By Sam McPherson

It was an amazing season for the Los Angeles Rams, even though it ended short with a first-round playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last Saturday. The Rams won the NFC West Division and finished with a winning record, two accomplishments the team had not achieved since “The Greatest Show on Turf” era of the early 2000s.

With first-year head coach Sean McVay at the helm, the Rams organization shed a dozen seasons’ worth of futility and set itself up nicely for the immediate future in a division that is currently in flux. Expectations will be high for Los Angeles in 2018: a Super Bowl appearance is within the team’s reach.

What Went Wrong In 2017

Under the previous coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams often featured very good defenses. Even in 2016, when Fisher was fired, the L.A. defense finished ninth in the NFL in yards allowed. This season, while the team reversed its course in many different ways, the defense took too many steps backward, finishing 19th in yards allowed.

The Rams did force 28 turnovers on the way to finishing 10th in the NFL with a plus-seven turnover margin, but overall, the defense ended up being a weak spot for the squad in 2017. In over half of the regular season games, Los Angeles gave up at least 366 yards of offense to its opponents. The Rams defense will have to be better next season if the team wants to take the next step.

What Went Right In 2017

McVay invigorated a talented offensive roster that had constantly underachieved under Fisher, and the Rams finished the 2017 season as the top-scoring team in the NFL. Second-year quarterback Jared Goff played like the No. 1 overall pick he was in 2016, improving his QB rating from 63.6 in his rookie year to 100.4 this season. That was an amazing improvement, as Goff was winless in seven starts prior to this year.

Additionally, third-year running back Todd Gurley recovered from a terrible second season to garner league MVP consideration by gaining 2,093 yards from scrimmage and scoring 19 touchdowns. Gurley himself was the tenth overall pick in the 2015 draft, and the young duo truly responded to McVay’s coaching and game planning.

Most Valuable Players

Gurley’s campaign was good enough to get attention from the league as its MVP, so he gets the nod over Goff for the Rams’ offensive MVP. At age 23, he set career highs in rushing yards (1,305) and TDs (13), and led the NFL in the latter category. His ability to catch the ball, too, really helped the offense—and Goff—develop nicely in 2017. After catching 64 passes in his first two seasons combined, Gurley notched another 64 receptions this year alone.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald earned defensive MVP honors. The 13th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Donald registered 11 sacks in 14 games this year, while also forcing five fumbles. The sack total tied a career-best mark from 2015, and the forced fumbles more than doubled his career total prior to this season. The numbers alone don’t tell the whole story here, as Donald constantly took pressure off other defenders, enabling them to make more plays.

Predictions For 2018

The best news for the Rams is that both the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks are fading from power in the NFC West. When L.A. went to Seattle and buried the Seahawks by 35 points in Week 15, it sent a message: this is the Rams’ division for the foreseeable future. The San Francisco 49ers also are on the rise, so that old rivalry could see some new life in 2018, depending on how the offseason shakes out.

But the Los Angeles organization is in a great position. The Rams lost their playoff game at home primarily due to special-teams mistakes, which handed the Falcons two easy scoring opportunities. The experience gained this season will be invaluable in setting up the franchise for a Super Bowl run in 2018.

The NFC is a stacked conference, however, as nine teams finished with winning records this year. The Rams will also draw tougher opponents in 2018, after winning the NFC West this season. However, neither of those factors should stop Los Angeles from making the postseason for the second time in a row next year.

Now, it’s McVay’s job to emphasize hard work and improvement in the offseason, so that the Rams don’t ease off the gas pedal heading into 2018. With some changes to the defense and more talent added through free agency and the draft, the Rams should be one of the top NFC favorites for the Super Bowl next season.

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