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Eye on the enemy check-in: Are the Rams being overlooked heading into 2023?

Los Angeles is expected to take a step back after losing Jalen Ramsey. But if Matthew Stafford stays healthy, could the Rams make noise in the NFC?

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San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

For the first time in what felt like Sean McVay’s career, the Los Angeles Rams felt the wrath of the injury bug. Only the Denver Broncos suffered from more adjusted games lost in 2022 than the Rams. Year over year, the fighting McVay’s had nearly double the injuries of the second place Tennessee Titans.

So, after nine starts a season ago by Matthew Stafford and nine missed games from Jalen Ramsey — who is a Miami Dolphin — oddsmakers are projecting Los Angeles to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row.

6.5 wins

DraftKings Sportsbook has the Rams win total set at 6.5 for the 2023 regular season. That’s the third-worst in the NFC West and four wins fewer than their projected total entering last year.

Why such a dropoff? Well, as mentioned, there’s no Ramsey roaming in the secondary. It’s not just that defensive coordinator Raheem Morris loses one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, he must replace him with a Day 3 pick from the 2022 NFL Draft.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the Rams were tanking. They signed two newcomers after 16 departures this offseason in free agency. The cupboard will never be thin when you have Stafford under center, and he gets to throw to Cooper Kupp with McVay calling plays and Aaron Donald on the other side of the ball.

But outside of Donald, most casual fans around the NFL couldn’t name another player on the Rams defense other than Donald. Plus, there’s the health of the two stars on offense.

Stafford, 35, says he’s fully healthy after elbow surgery last summer. Stafford is also coming off multiple concussions and a spine injury. Needless to say, Vegas is banking on Stafford missing multiple starts this season.

Are the Rams being overlooked heading into the regular season?

If you’re making an argument for the Rams, it’s simple. Stafford stays healthy and reverts to his 2021 play where he led the Rams to a top-10 offense in EPA per play and success rate as Stafford did what Jared Goff couldn’t: beat pressure with the big play.

Kupp and Donald play every game, while Cam Akers regains his explosiveness and Van Jefferson takes the next step at wide receiver. The Rams would have to be more lucky than good on defense and hope their offense out duels their opponents weekly.

Pro Football Focus listed five teams who are overlooked heading into the regular season, and listed the Rams:

This hinges entirely on Matthew Stafford’s performance in 2023, as the Rams signal caller is coming off his lowest-graded season since 2015. However, we are just one season removed from Stafford posting a career-high 86.1 PFF grade as the Rams rolled toward the Super Bowl. This is not a deep roster, don’t get me wrong, but if their stars like Stafford and Cooper Kupp, who was the highest-graded receiver in the NFL in 2022, can stay healthy, this offense can be fine. On defense, they still have Aaron Donald, who has exactly zero seasons in his career with a sub-90.0 PFF grade. It’s a big if, but if they can stay healthy, I have a hard time seeing them not be closer to the seven-seed in the NFC as opposed to contending for a top-five draft pick.

Like most teams, the Rams stars must play like stars if they’re to excel this season.

The issue for the Rams is that they play the same schedule as the 49ers, but they also play the 49ers. Twice.

Betting against McVay is a risky proposition. It’s unlikely that the Rams suffer the same dreadful injury luck two years in a row. But Ramsey is a game-changer, and the odds that Stafford, at this stage, remains healthy for a full season are slim.

Los Angeles isn’t being overlooked. The Rams making noise in 2023 would be more of an indictment on the NFC, barring an unforeseen superstar emerging.