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Rams hope to avoid Super Bowl Hangover in Week 2

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It’s going to be one of the biggest games of the year.

NFL: NFC Championship Game-Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll begin a series of opponent preview posts for the New Orleans Saints opponents in 2019. First, we’ll start with one of the most anticipated matchups of the 2019 season for the Saints, if not for the entire NFL, the Week 2 game against the Los Angeles Rams. Our friends over at Turf Show Times took some time to give us Saints fans the scoop a the reigning NFC Champions.

NFL: JAN 20 NFC Championship Game - Rams at Saints Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Week 2: as the Los Angeles Rams

Notable free agent additions:

LB Clay Matthews, S Eric Weddle, QB Blake Bortles

Over/Under:

10.5 wins -- Over. The biggest roster gap is across the linebacking unit, but that didn’t stop the Rams from starting out 8-0 before trading with the Jacksonville Jaguars for EDGE Dante Fowler, Jr. or going 5-3 in the regular season and 2-1 in the postseason thereafter. The biggest roster transition is on the offensive line with two new starters required to replace LG Rodger Saffold III and C John Sullivan. Even if the line doesn’t match the play of the 2018 line which was spectacular at times, they should be sufficient as long as Father Time doesn’t come calling for LT Andrew Whitworth in his final NFL season.

Most exciting rookie:

RB Darrell Henderson.

The state of the Rams’ roster last year and this season is so strong that there’s not much room for starting snaps for rookies. Last year’s class largely was redshirted aside from DL John Franklin-Myers who got in on about a third of the defensive snaps. This years’ class doesn’t have much room for opportunity either. S Taylor Rapp is joining a safety room that includes future Hall of Famer Eric Weddle and S John Johnson who might be heading to his first Pro Bowl after this season. CB David Long Jr. is set to be mentored by CB Aqib Talib and CB Marcus Peters in his first year. And while the Rams feel they got a steal in DT Greg Gaines, the Rams have one of the league’s best duos if not the best in DL Aaron Donald and DL Michael Brockers.

I think the rookie with the most opportunity and the one set to take advantage of it most is Henderson.

A home run hitter at Memphis, Henderson averaged nearly 9 yards per carry in 2017 and then did it again last year. He’s a compact, direct runner who thrives in zone running schemes which, no coincidence, is what the Rams employ. With RB Todd Gurley likely to see his workload decline after the drama of last season, Henderson should feature early and often. He won’t get enough carries to enter the conversation for offensive rookie of the year, but on a per carry basis he could be one of the league’s best young running backs.

Position battle to keep an eye on:

Linebacker, inside and out.

Inside, the Rams bring back ILB Cory Littleton from last year. He’s athletic and complemented the run-first defense of ILB Mark Barron well, but Barron is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. While Matthews might be included inside in some packages, it’s second-year ILB Micah Kiser who is expected to take up Barron’s role. It’s fair to wonder how strong Kiser’s grip on that role is as a fifth-round pick from the 2018 NFL Draft that didn’t log a single snap on defense last year. There aren’t many options though on the roster, but rookie Dakota Allen will be a fan favorite because of his role on Last Chance U.

On the edge, the Rams have one of the worst edge rushing tandems in the NFL. Samson Ebukam became a full-time starter last year but didn’t break through in his second season. Fowler was added midway through the season and was a plus in run defense but added little in the pass rush. Matthews will clearly be involved on the outside as well, but I think it’s fair to keep an eye on guys like Ogbonnia Okoronkwo or Trevon Young or even Justin Lawler to see if they can impress to get involved.

The state of the roster is just too strong to offer many roster battles among the starters this year.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp:

Super Bowl hangover.

It’s not just the trope. It’s not just the likelihood for any team that gets as far as a Super Bowl not to make it the next year. It was the offensive dud the Rams put up in Super Bowl LIII.

The Rams’ defense was spectacular in the game. It didn’t attach itself to the narrative at all. Instead, the Rams’ offseason has largely been dominated by the paltry 3 points the Rams put up. Does it mean Jared Goff for all his production was limited by a talented defense that was able to get through the Rams line? Did it reinforce how bad Goff is at pressure compared to his peers? Did it show the rest of the NFL how to neutralize the brilliance of young Head Coach Sean McVay?

Much like 2018 was a response to the Rams’ disappointing loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the wild card round the season prior, this year will largely be framed as a response to the Super Bowl.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp:

Final year Rams.

Whitworth’s heading into his swan song having denied retirement this offseason. Talib might similarly be playing in his final NFL season as this is the final year of his contract. Brockers still has football left in him, but it’s likely his final year as a Ram. Fowler, Peters and TE Tyler Higbee are all also in contract years. It’s McVay’s third year as head coach and the end of the conventional three-year purge coaches get to remake rosters in their image. So for a lot of key starters, this is their last go of it in LA. There’s a desperation there that’s interesting but also one that’s unique to this season and last. This is the end of the buildup that’s going to give way to the next era starting in 2020 when we move into the new stadium.

Notable injuries heading into training camp:

None as of yet! Although while we’re on the topic…

While WR Cooper Kupp is coming off of an ACL injury, the knee that will be the central focus of the Rams’ camp will be Gurley’s. I doubt we get much from camp or the preseason to clarify (a) how the Rams plan to use him or (b) any limitations he may have physically, but it’ll at least be a focus.

Obscure player on the 90-man roster that will be a preseason star (and likely later cut):

Ketner Kupp

He’s the younger brother of WR Cooper Kupp. He’s an athletic little ball of a linebacker. The fans will love him.

I’ll also go with WR Jalen Greene. He’s a USC product who transferred to Utah State after moving from quarterback to wide receiver. There’s not a ton to latch on to beyond the Rams’ top four wideouts. The Rams kept six on the 53-man to start last year, but only return five with Pharoh Cooper having been waived and since joined Arizona Cardinals. I think Greene could vie for that spot, but ultimately will cede it for special teams help at another position.

***

The Saints have a tough stretch on the West Coast out of the gate, and all eyes in the NFL will be on this game.

So what says you, you unbiased Saints fans? Can the Saints knock down the defending NFC Champs, or will they get humbled this go-round? Vote in the poll. Explain in the comments. And make sure you also check out DraftDividends.com, a website for a new book I’m writing currently titled Draft Picks and Dividends: A Fantasy Football Player’s Guide to Understanding the Stock Market.

Poll

How will the Saints fare against the Rams?

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