Next month to determine if Rams are contenders

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    In what is one of the most wide open NFL seasons in recent memory, it’s hard to pick a bigger surprise packet than the Los Angeles Rams.

    The Rams are 7-2 and sitting atop the NFC West, and are continuing to produce week in, week out. However, this next month will go a long way in determining whether they are a legitimate chance to be crowned Superbowl champions in February.

    The Rams are extremely hot right now and are a completely different team to the one we saw just one year ago. In 2016, they had the worst offence in the league, averaging just 14 points per game. This season, however, they are averaging an NFL best 33 points per game, and also boast the best point differential in the league.

    This can largely be credited to new head coach Sean McVay. The youngest head coach in the NFL has completely changed this team, and there is genuine belief among this playing group that they can compete for the Lombardi Trophy.

    McVay has also had a significant impact on quarterback Jared Goff, who has been super so far this season, much improved from last year.

    In 2016, Goff threw for 1,089 yards at 54.6 per cent for five touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven starts, with a 63.6 quarterback rating. Compare that to this season, in which Goff has thrown for 2,385 yards at 61.2 per cent for 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions in nine starts, good enough for a 101.5 quarterback rating.

    The Rams defence has also played at an elite level after a slow start to the year, allowing just 18 points per game and recording a league best 19 takeaways.

    Wade Philips has impressive as defensive coordinator, constantly making adjustments in game and throughout the season to make sure his players are ready each week.

    Now comes the Rams biggest challenge, with upcoming matches at Vikings (7-2), versus Saints (7-2), versus Eagles (8-1) and at Seahawks (6-3). This is by far their biggest test of the 2017 season.

    First up is a trip to Minnesota who have got to this point largely behind their top five defence. The Saints then come to town who are currently on a seven game win streak. With the team no longer relying on Drew Brees thanks to a vastly improved defence and dangerous run game, they are a team nobody wants to face right now.

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    After a trip to Arizona in which the Rams should win comes an incredibly exciting match against the NFC leading Eagles, a battle between the two second year quarterbacks Goff and Wentz, in what could potentially determine who holds home field advantage in the playoffs.

    Finally, a trip to Seattle also awaits. While the Seahawks are nowhere near as strong as they have been in years past, winning at CenturyLink Field is still as tough as ever. Seattle also hold a win in Los Angeles earlier in the season.

    These matches will truly determine whether the Rams are genuine contenders in 2017. They have arguably been the most impressive outfit this season, and boast talent all across the board, but they are yet to face as tough an opposition as they have coming towards them.

    All four defences they will face rank in the top ten in points allowed, and are all solid against the run.

    The Rams have relied heavily on running back Todd Gurley, who currently ranks fourth in the league with 754 rushing yards, however he may find yards harder to come by, particularly against the Eagles and Vikings who rank first and third respectively in run defence.

    Jared Goff will also have to be at the top of his game. He has played lights out the last two weeks, throwing for a combined 666 yards and seven touchdowns. A major reason for this has been the plethora of receivers he has had to throw to.

    Sammy Watkins (372 yards), rookie Cooper Kupp (417 yards) and particularly Robert Woods (622 yards), have all been reliable targets for Goff. Add to that another 406 yards from Gurley, and an offensive line that gives him plenty of time to throw the ball, and you can see why this offense has been almost impossible to stop.

    He will now be facing much tougher secondaries though, and will have to rely on all his weapons to succeed.

    The Rams have been one of the most exciting teams to watch so far this season, and most fans will be watching their next month of football very closely as they try to prove they are the team to beat in 2017.

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