St. Louis Rams +4.5 -110
Unless you don’t expect the Seahawks to win the turnover battle by 2+, this line is a complete joke and is a product of the public opinion on the “mighty” Seahawks and the “poor” Rams. Before you place your money on the Seahawks, please watch both games from last season. The Seahawks offensive line got TOTALLY annihilated by the Rams and it was a shame the Rams didn’t sweep the Seahawks. And DE Chris Long didn’t play in the first game. They were up 21-6 at half in the first game and held the Seahawks to 2 FGs through three quarters at their home when the Seahawks were playing for home field advantage in the playoffs. Then they totally collapsed with two interceptions and a fumble off which the Seahawks scored their points. The Seahawks didn’t win the game, the Rams gave it away. They made it three times inside the Seahawks 25-yd line. Their defense just dominated the Seahawks. Last season the Rams had the 5th-best scoring defense and the 2nd-best since week 9 – only the Seahawks were better because they played a bunch of college QBs. This defense is nasty and returns 10 starters, just E.J. Gaines is hurt and he is a loss for the Rams, but not necessarily against the Seahawks.
On their already stacked defensive line the Rams added the injury-prone but good pass-rushing DT Nick Fairley to rotate in for Brockers and Donald. Their only weakness on defense last season was giving up big plays here and there because of soft zone coverage and too much blitzing. This year they had another full training camp of learning the complex system of Gregg Williams and it seems like they play more conservative on defense – less blitzes and more man-to-man on the secondary. Because of the rotation with Nick Fairley they will be able to get consistent pressure on opposite QBs without sending too many blitzes. Why am I talking so much about their defense? Because I believe this is a big mismatch for the Seahawks. This offensive line is a mess and Russell Wilson will need atleast a few weeks to get in touch with them. This line was already garbage in 2014 but at the start of this season it gets crazy: Justin Britt and J.R. Sweezy were the worst linemen for Seattle last season and they line up next to center Drew Nowak in his first NFL start who just learned to play center on a practice squad last season. He played d-line in college. Justin Britt plays a new position, he played LT and RT since college at Missouri and now starts at LG. He is a significant downgrade from James Carpenter last season. These three guys will line up on the interior against Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald. Donald, the guy who made the Pro Bowl in his first season and disrupted the Seahawks for a combined 2 sacks, 2 hits, 6 hurries and another 8 tackles the last two games. And even LT Russell Okung got beaten by a 2nd-string DE against KC. RT Garry Gilliam, an undrafted free agent in 2014, gets the start at RT. He has one career start and looked poor against the Oakland Raiders. He lines up against a healthy Chris Long. This is going to be pure domination and a very long day for Russell Wilson, because if he somehow finds time to throw, the Rams will not present open receivers because of their man coverage. The Rams were also one of the best teams against tight ends in 2014 – frustration for Jimmy Graham is booked.
What was the difference last year that separated the Rams from being a 10-6 team and instead finishing 6-10? Their QBs Austin Davis and Shaun Hill along with a poor offensive line that couldn’t run-block and was even worse at pass-blocking. That led to a terrible performance on 3rd downs. They changed their right side of the line with two draft picks RG Jamon Brown and RT Rob Havenstein. Jamon Brown looked really good in the pre-season, he was their best lineman so far. Both guys were famous for their run-blocking pre-draft but Brown seems to also be good in pass-blocking. Rob Havenstein was a reason Melvin Gordon was so successful at Wisconsin. He will need atleast a year to learn how to pass-block against NFL defenses, that’s why I expect their o-line to be only slightly better than last season when it comes to pass-blocking but way better in run-blocking. Tre Mason is expected to play. On QB they got Nick Foles – the best PA passer from 2013. His production decreased in 2014 but there were several reasons for it: DeSean Jackson was gone, two important o-liners were sidelined so they couldn’t get their run game going to set up PA situations. And that’s going to be the gameplan for the Rams. Slam the ball against the Seahawks to eat the clock and set up PA situations for Nick Foles. Richard Sherman never only covers the #1 WR, he just sticks on his side so their right side with Cary Williams and Chancellor-backup Deshawn Shead is going to have problems when facing PA. If I were Frank Cignetti, I would try to set up formations where Earl Thomas, who I expect to not be 100% after a half training camp, is forced into the box and Cary Williams / Deshawn Shead covering the right side.
I simply expect the Rams to score in this game, Nick Foles will find some soft spot in the zones. Tavon Austin and Chris Givens will stretch the field which should lead to some opportunities to hit Jared Cook and Kenny Britt on medium-ranged passes. They won’t be successful on every drive because of their offensive line, but I expect Frank Cignetto to gameplan around it with a few screen passes to Mason and Cunningham and such insurance routes on most of the plays. Their defense will take care for solid field positions. It may sound over-confident, but if Nick Foles doesn’t turn the ball over more than once, the Rams are going to win this game and I will gladly take a spread of more than a FG.