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Part IV of NFL Preview: The AFC and NFC West divisions
By Jake Dowling, Icon intern
Click here for earlier previews
Denver Broncos, 8-8, won division, lost in divisional round
The Coach- John Fox enters his second season as head coach and no other year may be a better year than 2012 for him to get his team back in the Super Bowl for the first time since he was coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2003 when they lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Fox, an offensive minded coach, now has one of the best offensive minded QBs in Peyton Manning. They were one of the first and favorites to sign Manning this past offseason, after Manning was released by the Colts, his longtime franchise.
The Quarterback- Manning missed all of last season because of several neck surgeries , but now he is expected to be ready to be the new starting QB of the Broncos. The question is not necessarily if Manning still has the skill set at the age of 36, but rather if he, and his neck, can hold up during a 16 game season, and for the Broncos, hopefully into the playoffs and Super Bowl as well.
Manning will definitely be able to help an offense that ranked 23rd overall in yards last season, and 31st in passing yards. Manning has a good running game with backs Lance Ball, Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno. This unit finished first in rushing but a lot of that success came from now Jets QB Tim Tebow.
At receiver, Manning does not need a group of hall of famers in order to succeed in any offense. Former Colts teammates Jacob Tamme and Brandon Stokley will team up with Manning and the team's best receiver, Demaryius Thomas, who should have a breakout season now that Manning will be controlling a more pass friendly offense than Tebow did.
The Broncos' offense will look much different than last season. They will actually have a consistent passing game, their running game may not hit the top 10 this season, but that is the sacrifice they are willing to make to have Manning as QB. The Broncos will also convert third downs, as they did not a year ago with Tebow. Denver ranked 30th in that department, but Manning and the Colts were fifth in the league in 2010, the last season that Manning played.
But the question is, which Manning do we see? The confident and accurate Peyton of 2010 or a fragile and aging quarterback coming off four neck surgeries?
The Defense- The Broncos defense needs to improve if they want to get back into the playoffs and accelerate into the Super Bowl. This unit ranked 20th overall and hemorrhaged 40 or more points in three of its last five games, including the playoffs. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is gone, replaced by Jack Del Rio, who reunites with coach John Fox for the first time since the two were together in Carolina, and his job will be to shore up a secondary that was burned too often down the stretch.
Tracy Porter to replace cornerback Andre Goodman is an upgrade, but the Broncos will miss the leadership and play of safety Brian Dawkins. Either Mike Adams or Rahim Moore replaces him but neither are Dawkins. But when you have Elvis Dumervil and Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller coming off the edge, your pass defense starts with your pass rush... and Denver's is effective. One concern is how the Broncos will replace DT Brodrick Bunkley inside, but maybe, Ty Warren or second-round draft pick Derek Wolfe is the answer. Warren sat out all last season after he was hurt.
The defense will not have to shoulder the burden of trying to keep their team in games because the offense is so inept, or as least they are hoping for that. However, one thing is for sure, in order for this team to when a title this season or two season's from now, the defense has to be a top 10 defense in points allowed, and top ten in sacks.
San Diego Chargers, 8-8, second in division, missed playoffs
The Coach- This has to be coach Norv Turner's last chance at being the coach of the Chargers. No one, besides Andy Reed of the Eagles, has had as many chances as Turner has in his six seasons as coach for the Chargers. He has a decent 49-31 record in his six seasons and his team has made the playoffs in his first four seasons.
But they cannot seem to get over the hump while in the postseason and now his team cannot seem to find the playoffs the last two seasons despite having a top 10 offense and defense in 2010.
The Quarterback- Since the 2010 departure of LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers have been all about Philip Rivers. Dating back to the last game of the 2009 season, a playoff loss to the New York Jets, the Chargers are 17-16. Worse, they missed the playoffs the past two years. That might cost some head coaches their jobs, but Norv Turner has been given another season to put these guys back on top, and he'll try to do it by having Rivers take advantage of an assortment of new weapons.
The loss of star receiver Vincent Jackson was a blow, but San Diego recovered quickly by signing free agents Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish. With Malcom Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates, the Chargers some targets for a quarterback looking to redeem himself.
Retaining left tackle Jared Gaither was critical, partly because he played so well down the stretch protecting Rivers' back. Adding Le'Ron McClain and Ronnie Brown as safety nets for Ryan Mathews was smart, too, and look for Mathews to be more of a factor this season.
Still, it all comes down to Rivers. If he plays as he did in 2010, the Chargers make a run at the top, if he plays like he did last season, 4,784 yards, 27 TDs and 20 INTs, then Turner's final chance will go up in smoke.
The Defense- If there was one shortcoming that characterized the last two Chargers' clubs it was impact players on defense. They had virtually none. Though safety Eric Weddle produced a lot of takeaways and made the All-Pro team, he was not the game changer that the team desperately needs and it showed in opponents' ability to convert third downs. They turned 49.2 percent of them into firsts.
So the defense had to change, and it has. Former linebackers coach John Pagano takes over for Greg Manusky, and he will have new parts to tinker with including first-round draft pick Melvin Ingram, second-rounder Kendall Reyes and third-rounder Brandon Taylor. The Chargers' first three picks were defensive players, perfectly addressing their needs.
No addition, however, may be more important than free-agent linebacker Jarret Johnson, who was a reliable run stopper in Baltimore. Johnson allows the Chargers to keep pass rusher Antwan Barnes off the field more than last season, which is a plus. Barnes led the team with 11 sacks, and with Ingram, Phillips and the oft-injured Larry English the Chargers are stocked with edge pass rushers, always a good idea when playing in the same division with Peyton Manning.
The Chargers have the team to be back on top of the AFC West and make a playoff run.
Oakland Raiders, 8-8, third division, missed playoffs
The Coach- Another year, another coach for this team, but this time is different now that the team no longer has Al Davis running the it. The first move GM Reggie McKenzie made after taking over was firing head coach Hue Jackson and hiring Dennis Allen to replace him. But that was just the beginning. The Raiders have virtually an entirely new staff, including offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and special-teams coordinator Steve Hoffman.
For proper change, it starts in the front office, and trickles from there.
The Quarterback- The Raiders last year paid a steep price for quarterback Carson Palmer, but they believed he was worth it because he would take them to the playoffs. But he did not, and now his GM, head coach and offensive coordinator are gone.
Palmer must adapt to new coordinator Greg Knapp's offense that will feature more running and more of Palmer outside the pocket, but that is a minor adjustment compared to what Palmer had to deal with last year when he went from the couch to the Raiders, after joining the team following his boycott of the Bengals.
The guy is a quick study, but Palmer does not determine what happens to Oakland; the running game does. Under Knapp, the Texans were the league's second-ranked rushing offense, and he would like to do with Darren McFadden what he did with Arian Foster. However, McFadden has a history of injuries, missing nine games in 2011 with a season-ending Lisfranc setback, so Knapp's hopes will be challenged.
The Raiders are a club in the midst of change, but if there is stability, it is with an offensive line that returns four of five starters. That bodes well for Palmer and the running game. The Raiders allowed only 25 sacks last season and ranked seventh in rushing.
At the age of 32 and with his history of up and down play, Palmer does not seem like the logical answer to get the Raiders to the Super Bowl, but maybe that is not the proper goal that this team should try to each at this point. Respectability in the NFL is important, an a winning season to start is a good way to reach that goal before jumping to unimaginable expectations. For the Raiders, they have to walk before they run, and they are not far behind.
The Defense- With a new GM and a new staff comes a new approach to defense. The Raiders no longer rely on the Al Davis approach to football, which means they will not rely on four-man pass rushes and man-to-man coverage. Finally, they are willing to try a new approach, with new coordinator Jason Tarver employing multiple fronts and schemes, zone coverages and blitzes from unexpected places. It should take advantage of the strength of this team, which remains its defensive line.
That means more action for Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly and Matt Shaughnessy. Dave Tollefson was a nice pickup and adds depth to a unit that includes Lamarr Houston and Desmond Bryant. In short, the Raiders are stocked up front and will pressure the pocket with their defensive line.
The secondary is experienced, particularly at safety with Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff, Matt Giordano, Mike Mitchell and the addition of cornerbacks Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell give Oakland two guys with a combined 137 starts. The question, of course, is, are they an upgrade? In the AFC West you may only be as good as your pass defense, and the Raiders may be vulnerable at corner, where Pat Lee, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa are battling for the nickel spot.
However, like what many teams are doing on defense, the Raiders will rely on their defensive front to help the secondary, but it injuries or struggles on the line occur, this defense could be giving up many points and yards. The offense is not capable to be in a shootout with the opposing team.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Coach- Romeo Crennel is in his second stint as head coach after a stint with the Browns was unsuccessful. Crennel took over mid-way through last season and had the Chiefs in position for a playoff spot late in the season. Crennel now has his own team again with better talent than what he had in Cleveland. This could be something big for Crennel.
The Quarterback- Ever since being traded to Kansas City, Matt Cassel has always been looked upon within management, coaches and media as being replaced by someone better. But he has done well with the little talent that he has had. The last time the Chiefs went to the playoffs, they did it with Cassel.
Furthermore, he played only nine games last season because of injury. Cassel was not the reason Kansas City fizzled in 2011. Jamaal Charles was. He bowed out immediately, and without the league's No. 1-ranked rushing offense, which Kansas City had 2010, Cassel had to shoulder the offense by himself.
In 2010, the Chiefs had a great supporting cast on offense alongside Cassel. One year later, they lost Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki at the beginning, and the offense never was right. However, with those two players back, combined with the skill set of RB Dexter McCluster, newly addition back Peyton Hillis and receiver Dwayne Bowe, this offense could be dangerous once again.
The Defense- Romeo Crennel was positively ecstatic with the choice of first-round draft pick Dontari Poe. The guy was seen as a boom-or-bust choice. If Poe is the right guy for Crennel's 3-4, the Chiefs are in business. They have an outstanding pass rusher in Tamba Hali, a solid run stuffer in linebacker Derrick Johnson, a first-rate cornerback in Brandon Flowers and a promising box safety in Eric Berry.
Essentially, the elements are there for the Chiefs to improve on their 11th-place overall ranking a year ago, but free-agent acquisition corner Stanford Routt and the possibility of Poe backfiring have to be in question. Routt has a reputation as one of the league's best tackling defensive backs, but he surrendered eight touchdown passes last year, tied for second most in the league. There is also the matter of Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, two high draft picks who have not lived up to expectations, and how much, if any, promising linebacker Justin Houston improves vs. the run.
There is not much turnover with this team now that they have a new head coach. Could that be their demise? Possibly, when looking at the Raiders and what they are going through a whole new makeover not only of their team, but of the front office as well. KC does not need that much change in their team, but some players on defense were brought on by coaches that were coaching for this team over five years ago. In order for this team to be contenders year in and year out, they need a new facelift on defense altogether. Crennel needs to have his own guys to work with.
San Francisco 49ers, 13-3, won division, lost in NFC title game
The Coach- Jim Harbaugh did an amazing job with a team that struggled to find an identity under then coach Mike Singletary. Harbaugh, who won Coach of the Year honors for his efforts last season, which included taking his team to the NFC title game, is entering his second season as the 49ers coach. However, this season could be tougher.
First off, there is a common trend with teams in the NFC that lose the title game the year before, the next season that team that lost in the title game, misses the playoffs. It has happened five times in the last six seasons, the only team, the Eagles, were one and done in the post season.
So does this trend continue with 49ers? That is not Harbuagh's only concern though. Will QB Alex Smith, who has been a major disappointment as the number one overall pick, continue to play well after playing like a pro bowl like QB last season? Will the defense be as dominate as last year? Was last season a fluke year? Many questions to be answered.
The Quarterback-Alex Smith was the first overall pick of the 49ers in the 2005 NFL draft which also included Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who many believe should have been picked number one instead. Since then, Rodgers has endured more success than Smith, and the comparisons continue.
Entering his eighth season as QB for the 49ers, Smith's career numbers look like this: 70 games played, out of a possible 112, a QB rating of 76.4, Rodgers' is 104.1,12,543, Rodgers has thrown for 17,366 and he sat on the bench for his first three years, 68 touchdowns and 58 interceptions.
So Smith has not had the success that is expected out of a top selected pick. Part of it is because of the lack of talent that the 49ers have had since he was drafted and the number of offensive coordinators he has had to learn from is a challenge as well. But through it all, Smith has not, and probably never will perform at the level that he should, so he will have to be content with being a managing quarterback. Let the defense win games, just do not lose it for us. The kind of thinking has won titles before however.
The 49ers are a run-based offense that will try and pound the football and just do enough to beat their opponents in the passing game. That has to change. This is the modern NFL, which means they have to throw it better. San Francisco finished 29th in passing offense last season. Though Smith had his best season he played it safe. The 49ers have to open things up more. Smith threw 17 touchdown passes and five interceptions, but he was 19th in average yards per completion, meaning he did not go down the field enough.
One reason for that stat is the fact that he did not have a great receiving group, which is why the 49ers signed Randy Moss and Giants Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham to go with Michael Crabtree, who is facing injury problems yet again. However, Moss did not play last season, and the last season that he did play, 2010, he struggled mightily.
Manningham looks like a No. 3 receiver and Crabtree has to do more to be a number one. They also drafted A.J. Jenkins from Illinois in the first round, but he really struggled in off-season workouts. So you have to wonder if management improved the receiving corp.
Tight end Vernon Davis came up big in the playoffs last January, but he needs to do more of that during the season. He has the talent to be a star. The running game is a strong point with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and second-round pick LaMichael James from Oregon adds speed to the offense. Former Giants back Brandon Jacobs is also in the mix. He is a big bruising back that can complement Gore.
The offensive line is strong blocking for the run, but struggled in pass protection. Guard Mike Iupati and left tackle Joe Staley are the best of the bunch. Right tackle Anthony Davis made big strides last season. They have to improve their pass protection to help amp up the passing game.
But the passing game will continue to struggle, with Smith's lack of ability to be an elite QB, and the skeleton crew at wide receiver, it is hard to think that the passing game will change for the better.
The Defense- The 49ers were first in run defense and fourth overall last season as that unit was the reason they made it to the NFC title game. This unit featured career years by several players, both safeties among them, and those players have to show they can do it again.
The 3-4 style of defense features two outstanding ends in Justin Smith, who had his best season, and Ray McDonald, the league's most underrated player. They both play hard and both can rush the passer. Smith earned some Defensive Player of the Year mentions last season.
The linebackers are special, especially inside. Patrick Willis is among the elite defenders in the league inside and NaVorro Bowman was not far off with his play last season. Both can tackle and can run well enough to be factors in the passing game. Aldon Smith came in as a rookie and had 11 sacks to show off his pass-rush ability from the outside. He came on strong as the season moved along and should be even better with a year of off-season work.
The secondary played well, helped by the aggressive front and the top-ranked run defense. That led to teams being in a lot of passing situations. Corner Carlos Rogers had his best season, but he tailed off late. He has to show he was worth getting a new deal from the team. Safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner had their best seasons, but they are beatable in coverage. It will be interesting to see how well that tandem plays in 2012.
Seattle Seahawks, 7-9, third in division, missed playoffs
The Coach- Pete Carroll has had his shot in the NFL before, both as an assistant and a head coach, but now after several successful, and questionable season as the head coach of the USC Trojans, Carroll is back and coaching Seattle.
The truth is however, Carroll is not a Super Bowl winning coach. He runs the team, which is general manager John Schneider's job. He has the fight but he does not have the smarts to outwit coaches that have been successful in the NFL. Thus, this team will go nowhere with him leading as coach.
The Quarterback- Or should we say quarterback(s)? This team is full of players that can start at QB but are any worth it? First have to pick one. It appears free-agent signee Matt Flynn will be the starter. He showed well in two starts with the Packers, but can he continue be successful for more than just two games, say... a season.
Tarvaris Jackson, the starter for much of 2011, will push him for the starting job. Jackson has had moments where he looked like a solid starter, but he has been way too inconsistent and is just highly overrated.
Rookie Russell Wilson from Wisconsin is also in the mix, but that would seem like a long shot. He is undersized and has three other veterans ahead of him. Seattle was 29th in passing yards last season.
Whoever is doing the throwing has to hope that a healthy Sidney Rice will be on the other end. He was a disappointment last season after signing as a free agent as injuries limited him. Doug Baldwin took that opportunity and ran with it as he flashed as a surprise rookie starter. They also traded to get tight end Kellen Winslow to pair with Zack Miller.
Running back Marshawn Lynch keyed the offense last season and was rewarded with a new contract. Now comes the hard part: Living up to it. Lynch has to watch his weight because he has a tendency to get heavy and slow down.
The offensive line is coached by one of the best in Tom Cable and he did a remarkable job keeping that unit together after it was hit hard by injuries. If they can get most of the injured back on the field, the line could be a good one. Left tackle Russell Okung has a chance to be a Pro Bowl player.
The Defense- This unit can be special after finishing ninth in total defense last season. There is talent all over the defense, much of it young, rising talent. The strongest part of the defense is the secondary. It features a pair of aggressive cover corners in Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, who thrive in the Seahawks man-cover style of defense. Both improved greatly as 2011 moved along and should be even better in 2012. They are backed by arguably the best pair of safeties in the game in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Thomas is a ball-hawking, rangy player while Chancellor is a big thumper, who can struggle in coverage at times.
The key up front is the pass rush. Chris Clemons had 11 sacks to lead the team last season, but he needs help. That is why the Seahawks surprised a lot of people and took West Virginia pass rusher Bruce Irvin in the first round. He has explosive speed, but he is raw and some scouts think he was over-drafted. Time will tell. The other end is underrated Red Bryant, who is more of a run stuffer than pass rusher. The addition of Jason Jones, a free agent from Tennessee, will help.
The biggest concern on the defense is the linebacker group. K.J. Wright is the best of the group. They did sign Barrett Ruud and drafted Bobby Wagner to help fortify the weak part of the defense.
Arizona Cardinals, 8-8, second in division, missed playoffs
The Coach- In coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Cardinals have a rock-solid guy leading them. Though he is rock-solid, he is not a coach that can get them back to the Super Bowl like they were when they lost to Pittsburgh four years ago. Whisenhunt does not seem to be able to find a good starting QB after Kurt Warner retired following the 2009 season.
Traded for Kevin Kolb, somebody else's QB, is not the answer, Whisenhunt has to understand that he has to groom his own QB, not snatch them from other teams.
The Quarterback- The Cardinals finished 24th in scoring last season. The biggest problem was the quarterback play, which is why they made a strong push to get Peyton Manning, only to fall short.
Kevin Kolb, who came over in a trade, was expected to be the answer at quarterback but he struggled to pick up the system and missed seven games with concussion and foot injuries. He was 3-6 as a starter. In his place, John Skelton went 5-2 and showed off his big arm. He struggled at times, but seemed to play well late in games. He needed an offseason to work on his mechanics, which should help. It will be a camp battle to decide this job.
The truth is, Kolb, who has a huge contract for someone who barely played while in Philly, is not the answer. Skelton could be, but does Whisenhunt agree?
Whoever starts will be throwing to one of the NFL's best in Larry Fitzgerald. Even with the quarterback problems, Fitzgerald had 80 catches and a 17.1 average. The Cardinals drafted Michael Floyd from Notre Dame in the first round to help take some of the pressure off Fitzgerald in terms of coverage and it gives them a big pair of receivers.
The running game is led by Beanie Wells, but Ryan Williams might be ready to take some of his carries. Wells is a grinder, while Williams has that big-play ability. He missed his rookie season after injuring his knee in the preseason. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a nice back to have as a change-of-pace player.
The offensive line remains a major concern. They did pay Adam Snyder to come over as a guard from San Francisco, but he had problems with the 49ers and does not seem like a major upgrade. Levi Brown, who signed a new deal to stay with the team, played well in the second half of last season and the coaches want to see more of that. Second-round pick Bobby Massie could be the right tackle. Center Lyle Sendlein is the line's best player.
The Defense - The 3-4 defense really showed improvement as the season moved along in 2011 and there are high hopes on that side of the ball. Arizona finished 18th in total defense, but one number really stands out, they were first in the NFL in third-down defense. That is something to build upon.
This is an aggressive defense comes at quarterbacks with a variety of blitzes. There are some talented young players to build around, including defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, inside linebacker Daryl Washington and corner Patrick Peterson. Veteran Adrian Wilson played all of 2011 with a torn biceps and still had an impressive season.
The key moving forward will be getting more from the outside rushers, but they like young players Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield. The key is to continue pressuring the QB and they could go far this season.
St. Louis Rams, 2-14, last in division, missed playoffs
The Coach- Jeff Fisher is back to coach after taking a one-year hiatus from coaching once his long tenured stint in Tennessee was over. Fisher, however, has his hands full with a team that finished 2-14 last season, a QB that struggled mightily and a defensive coordinator who is suspended indefinitely.
The Quarterback- Sam Bradford, who had a promising 2010 season as a rookie, struggled his sophomore year and some are questioning rather he is a star passer. With the struggles from Bradford, who played in just 10 games, throwing for 2,164, 6 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, the offense was doomed.
Though the offense runs through back Steven Jackson, the Rams need a viable QB and Bradford can be that, but he must stay healthy, which is something he has struggled to do dating back to his senior year of college.
Jackson however is still an important piece to this offense, but how much more does he have left as he approaches 30? Rookie Isaiah Pead from Cincinnati will offer a nice change-of-pace style to the hard-driving Jackson and should help in the passing game.
The receivers were a big problem area in 2011. Slot receiver Danny Amendola went down in the opening game with an elbow injury, but he is expected back in the slot. The Rams did draft two receivers early, Brian Quick in the second round and Chris Givens in the fourth. They have to hope one of them can be a major contributor as a rookie. They also signed veteran Steve Smith from the Eagles. Tight end Lance Kendricks has some nice pass-caching skills and is a nice middle of the field threat.
The offensive line was really hit hard by injuries. The return to form of Rodger Saffold at left tackle is a must and right tackle Jason Smith has to show something or be labeled a draft bust after being a high first-round pick. The addition of center Scott Wells as a free agent from Green Bay should help stabilize this unit.
The biggest question is, other than Bradford's health issues and progression as a QB, does he have enough help him? Probably not. At least not right now. Jackson is getting older, the line is suspect and the receivers are nothing great. Bradford needs a playmaker other than Jackson. Someone could step this season, but Bradford can be a game manager and let the defense do that job. But can they?
Defense- The Rams have some nice building blocks on this side of the ball in ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis from Ohio State. They are all young and talented. Long had 13 sacks last season could have easily been in the Pro Bowl. Quinn flashed as a rookie with four sacks to give the Rams a pair of good pass rushers. Pass rushers and pressuring the QB are important in this league. The Rams have that taken care of.
The inside play was a trouble area in 2010, so the Rams signed Kendall Langford as a free agent from Miami and drafted Michael Brockers in the first round. Those two should help improve a run defense that was 31st in the league.
Laurinaitis was a tackling machine last season and has emerged as one of the better young inside backers in the league. Jo-Lonn Dunbar comes over from the Saints to give the unit more speed.
The key addition in the secondary is veteran corner Cortland Finnegan, who played for coach Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. He is a feisty player who will add toughness and good coverage skills to a unit that was crippled by injuries last season. The other corner will either be Bradley Fletcher, who is coming off knee surgery, or one of two rookies, Janoris Jenkins or Trumaine Johnson, both talented players. The back end will benefit from having better players on the corner after six corners found their way onto the injured-reserve last season.
Gregg Williams was expected to be the defensive coordinator, re-uniting with Fisher, but he is serving a suspension because of his role in Bounty-gate while with the Saints. Dave McGinnis, a veteran coach who was a head coach in Arizona, will likely be the defensive signal caller. Fisher, whose background is on defense, will also be involved.
This team could be similar to the 49ers. An okay QB with some small pieces on offense and a talented defense. With a weak division, aside from the 49ers, the Rams can easily bounce back and make some noise. Probably a long way from being a playoff team, but this season can be a start to that ultimate goal.