Only time will tell if the Rams are for real

Angel Viscarra | Daily Trojan

It’s hard to fathom, but we now find ourselves at the conclusion of Week 10 of the NFL regular season. The first 10 Sundays have confirmed several preseason hunches, and some clubs have shown up to the party as pleasant surprises.

It may have been a bumpy start, but the New England Patriots (7-2) are looking like the juggernaut everyone projected them to be at the season’s start. The Cleveland Browns, well, they’ve looked like the Cleveland Browns at 0-9 on the season.

The Philadelphia Eagles, led by second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, have jumped out as the top team in the NFC with the best record in the NFL to this point (8-1). A team like the Jacksonville Jaguars, powered by rookie running back sensation Leonard Fournette, is sitting at 6-3 after a 3-13 campaign in 2016.

But one of the league’s biggest surprises this season has emerged from the NFC West: the 7-2, division-leading Los Angeles Rams. After finishing 2016 at 4-12 overall, losing 10 of its final 11 games, Los Angeles now finds itself with a one-game lead on Seattle (6-3) in the NFC West. If the regular season ended today, the Rams would hold the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs.

After the Rams lost a close divisional contest to Seattle last month, I wrote that if Los Angeles played its cards right, it could be a fringe playoff team come season’s end. Oh, how things have escalated. The football world no longer is asking, “Will the Rams steal a playoff spot?” It is now asking the biggest of questions: “Could this Rams team win the Super Bowl?”

Entering the season, the Rams had the 18th-best chance of winning the Super Bowl (150 to 1 odds). After the Rams’ 33-7 victory over Houston on Sunday, Los Angeles now holds the fourth-highest chance of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy (11 to 1), according to Bovada.

Defensive end Aaron Donald has been a key cog for the Rams so far with five sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Photo from Wikimedia Commons,

The Rams’ 7-2 start has been sparked by arguably the most-balanced offense-defense combo in the NFL. The Rams’ offense, with a blooming young quarterback in Jared Goff (16 passing touchdowns this season), leads the NFL in scoring with 32.9 points per game. On the defensive side, the Rams have allowed the fourth-fewest points in all of football (18 points per game).

Up to this point in the season, it seems that 31-year-old head coach Sean McVay has pushed all the right buttons. McVay, who was the youngest head coaching hire in NFL history this past offseason, has resurrected a franchise that seemed to be going nowhere.

But what awaits this Rams team is a gantlet of a final stretch to conclude the regular season. In the next seven weeks of play, McVay’s Rams’ hot start will either go up in smoke, or Los Angeles will solidify itself as the strong playoff contender Las Vegas projects it to be.

It should be noted that the Rams will conclude regular season play with what currently appears to be a pushover of a Week 17 contest with the San Francisco 49ers (1-9). However, the Rams’ next six opponents have a combined win-loss record of 38-15 so far this season.

Los Angeles will square off with a pair of 7-2 teams in the next two weeks. The Rams will go on the road to play the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings in Week 11, and in Week 12, they host the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints (currently 7-2).

Add to that a crucial divisional road game against the Seahawks in Week 15, and it’s apparent that the Rams will undergo a baptism by fire in the coming weeks as they take on some of the hottest teams in the league.

But should the Rams escape from November and go through December with a winning record, there is certainly a playoff spot waiting for them on the other side of the trial. If Los Angeles can scrap up some statement wins over the final seven weeks of the season, it would solidify itself as a scary matchup for anyone come playoff time.

Winning seven of nine games to open the season put the Rams on the radars of relevance across the NFL. A strong finish through the gantlet of teams that await could certainly warrant them a credible position on the NFL’s Super Bowl radar.

Angel Viscarra is a junior studying broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Viscarra’s Vice,” runs Tuesdays.