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Sure, The Rams Are Good. But Are They Historically Great?

The Los Angeles Rams’ quest for an unbeaten season barely survived Aaron Rodgers on Sunday in what was oddly tantamount to a road game for the hosts. Now Jared Goff and Co. head into an actual road game against another future Hall of Fame quarterback, Drew Brees.

With a perfect season still a possibility halfway through this NFL campaign, it’s reasonable to wonder where the Rams rank among the best teams in football. The Rams’ record has escaped attention largely because no one is surprised when they win. They dominated the offseason by spending $237 million in guaranteed contracts, while only one other team, the Minnesota Vikings, even topped $200 million.1 As a result, the Rams were the preseason favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. But heightened preseason expectations don’t always translate into wins, particularly for a non-Patriots team: Just ask the 2011 Eagles, whose self-proclaimed “Dream Team” went up in smoke, losing eight of their first 12 games.

The Rams clearly are meeting even their most optimistic expectations. The offense is better than last year under the tutelage of head coach Sean McVay, who is taking the “genius” moniker to a whole new level. The Rams are leading the NFL in yards per pass play, and they’re also top five in yards per rush. They’re the only team in football that has had more than half of its offensive plays qualify as a success by either resulting in a first down or effectively setting up the next down, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group.

The Los Angeles defense has not quite lived up to its price tag, ranking 27th in yards allowed per rush and 15th in yards allowed per pass play. But the Rams’ D ranks 10th in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average.2 And in the key stats of net yards per pass attempt3 and net play success,4 the Rams comfortably lead the NFL.

But while the Rams are convincingly the best team in football, they’re not standing out among similar teams since the NFL expanded to 16 games in 1978. They have scored 109 more points than they’ve allowed, which ranks tied for 26th through eight games since 1978. And it’s oddly just one point better than last year’s Rams, who failed to win a playoff game.

If we limit our search to just unbeaten teams since 1978, the Rams rank tied for 10th out of 20 teams in point differential. And just one of the nine teams behind them on that list ended up winning the Super Bowl: the 1990 Giants.

It’s also reasonable to ask if the Rams are peaking too soon — at least based on recent returns. The last season with an 8-0 team was 2015, when there were three (the Patriots, Bengals and Panthers) — none of which won the Super Bowl. The same disappointment eventually befell the 2013 Chiefs, 2012 Falcons and 2011 Packers. The last team to actually win a Super Bowl after being undefeated at the halfway point was the 2009 Saints, who beat another former 8-0 team (that eventually went to 14-0), the Colts.

Before 2009, early dominance in a season seemed to be more predictive. Five of the 11 8-0 teams since 1978 went on to win the Super Bowl, and two more advanced to the final game.

Halfway to undefeated hasn’t always been a blessing

The final record and playoff results of teams that have gone 8-0 to start a season in the 16-game era, 1978-2018

Year Team W L Playoff Result
2015 Cincinnati 12 4 Lost wild card
2015 New England 12 4 Lost conference champ.
2015 Carolina 15 1 Lost Super Bowl
2013 Kansas City 11 5 Lost wild card
2012 Atlanta 13 3 Lost conference champ.
2011 Green Bay 15 1 Lost divisional
2009 Indianapolis 14 2 Lost Super Bowl
2009 New Orleans 13 3 Won Super Bowl
2008 Tennessee 13 3 Lost divisional
2007 New England 16 0 Lost Super Bowl
2006 Indianapolis 12 4 Won Super Bowl
2005 Indianapolis 14 2 Lost divisional
2003 Kansas City 13 3 Lost divisional
1998 Denver 14 2 Won Super Bowl
1991 Washington 14 2 Won Super Bowl
1990 New York Giants 13 3 Won Super Bowl
1990 San Francisco 14 2 Lost conference champ.
1985 Chicago 15 1 Won Super Bowl
1984 Miami 14 2 Lost Super Bowl

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

The Rams would probably prefer the postseason to start today. But absent that, a win on Sunday would virtually lock up the coveted No. 1 seed in the conference less than a week into November. It’s sometimes said in the NFL that Super Bowls are won in December (even though that’s often untrue), but the Rams are a win away from setting themselves up for something almost unheard of in today’s hotly contested, parity-driven league: being able to take the entire month of December off.

The downside to that is the tons of potential down time waiting for the postseason to start. In fact, the biggest decision that McVay may have to make down the stretch won’t involve play-calling or game management but when to rest his starters — which he did last year before the playoffs and also this year in the preseason.

Then again, home-field advantage may not mean much to the Rams. There’s a very good chance that the vast majority of fans in attendance at Rams home games — even during the playoffs — will be rooting for the other team.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Footnotes

  1. And they, unlike the Rams, bought a franchise quarterback.

  2. DVOA is a statistic that “measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent.”

  3. Offensive yards per pass attempt minus defensive yards per pass attempt.

  4. The percentage of snaps that result in a first down or effectively set up the next down versus that of your opponent.

Michael Salfino is a freelance writer in New Jersey. His work can be found on Yahoo and the Wall Street Journal.

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