers, too. Neither position inspires much hope. L.A.’s plan to replace studs Cory Littleton and Dante Fowler is prayer, apparently. For a team so cap-strapped, how did they possibly think spending $10 million on Leonard Floyd was a good idea? If playing across from Khalil Mack doesn’t make you break out, odds are you’re never going to. Between Samson Ebukam, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, and record-fast bust Jachai Polite, the other options aren’t any better. Rookie Terrell Lewis isn’t going to transform this group upon his return, either.

Somehow, the inside linebackers might actually be worse. Before Travin Howard’s season-ending injury, this group looked bad. Now, they’re possibly the worst in the league. Troy Reeder played limited snaps next year while Micah Kiser has zero career starts and is coming off a season-ending injury. Opposing backs and tight ends might eat these guys alive.

While I only have the Rams going 7-9, a playoff berth is definitely possible. The schedule is very manageable, so if L.A. can play to their strengths while hiding their weaknesses, they could pile up wins in what should be an insane division. That’s another reason I don’t have them in the playoffs. Between San Francisco and Seattle, winning the West is pretty much off the table. Pulling out a wildcard spot in the deep NFC will tough, too.

What’s your record prediction for the Rams? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Los Angeles Chargers Season Prediction

Overview:

Schedule: @CIN, KC, CAR, @TB, @NO, NYJ, @MIA, JAX, LVR, BYE, @DEN, @BUF, NE, ATL, @LVR, DEN, @KC

Additions: OL Trai Turner (Trade), OL Bryan Bulaga (FA), DL Linval Joseph (FA), CB Chris Harris Jr. (FA), QB Justin Herbert (Draft), LB Kenneth Murray (Draft), RB Joshua Kelley (Draft)

Losses: OL Russell Okung (Trade), QB Philip Rivers (FA), RB Melvin Gordon (FA), FB Derek Watt (FA), S Adrian Phillips (FA), LB Thomas Davis (FA), DB Jaylen Watkins (FA), OL Michael Schofield (FA), S Derwin James (Injury), WR Mike Williams (Injury)

Analysis:

It really sucks seeing Derwin James injured again. After a surprising tumble in the draft, he was great as a rookie. Since then, though, he will have only played 5 out of 32 games, considering he’s expected to miss all of 2020. Injuries have quickly become a trend in his career.

While he will be missed, the defense remains excellent. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are as good as any edge duo in football. Linval Joseph should plug the one weakness from last year—stopping the run. Rookie Kenneth Murray will help on that front as well. He’ll be a difference-maker in the middle from day one while the Chargers have a bunch of unique linebackers to rotate around him. Between Justin Jones and 2019 first-round pick Jerry Tillery, L.A. is set at the other defensive tackle spot as well. Outside of underwhelming edge depth, the front seven is flawless.

The secondary will miss James, but his loss is far from crippling. Former division rival Chris Harris Jr. will join Casey Hayward and Desmond King to from a versatile and fearsome corner trio. Safety play will be an issue behind them, though. Rayshawn Jenkins returns at one spot while Nasir Adderley and his 10 career snaps will take the other. While Jenkins is solid and experienced, he isn’t good enough to compensate for his unproven positionmates. L.A. also uses three or four safeties as much as any team in football, so the underwhelming depth is even scarier. They have to be looking hard at outside options. Earl Thomas, anyone? Anthony Lynn can deny it all he wants, but they need help.

Even with the safety situation, the defense is good enough to keep the Chargers in games. They should give the offense a shot to win late pretty much every week. As you can see by my record prediction, I don’t have that side of the ball pulling through very often.

At the most important position in football, L.A. is arguably the worst in football. Just like Miami, they’ll start an uninspiring veteran with a first-round rookie expected to take over at some point. Tyrod Taylor is officially the starter, and he’ll neither win nor lose games for the team. It shouldn’t be long before the team grows tired of his conservative style and inserts Justin Herbert. I’ll call my shot and say Week 6 against the Jets, with that being the start of a 4-game stretch of nonthreatening defenses. It’s hard to expect much from him as a rookie, though he’ll make more plays—both good and bad—than Taylor. Expect a couple great opposing fantasy defense performances when he’s starting.

Opponents could feast against the Chargers all year. Despite some offseason moves, the offensive line remains a concern. Left tackle is a nightmare after trading Russell Okung. Sam Tevi is the favorite to start despite being a turnstyle at right tackle. In return for Okung, L.A. received Trai Turner. He’s a good player, but he’s missed three games in each of the last three seasons and is a perfect example of why offensive line Pro Bowl nods are meaningless. The other two interior spots are almost as scary as left tackle. The most promising spot is right tackle, where former Packer Bryan Bulaga will take over. Expect the sack number to skyrocket now that Philip Rivers and his legendary quick release are gone.

Outside of the two most important pieces, the offense is good. After dominating for years as a rotational player, Austin Ekeler will get his first starting opportunity. I don’t expect L.A. to fully unleash him, though. Expect a heavy dose of Justin Jackson and/or rookie Josh Kelley. Keenan Allen is the last proven receiver standing after Mike Williams injury. When he’s healthy, Hunter Henry is a difference maker at tight end. Don’t be surprised when the receiving numbers fall short of the Rivers years.

While the offensive outlook isn’t great, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if this team makes the playoffs. They’re going to play through the defense and run game, and are equipped to do so as well as almost anyone. They also get possibly the easiest schedule in the league, featuring the Bengals, Jaguars, Dolphins, Panthers, and Jets (depending on how you feel about them). It’ll all come down to whether the offensive line can hold up and the quarterbacks can make enough plays.

What’s your record prediction for the Chargers? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.

Looking Back…Who Won the Bills-Rams Sammy Watkins Trade?

The History

Watkins was electric to start his career. A solid rookie season was followed up by a star-making sophomore year, and it looked as if Buffalo would have a superstar wideout for years to come. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

Watkins battled through various ailments throughout his first two years, though nothing out of the ordinary for an NFL player. During the 2016 offseason, his injury issues started to get more serious, as he fractured his left foot during a workout. That season, Watkins was placed on IR after a teammate stepped on and reinjured his foot.

Despite coming back to finish out the season, he’s never fully returned to his old explosive self. After multiple setbacks and surgeries on that same foot, Buffalo deemed the situation serious enough to trade away the promising youngster.

Los Angeles viewed Watkins as a worthwhile risk. For a team riding one of the longest playoff droughts in American sports, almost any risk was worthwhile.

If he could stay healthy, Watkins was worth far more than Buffalo’s asking price. Especially to a team desperate for receiver help and general star power—the Rams were entering their second season back in L.A. and struggling to gain fans.

Los Angeles Post Trade

Photo by Alex Gallardo/AP

If you just look at Watkins’ stats, he was a huge disappointment. In 15 games, he posted 39 catches for 593 yards. Those are unacceptable numbers for a supposed number one receiver.

However, this is one of those cases where the numbers are deceiving. A receiving core that was supposed to be a huge weakness unexpectedly became a strength of the team. Rookie Cooper Kupp and free agent signing Robert Woods greatly outperformed expectations while Todd Gurley was one of the best pass-catching backs in the league.

Some of their success can be accredited to the attention Watkins received deep down the field, as multiple players and avid film watchers noted. Sure, it would’ve been nice for him to have better individual stats, but I doubt first-year coach Sean McVay was complaining much about the offense. In 2017, the Rams rode the highest-scoring offense in the league to their first playoff birth since 2004.

Watkins’ contract with the Chiefs speaks more about his value than any counting stats. After one season in Los Angeles, the Watkins signed a 3-year, $48 million deal to head to Missouri. Admittedly, I’ve called that an overpay since the day it was signed, but it speaks to how teams view him. L.A. also deserves credit here for avoiding the sunk cost fallacy by not overpaying Watkins themselves.

Obviously, one year of subpar production was not what the Rams were hoping for, but I don’t think the Watkins era was as bad as some may think. He played for pennies in L.A. and didn’t cost a ton to acquire. His departure also netted the team a third-round compensatory pick in 2019.

Compensatory picks are often wrongly when reviewing trades. In a roundabout way, the Rams traded a second-round pick for Watkins and a third, albeit with that pick coming a year later. They also hit on the pick they directly received, with Joseph-Day developing into a quality starter.

Los Angeles essentially got a year of good receiver play for peanuts, even if they had higher hopes at the time of the trade. I’m sure making the Super Bowl the year he left helped ease any pain of what-if questions, too.

Buffalo Post Trade

Photo by Matthew Healey/UPI

Under new coach Sean McDermott, the Bills joined the Rams in the 2017 postseason, ending an 18-year drought of their own. The team greatly surpassed expectations and showed no signs of missing their star receiver.

In that sense, the Bills did a great job trading away Watkins. A lot of teams would’ve kept him with the hope he returned to form. Realistically, that was unlikely to ever happen in Buffalo, so dealing him before he hit free agency was smart.

It’s hard to look at their compensation and call them a huge winner, though. Gaines played well as a starter in 2017 before signing with the Browns the following offseason. He’s back in Buffalo now, but that should play no part in evaluating this trade. And while the pick they received was used to get Allen, it was a relatively minor part of the package. As Watkins was still on his rookie contract, the deal didn’t save them much money, either.

Given all that, it’s tough to say they received a lot in return for Watkins. However, the current state of the franchise means they made the right choice. Another year-plus of Watkins may have surpassed the value of Gaines and the pick, but keeping him also would have taken them down a different path than this current one.

The Bills are the favorites to win their division and dark horse Super Bowl contenders, so if trading Watkins helped get them here, it was all worth it. Hell, they even have a new star receiver in Stefon Diggs. There should be no regrets on Buffalo’s side.

Final Verdict: Rams Win

Overall, this trade was solid for both teams. Buffalo may be in the better place today, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about who got more value out of the swapped assets, and that’s the Rams. They got an inexpensive receiver who helped transform their roster, a gem at defensive tackle, and a high comp pick once Watkins left. In exchange for a decent starting corner and a late second-round pick, that’s a win.

Who do you think won the Watkins trade? What trade should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.