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NFL - US Sports: Can the Rams defend their crown?

Back in February, the Rams ended their 22-year wait for a second NFL Championship title and a 38-year interlude between Lombardi Trophy celebrations for the city of Los Angeles.

Article originally published on 07/07/2022

It was a remarkable achievement for a number of different reasons as Sean McVay's team held off the Cincinnati Bengals in another close postseason battle at SoFi Stadium, crowning the careers of several NFL stars that longed for a winner's ring.

So can largely the same group of players do it all again - this time with the added pressure of being defending champions in an era where only one team has successfully repeated in the last 20 years?

History against a Rams repeat

History suggests it will be very tough for the Rams, 10/1 for the NFL Championship, to replicate their incredible run to glory. The New England Patriots are the last team to have accomplished it when they overcame the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL Championship 18 years ago.

Since then, three defending champions have made it back to the Greatest Show on Earth a year later. The Seattle Seahawks overcame a floundering start to their defence by winning the last ten regular-season games, but came up four points short of the Patriots in the 49th instalment of the NFL showpiece.

It was New England's turn to suffer on the biggest stage as Bill Belichick's men failed in their defence against the Eagles in 2014, while Kansas City were beaten by a Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers as recently as the 2020 season.

Many of their predecessors were weakened by injuries and the Rams will need some fortune in that area to stay on top.

Offseason moves make sense

Losing Odell Beckham Jr to an ACL injury early on against the Bengals was a tough hurdle for the Rams to overcome, but they did.

Rams general manager Les Snead swooped for former Chicago Bears standout Allen Robinson to maintain depth out wide and also addressed the team's biggest offseason loss that occurred when Von Miller joined the Buffalo Bills in free agency.

The subsequent addition of another NFL Championship-winning linebacker - ex-Seattle Seahawks star Bobby Wagner - not only plugs the gap but also weakens a division rival.

Snead's biggest coup could have been to tie down three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald for several more years after the defensive tackle had considered retirement while extending Cooper Kupp, winner of the receiving triple crown in 2021, was a no-brainer that had to be done.

The long-term strategy

The Rams have eschewed the NFL's traditional team-building methods by trading away years of draft picks to build a top-heavy roster full of talent ready to win now.

That approach has and invited scrutiny and scorn with each setback the team suffered, but the naysayers were well and truly shut up in February.

However, they will have an even bigger target on their backs as NFL champions in 2022 and some will question if the desire is still burning within if the Rams suffer any early-season slip-ups.

McVay's team were fast out of the gate last year, winning seven of their first eight games to take control of the division, and it will be tough to repeat that burst when the schedule pits Los Angeles against the Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Bucs, Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers (twice) in the opening eight weeks.

Any suspicion that they cannot overcome mid-season adversity was dispelled when, after dropping three straight games to go 'on the playoff bubble' at 7-4, the Rams went 5-1 down the stretch to pip the Cardinals to the NFC West crown.

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Coaching changes

McVay enters his sixth year of leading Los Angeles with his stock as high as any coach in the league.

He has taken the Rams to three division titles, the NFL Championship twice and returned once as champion. His offensive play-calling remains consistently effective and while some opponents may think they have him figured out, results suggest otherwise.

However, as has become the norm in the NFL, McVay's staff was picked apart by rival teams at the end of the championship run.

Liam Cohen returns after a one-season stint with Kentucky to replace offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell, who is now HC of the Minnesota Vikings, so there will be continuity there.

Several other assistants left too, so there has been plenty of upheaval behind the scenes.

Intangibles could make the difference

Los Angeles are among six or seven teams that have realistic dreams of winning it all in 2023, but fine margins often decide playoff games and other teams may have more playmakers on offense now.

Intangibles like team spirit, chemistry and luck can all come into play between now and February too.

If Wagner fills Miller's role from the get-go, anything is possible and, as the saying goes, defence wins championships.

They won't host this year's season finale, but the Rams again have a good shot of featuring in it.

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