Stafford leads Rams into chase for hometown Super Bowl berth

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LOS ANGELES RAMS (11-7)

CAMP SITE: Irvine, California

LAST YEAR: Coach Sean McVay got his fourth consecutive winning season and the third playoff berth of his impressive tenure, although a humiliating home loss to the winless Jets in December likely cost the Rams a shot at the division title in their first year in SoFi Stadium. Los Angeles recovered to beat Seattle in the wild-card round before losing to Green Bay. Los Angeles had the best defense in the NFL behind All-Pros Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, with rookie coordinator Brandon Staley’s unit frequently carrying the Rams while the inconsistent offense led by McVay and quarterback Jared Goff spent a second straight season in the middle of the league rankings. McVay and general manager Les Snead then made another major franchise overhaul early after Staley’s departure to lead the Los Angeles Chargers, allowing four defensive starters to leave along with several key assistants.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Matthew Stafford, defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, WR DeSean Jackson.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: Staley, Goff, pass game coordinator Shane Waldron, run game coordinator Aaron Kromer, DL Michael Brockers, S John Johnson, CB Troy Hill, C Austin Blythe, LB Samson Ebukam, DL Morgan Fox, LS Jake McQuaide.

CAMP NEEDS: A new quarterback and big changes on the coaching staff have given the Rams plenty of work to do over the next seven weeks. Integrating Stafford into the offense will be a yearlong process, and much work has already been done during offseason activities. But after a career spent grinding for little reward or recognition in Detroit, Stafford is clearly motivated to take his career to the next level. He’ll be trusted to get the most from McVay’s schemes, which are likely to get more inventive and more intricate with a veteran passer at the helm. The defense also has plenty of work to do under Morris, who plans to mold the remainder of last season’s group around its strengths and Staley’s defensive framework.

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KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: The Rams must replace Johnson, their starting strong safety and defensive signal caller last season. Taylor Rapp is the expected heir, but his injury problems and resulting lack of experience could open the door for second-year pro Terrell Burgess. Los Angeles also needs a new starting center, and guard Austin Corbett appears to be the frontrunner against former starter Brian Allen. Justin Hollins is the leader in the competition to replace Ebukam in the starting lineup, and the Rams also must identify a starting nickel back to replace Hill, with David Long Jr. and rookie Robert Rochell likely to get chances.

EXPECTATIONS: If McVay and Snead are right about their high-risk quarterback move, the Rams have realistic hopes of playing in a home Super Bowl in Inglewood. Super-Bowl-or-bust is simplistic when thinking about these Rams, who should have most of their core together at its peak for a few more seasons. But McVay’s breakup with Goff and acquisition of Stafford puts an onus on the coaching mastermind to deliver a team that lives up to his reputation and potential. Stafford also has plenty to prove after failing to get a playoff win out of the Lions despite the leaguewide respect given to him. The Rams expect to be in the run for a third NFC West title and a second NFC championship under McVay, and anything less will be a disappointment.

FANDUEL SUPER BOWL ODDS: +1400

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL



First published on: AP

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