The Los Angeles Rams' risky "all in" approach paid off last year and they have shiny Super Bowl rings to show for it, but it will be tough to stay on top in 2022.
The Rams will have to overcome the departures of several key players, including two future Hall of Famers, while facing an extremely difficult schedule.
But head coach Sean McVay cemented his status as one of the smartest playcallers around and chose to extend his contract rather than seek a cushy role in a TV booth, which suggests he thinks it can be done.
And the Rams could actually be a better version of their 2021 selves in some areas with the return to full fitness of running back Cam Akers a notable boost going into a season in which everyone will be gunning for the reigning champions.
|What||NFL Season 2022/23|
|Where||All across the USA with three games scheduled for London, one for Munich and one in Mexico City|
|When||8th September 2022 - 12th February 2023|
|How to watch||The vast majority of games are live and on-demand with NFL Game Pass, while selected games are available via Sky Sports and bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||BUF Bills 6/1, TB Buccaneers 7/1, KC Chiefs 10/1, LA Rams 10/1, GB Packers 12/1|
1st NFC West (12-5). Won Super Bowl
The Rams, 10/1 for Super Bowl LVII, will attempt to become the first team since the 2005 New England Patriots to retain their grip on the Lombardi Trophy.
All bar three or four of the key figures from 2021 are still there while a couple of under-the-radar departures could impact the Rams' chances more than they may think.
Von Miller's decision to try to earn his third ring with the Buffalo Bills instead of in Los Angeles will hurt while it was always likely that McVay's coaching staff would be raided by rival teams with offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell now heading up the Minnesota Vikings.
Future Hall of Famer Andrew Whitworth announced his retirement and talented fellow offensive lineman Austin Corbett left via free agency.
Odell Beckham Jr could return at some stage, but the Rams will face stiff competition for his signing once he recovers from the ACL injury sustained in last February's epic win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Fundamentally, the Rams' roster has few holes and could overcome a relatively weak field in the NFC, where they are 17/4 to repeat, to get back to the Super Bowl.
SoFi Stadium will host the Bills in the big kickoff game on 8th September/September 8th with much of the pre-game focus falling on former Rams star Miller.
The Bills, who are 20/27 on the Money Line, won the last clash between the two teams in 2020 in the dying seconds when quarterback Josh Allen found Tyler Kroft in the end zone.
The 23/20 Rams don't have a great record against the AFC East champions, having only won three of their ten total meetings across the last 40 seasons.
The Rams' schedule is the hardest in the league based on the combined 2021 winning percentage of the teams they must face and the second toughest when assessed against the projected win totals of their 2022 rivals.
McVay's team were fast out of the gate last year, winning seven of their first eight games to take control of the NFC West, but it will be tough to repeat that opening burst.
Los Angeles will go up against the Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers (twice) in the opening eight weeks.
Finally paired with a top-tier QB, McVay was able to mastermind the Rams' march to Super Bowl glory on home turf last February.
Still only 36 years old, he has made the playoffs four times, won three division titles, two conference championships, and a Super Bowl.
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.
WR Allen Robinson (Chicago Bears)
LB Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks)
CB Troy Hill (Cleveland Browns)
P Riley Dixon (New York Giants)
RB Sony Michel (Miami Dolphins)
WR Odell Beckham Jr.
WR Robert Woods (Tennessee Titans)
OT Andrew Whitworth
G Austin Corbett (Carolina Panthers)
DT Sebastian Joseph-Day (Los Angeles Chargers)
OLB Von Miller (Buffalo Bills)
LB Troy Reeder (Los Angeles Chargers)
OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Houston Texans)
CB Darious Williams (Jacksonville Jaguars)
CB Dont'e Deayon
P Johnny Hekker (Carolina Panthers)
|Defensive MVP||Aaron Donald|
Logan Bruss (3rd Round)
Kupp is one of, if not the best, the leading receivers in the NFL now, having caught a ridiculous 145 passes for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns last year.
His ability to separate from defenders and make additional yards after the catch will be even more crucial this year without Beckham or fellow veteran Robert Woods around.
Donald, the undisputed leader of the Rams' defense, has been selected to eight Pro Bowls in his eight years in the league.
The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year contemplated retirement after finally getting his long-deserved Super Bowl ring, but was tempted back to play a major part in constructing a potential dynasty.
The Rams know his worth and signed him to a contract extension that makes him the highest-paid non-quarterback in league history this past offseason.
Entering his fourth year and now the unquestioned starter at nose tackle after Sebastian Joseph-Day bolted to the Chargers, Gaines should earn a heavy workload this year.
He can show why he's one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the game, having logged 4.5 sacks in 2021.