2019 NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 1: Offensive Skill Positions

Welcome to the first article of my 2019 NFL free agency prediction series!  Today, I’ll be sharing my predictions for where offensive skill position players (QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs) end up signing.  Where will Le’Veon Bell be headed after a year away from football?  Where will Nick Foles find himself a starting job?  Keep reading to find out what I think, and you check out my tentative schedule for the entire series below.  In later articles, I will include links to the previously posted articles:

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2019 NFL Free Agency Predictions

Series Schedule

Monday, March 4: NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 1: Offensive Skill Positions

Wednesday, March 6: NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 2: Linemen

Saturday, March 9: NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 3: Linebackers and Defensive Backs

 

QB

In my eyes, Foles is the only viable starter that’s currently on the free agent market. Blake Bortles or Ryan Tannehill could eventually be released/traded, but for now, the choice is targeting Foles or waiting for the draft. Unlike other QB needy teams, the Jags could easily return to the playoffs with the right QB leading them. That being said, a veteran QB makes sense. The Giants, Redskins, and others will go for a combo of a rookie and a veteran mentor.

For Washington, Alex Smith will not be able to serve as a veteran mentor considering his severe knee injury in 2018. Colt McCoy isn’t a viable starter in my eyes either. However, Teddy Bridgewater is a free agent who has experience starting, so he could serve as Washington’s bridge starter (no pun intended) until their young QB, whether it be Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, or someone else, has time to develop.

The Bucs and Dolphins will also be on the lookout for veteran backups. Look for them to resign their 2018 backup QBs, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brock Osweiler. The Bills could also use some depth at QB behind Josh Allen, so bringing back their former QB, Tyrod Taylor, could be smart.

That would leave Josh McCown as the best free agent QB left. I have him going to LA to backup Philip Rivers until they draft Rivers’ successor.

RB

Viable Starters

Bell might be the best player on the open market in a long time. The Steelers refused to pay him what he wanted. But who will be up to pay him? He reportedly wants $25 million annually. I don’t think anyone will give him that, but I think he’d settle for $20 million/year if he ever wants to play again. If the Eagles free up enough cap between Foles’ departure and a release or two, they will be willing to pay for him for some answers at RB. Right now, they have a surplus of RBs, but no clear cut starter.

I see Ajayi, Philly’s last starting RB, leading a refined RB committee in Tampa. Expect an aging Adrian Peterson to do the same in Indianapolis. On the contrary, Ingram and Coleman will leave RB committees to become full time starters on RB needy teams. Coleman will replace Kareem Hunt, while Ingram will replace Marshawn Lynch (I see him retiring). The Ravens’ backfield is getting pretty crowded after the emergence of Gus Edwards, but I think Alex Collins will wind up back in Baltimore.

RB2 Options

The 49ers may have Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida at RB, but a veteran mentor like 3-time Super Bowl champion LeGarrette Blount could be helpful if they resort to an RB committee.  Yeldon will serve a similar role in Green Bay, playing alongside young RBs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.  The Steelers could also use a veteran in their backfield behind new starter James Conner, and I think Martin could be a good fit.  Despite leading the Rams in the playoffs, Anderson may have to settle for a backup/committee role as well.  He could be a good replacement for Coleman in Atlanta.  Murray was successful in Minnesota, and there’s room for him in the backfield, so I see him coming back.  With Coleman headed to Kansas City, the Chiefs will move on from Spencer Ware as he heads to Dallas to backup Ezekiel Elliott.

WR/TE

Top Tier WRs

Sam Darnold showed flashes of talent in his rookie year.  I think a better RB and a #1 receiver could make all the difference for him.  They should chase after Tate aggressively if they cannot land Antonio Brown (I have him going to San Fran).  Bryant barely played last year, but he still could serve as a WR1.  The Bills could be a fit, but if they pass up on Bryant, they could also take D.K. Metcalf in Round 1 of the draft.

Cobb looks to be leaving Green Bay, and the Steelers may seek depth options at receiver after Antonio Brown leaves.  Cobb could be a fit to play across from JuJu Smith-Schuster.  The Lions have no clear cut WR1 after Tate’s departure, but if they sign a lower tier option like John Brown, Matthew Stafford could look evenly split targets among Brown, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay.

Moncrief and Wallace aren’t viable #1 receivers at this point, but they could still be a big help for WR needy teams.  Moncrief could be a good option for the Pats, rather than overspending for Golden Tate.  I have Wallace returning to the Eagles to play alongside Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.  This trio never played together despite being lined up as Philly’s top 3 receivers on the depth chart in 2018 training camp.

WR Depth Options

The Bills need more than just Bryant or Metcalf – maybe they can pair up Bryant with Beasley, his former teammate.  The Ravens could also use some more depth at WR.  Funchess isn’t a top tier option, but if they cannot land or draft someone top tier, he will have to do.  Maybe they can pair Funchess with a rookie WR1.  The Chiefs may not bring in anyone new, but they could bring back Conley to play behind Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.

The Colts could use some more experienced options across from T.Y. Hilton – Matthews could be a good choice.  They could always draft someone to split time as the #2 receiver with him.  Williams upped his value this season, but I still cannot see many teams paying him WR1 money.  The Jets could use another depth option behind Tate, especially if Robby Anderson leaves.  The Patriots need all the quality WRs they can afford, so Dorsett could be a good option to bring back considering his developing chemistry with Tom Brady.

Top Tier TEs

Eifert has a concerning injury history, and I think it’s time for Cincinnati to move on.  But Detroit could pair him with a drafted TE to ensure security at the position.  Kroft will return to Cincy with Eifert on his way out.  Kroft will return to Cincy with Eifert on his way out.  The Saints could also use a veteran TE alongside the young Dan Arnold, and Cook might be the most consistent veteran on the market.  It would be smart for the Texans to target Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson in the draft, but signing a veteran in the meantime couldn’t hurt, and James could be a good mentor for their new TE.

Lewis and Rodgers are not cut out to be a team’s #1 tight end at this point.  But they can provide depth as a TE2, with Lewis backing up Vance McDonald and Rodgers backing up Chris Herndon IV.

WR/TE Depth Options

Darnold needs more consistent receivers, so I could see the Jets moving on from Robby Anderson.  Anderson could be a good depth piece in Cleveland, serving as the WR2 over Antonio Callaway.  Humphries is also going into free agency expecting WR2 money.  But I think he will have to settle for a little less, and if his price drops, the Pats may be willing to pay for him for additional depth.  He is a good fit in New England.  Despite a disappointing 2018, I could still see Benjamin contributing behind Davante Adams in Green Bay.  They’ll need to draft a younger receiver to play alongside them though.

If the Lions sign anyone else at TE besides Eifert, I don’t think it will be their 2018 tight end Luke Willson.  Josh Hill has a slightly better track record and could be a good bargain for the Lions.  I see Willson returning to Seattle to compete for playing time with Will Dissly, Ed Dickson, and others.  Kendricks was the most consistent of Green Bay’s tight ends this year, so look for them to retain him alongside Jimmy Graham.

 

Wow, that’s a lot of quality free agents.  The madness will begin in a little over a week.  Stay tuned for more predictions later in the week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

Welcome to my 1st of several Super Bowl LIII Preview articles.  The match-up is set, the teams are in Atlanta for Opening Night, and today I will be looking at how the Patriots and Rams got here and taking a first look at the match-up.  What can we expect from this year’s big game?  Keep reading to find out what I think.  You can also check out my entire Super Bowl LIII preview schedule below.  I will be posting preview articles throughout the week as festivities in Atlanta take place.

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Super Bowl LIII: Official Boston Sports Mania Preview Schedule

January 27 or 28: Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

January 28 or 29: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 29 or 30: The Case for the Rams: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 30 or 31: Super Bowl LIII Fast Facts and Their Significance

January 31 or February 1: Super Bowl LIII: Final Prediction, Projected Stats & MVP

February 1 or 2: Super Bowl LIII Video Preview

February 2 or 3: The Final Countdown: Final Injury Report, Outlook Before the Game (Including iMovie Trailer)

February 3: Enjoy the game and stay tuned for my recap after the game!

How They Got Here

Patriots

The Patriots were off to a rough start this season, going 1-2 in their first three games without WR Julian Edelman.  However, they brought in WR Josh Gordon to add back WR depth they’d lost in the off-season.  Gordon thrived in his first game with the Pats, and when Edelman returned, they made for a dynamic duo that led the offense to dominate.

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Though they started 7-2, they lost their third game in Tennessee before the bye as TE Rob Gronkowski sat out an extra game after an injury.  After the bye, they did win a couple games, playing the Jets and Vikings.  But after that their road struggles continued as they lost in Miami and in Pittsburgh.  After 14 games, the Pats were 9-5, and they were at risk of missing out on a first round bye.  They had the tiebreaker over the Texans, but the Texans were 10-4 at this point.  The Pats needed to win one more game than Houston.

It wasn’t a good sign when WR Josh Gordon was suspended indefinitely once again for marijuana, but the Pats took care of the Bills and Jets easily in New England.  They nearly shut out the Jets in Week 17!  They did grab hold of the first round bye, but the question was, were these blowouts against the league’s worst a fluke, or were the Pats legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

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The fans’ doubts were silenced when the Patriots dominated their Divisional Round match-up, hosting the Chargers.  They would head to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in the AFC title game.  This was bound to be a close one, especially because the Patriots lost the last time they had played on the road.  They were off to a strong start, but they began to fall behind late in the game.

With two minutes to go, it was 28-24 Chiefs.  The Pats had the ball in what was still a one possession game.  They marched down the field and Burkhead scored the TD, but they scored a little too fast.  They left enough time for the Chiefs to add a field goal to tie it up  at 31-31 and force overtime.

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After that the Patriots won the toss, and though it was a nail biter with many close calls and 3rd downs, the Pats made their way down the field for the TD, winning the game 37-31!  This was Brady’s third OT victory in a postseason game, making him the first player to do so.  This was also the first time two playoff games had gone into overtime in one day.

You can read more about the AFC Championship at the link below:

Back to their Roots: Pats Dynasty Continues after OT Thriller

The Patriots are now headed to their 4th Super Bowl in 5 years, as Brady looks to ‘Blitz for Six’ and Gronk looks to potentially end his career with a bang.  The best part is, as intriguing as a Brady vs. Drew Brees match-up would be, they’re playing the Los Angeles Rams, taking the Brady-Belichick dynasty back to their roots.  Back in 2001, Brady led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl victory over the QB Kurt Warner-led St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams.  You could also compare that victory to this year’s AFC Championship when Brady and co. took down QB Patrick Mahomes II and an explosive Chiefs offense after coming in as 3 point underdogs.

Rams

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The last time the Rams won the NFC was back in 2001, when QB Kurt Warner led an offense known as ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ to their second Super Bowl in three years.  They would face QB Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.  Though they had won in 1999, they could not get past Brady and Belichick, who won their first championship together and started a legendary dynasty.  17 years later, the Rams will seek revenge.

After Warner left St. Louis, things were ugly for the Rams for much of the 2000s.  But in 2015, they began rebuilding, drafting star RB Todd Gurley in 2015, trading up in 2016 to draft the QB of their future: Jared Goff, firing head coach Jeff Fisher, and hiring the young Sean McVay to replace Fisher.  To top off their rebuild, they moved back to Los Angeles as they seeked a culture change heading in to the second half of the 2010s.

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In 2017, Goff, Gurley, and McVay led the team back to the playoffs with help from a star-studded defense led by DT Aaron Donald.  However, as the #3 seed, they lost on Wild Card Weekend.  The 2017-18 off-season was a busy one for the Rams.  The Rams made it clear they wanted to win now, exchanging WR Sammy Watkins, TE Lance Kendricks, DE Robert Quinn, OLB Alec Ogletree, and CB Trumaine Johnson for WR Brandin Cooks, DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, and CB Sam Shields.  Later in the season, they added RB C.J. Anderson and pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. as well.  They now had one of the best secondaries in the league, Gurley and Anderson made for a dominant RB duo, and WRs Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods broke out, giving Goff a WR trio for most of the season.  Kupp has since torn his ACL and ended his season, but the Rams dominated in all aspects for most of the season.

After starting 8-0, the Rams headed to New Orleans, where they lost their first game in a shootout.  The Rams lost WR Cooper Kupp the next game despite a win.  Without Kupp, they weren’t as dominant, going 4-2.  But they took care of business against the Cowboys, winning 30-22.  They would travel to New Orleans once again for the NFC Championship.

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They were trailing for most of the game as expected, but they came back to tie it up at 20.  The Saints were going for one last drive.  When QB Drew Brees threw it to WR Tommylee Lewis, he was hoping for a first down.  However, the pass was broken up on a hard hit by CB Nickell Robey-Coleman.  I am not alone in my belief that the play by Robey-Coleman was blatant pass interference.  But the refs didn’t call it.  The Saints made the field goal.  But the Rams had time to respond with a field goal of their own.

The game went to overtime, and New Orleans won the toss.  But after S John Johnson picked off QB Drew Brees, the Rams drove down the field, kicked another field goal, and won the game, 26-23.  Saints fans were heartbroken.  But the Rams were ecstatic – they had won the NFC for the first time in 17 years.  This was only their third Super Bowl appearance, the other two coming during the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ era.

Championship weekend and the weeks leading up to it were very exciting.  But moving on to the Super Bowl, the Rams will take on the Patriots in just 6 days.  Who will come out on top?  Keep reading to hear my initial take on the match-up.

First Look: Patriots vs. Rams

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This is definitely going to be close.  The Pats aren’t coming off a great season by Brady-Belichick standards.  They went 11-5 for the first time since 2009, and the first time since their run of seven straight AFC Championships (now eight) began.  But the Pats have dominated offensively in each of their last 4 games, and they have motivation going on as QB Tom Brady looks to win his sixth ring and TE Rob Gronkowski looks to potentially end his career with one more.  Until this year, Gronk had been spoiled year after year with records of 12-4 or higher.  Despite a rough regular season, the Pats will look to make up for it with another Super Bowl victory (which would be Gronk’s third).  To get past a difficult Rams defense, they’ll have to use a large variety of plays to try and fake them out.  If they are as strong offensively as they have been in the last 4 games, they should be capable of winning this.  But the Rams’ D might be the toughest New England has faced since their latest win streak.

Coming off a first round playoff exit and a busy off-season that got fans excited, the Rams went 13-3 and earned the #2 seed in the NFC behind only the New Orleans Saints (who they lost to).  After being ‘overthrown’ by Brady-Belichick dynasty in 2001, they will look to dethrone the Pats in their return to the Super Bowl.  In order to do so, not only will they need QB Jared Goff and the RB duo of Gurley and Anderson to step it up, they’ll need the entire offense around Goff and Gurley to thrive against a mediocre New England defense.

Who will win Super Bowl LIII?  What is the game plan for each team?  What Super Bowl and season-long stats will burden, encourage and/or influence each team?  Find out this week as I release more articles each day.

 

Scouting Report: Los Angeles Rams

Football is back in LA!  The Rams moved to the city in the off season.  The NFL was desperate for an LA team, and this is a big move.  This LA team is intriguing, but will they surprise people and thrive in a tough division?  Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Aaron Donald and many other key players on this team could be deciding factors.  Today, we go over what areas are doing well, which areas need work, and what to expect of the 2016 Rams.

3 Players to Watch

1. Michael Brockers, DT

The Rams front seven is already loaded.  Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree headline the position and Mark Barron and Akeem Ayers are also major contributors.  But one guy who I think has lacked attention in the past and may draw people in this season is defensive tackle Michael Brockers.  The 2012 first round pick has quietly racked up 14.5 sacks in his 4 year career, but has never reached six in one season.  Brockers has started for most of his career, but never really has broken out.  He’s in a contract year, and if he wants an extension with the Rams badly enough, he’ll break through this season.  I could see him with 8 or 9 sacks at the end of the season, and he will make a fierce Rams pass rush even better.  They already picked up the fifth year option, so it looks like he has one more year to prove himself.

2. Jared Goff, QB

Jared Goff did not look ready to start at minicamp, but he still has training camp.  He will make or break this Rams team.  His success is what will decide this team’s fate.  I think if he can get comfortable with the Rams system, he will dominate and thrive.  Will Goff perform well this season?  It will be tough to thrive without any strong receiving weapons, but I think Jared Goff, the surprise No. 1 overall pick, is capable of doing so.

3. Tavon Austin, WR

Tavon Austin did finally break through last season, but somehow Kenny Britt is ahead of him on the depth chart?  Kenny Britt is not a legitimate receiver, fantasy-wise or in real life, but Austin is a sleeper to be a legitimate weapon.  Britt should not be the WR1.  You may think the Rams now have no receiving weapons, but they have several underrated weapons, Tavon Austin, Lance Kendricks, Pharoh Cooper, Tyler Higbee, I could go on all day.  But will they break through and do well enough for Jared Goff to start strong right off the bat?

 

3 Questions That Must Be Answered

1. Will a weakness at o-lineman affect the make or break offense?

The offensive line, especially the interior offensive line, is LA’s major weakness.  If they continue to have problems, it will make it tougher for Jared Goff to adjust, making it harder for the receivers who want to rack up some surprise yards.  That offensive line better step it up, or it could ruin the Rams’ entire offensive scheme, and make defenses bull through to pressure Goff, Gurley and the receivers more easily.  The offensive line is yet another unit with a make or break season ahead.

2. Will the secondary top off a powerful defense?

The front seven is already a consistent source. But the Rams have holes in the secondary, and if they can get it together, the defense will be among the top.  Trumaine Johnson has just one more year in LA, so they need to not just find more talent for this year, but extra for the future.  T.J. McDonald could be a source, but the 2013 3rd rounder has not yet broken through.  They have some names at corner, Coty Sensabaugh got 2 picks last year with Tennessee, E.J. Gaines also got two picks in 2014 after missing the entire 2015 season.   But the Rams still have a serious hole at free safety, and that could bring down their defense, especially when they’re still trying to find guys at corner and strong safety.  This entire secondary needs to get it together, and if it can, this defense will add to an already strong defensive division.

3. Which sleepers will break through, and which will be duds?

The Rams have a lot of sleepers on offense, and with the defense already doing its thing, and well, their performance could make or break the team.  Will Tavon Austin continue to get better?  I don’t know, I can’t really see him doing much more than he did for the team last year, but you never know.  I think Kenny Britt has already proved that he can’t be much of a help, but he must currently be WR1 for a reason.  He was a 1st rounder in 2009, and he does have 25 career TDs, but is the Rams the right fit for him?  He’s not puting up the same numbers he did, and he’s either a bad fit, or is getting old.  I can’t see Brian Quick doing much either.  He’s in a downward direction as well, but Pharoh Cooper has a lot of upside and was a good draft pick, along with Mike Thomas.  But I think the Rams have the most hidden potential at tight end.  Lance Kendricks could become a big name with experience and consistency.  Tyler Higbee may pay off after being drafted.  I see several tight ends making a splash in 2016, not just in LA, but all over the league.  There are more potential Gronks out there.  It’s a tough position to be in, but there are opportunities to shine.

 

3 Bold Predictions

1. Todd Gurley will be one of four RBs that surpass 1400 yards

This may come as a surprise to you.  Most of the older running backs are on a major decline or already retired.  But the younger generation of running backs is out to dominate.  Le’ Veon Bell could be on pace for some serious numbers if he stays healthy and out of trouble.  I also like Todd Gurley to dominate again.  Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson could stack up some big numbers as well.  A couple older RBs are also still getting into greatness.  I think Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy will have big years too, Peterson is still unstoppable, and McCoy should probably adjust to the Bills system this year.  He was good last year, but got hurt and was a little less dominant than usual.  I think he’ll bounce back.  Eddie Lacy could even surpass 1400 yards this year.  I think Gurley, along with Peterson, McCoy and Le’ Veon Bell will top 1400 yards this year.  The NFL does have more strong wde receivers, but they do have some explosive RBs as well, even in a receiver friendly year.

2. The Rams will lead the NFC West in sacks

The Rams do already have a strong pass rush, but in a tough defensive division, they have competition.  Even the 49ers have a better defense than offense.  But I think that the Rams have a better pass rush than you might think, and this year, Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron, Michael Brockers and Akeem Ayers, will all band. together, with full power and strength, and hoard a ton of sacks.  More than the Seahawks or Cardinals put up, and they won’t just lead the division.  They’ll lead it by far, and maybe even take a spot in the NFC’s top 3.  That’s just my opinion.  But can the offense stay consistent, and make a dependable playoff contender of the Rams?

3. Lance Kendricks will score 10 TDs in the regular season

The Rams have plenty of big sleepers, but I have the most faith in tight end Lance Kendricks.  Kendricks has shown some pretty great things, but now in a starting role, he needs to show more consistency.  I think Kendricks is capable of scoring 10 TDs if he gets reps.  Whether or not this team functions or wins games, this guy will be a breakout candidate.  I think the offensive line will make it a lot harder for this offense to thrive, but I still see a lot of potential in Kendricks.

 

Schedule Breakdown

The LA Rams are in a good spot, but holes around the offense could cause them to fall apart of inconsistency, especially with a weak offensive line, which is never good and just makes things harder for them.  They open the season in San Francisco.  I think this defense will be one of many to overwhelm the Rams, and they will drop this game on the road.  I think the Seahawks defense will also do extremely well against the Rams.  The Rams will not top them, even at home.  The tough schedule just goes on after that.

A young Buccaneers team with a revamped defense should be too strong for the Rams in Tampa Bay, the Cardinals will present another, unbeatable, tough defense, especially on the road, and don’t sleep on the Bills.  Injuries and all, with the draft they had, a revamped defense of their own should edge out the Rams.  Even with bad defense, in Detroit, this underrated Lions team will beat a Rams team who’s offense just cannot find the missing puzzle piece.  Trust me, it will happen, but the start of the season will be a rough ride.  The Giants revamped front seven should top the Rams as well, even in London, a neutral location that the Rams have had a lot of games in.  Yes, at the bye, they will be win-less.

The Panthers defense should be another tough one that pressures Jared Goff and the o-line, another loss for them.  In New York, I don’t think they can catch the Jets, who have a strong defense as well.  But then comes a game at home against the Dolphins.  By this point, Jared Goff will have gotten way more comfortable and will be fed up with losing the first 9 games.  The Rams should edge an aging and weakening Dolphins defense, overwhelm the offense, and take the easy W.  The Saints offense should then take advantage of the Rams weak secondary, especially at home.  Bill Belichick and the Pats should find the next week easy.

But then they come home to host the Falcons.  The same Falcons who have their own inconsistency on offense and defense.  The Rams will again crush them, as they look like the kind of team who will dominate when they have the right formula.  Then, in the last three weeks, Seattle and Arizona are unbeatable, but they will top the 49ers on their home turf.  The Rams are actually better than San Francisco.

 

My Prediction

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The Rams are the kind of team that typically struggles, but when they do well, they dominate.  They have the pieces on offense and defense, they just need to put them together.  I see 3, 4 maybe even 5 wins if they’re lucky, but a tough schedule makes things 2 times harder.