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NFL

NFL champion Rams ready for Super Bowl return

With Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald back, the Rams are once again favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Update:
Los campeones Rams, listos para regresar al Super Bowl
Scott TaetschAFP

The champion always has the obligation to repeat, right? True, but in the NFL that is a feat that has only been achieved eight times by seven franchises since the inaugural Super Bowl in 1966, the last to achieve it being the New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004.

The Rams will try and become the eighth franchise in history to repeat as champions in the Super Bowl era, with the Los Angeles roster maintaining the backbone of last season’s successful squad, in which coach Sean McVay’s team became the second ever to win the NFL title in their own stadium.

Les Snead, general manager of the Rams, extended the contracts of quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and with cornerback Jalen Ramsey also back with them, the Rams feel that they have everything they need to top the NFC once again.

Now they just have to prove it.

“Just because we did something last year doesn't mean something is going to happen this year,” Stafford said. “We have to go out there and earn it. Those opportunities we had to play in those games last year were deserved. You ask yourself, what kind of opportunities are you willing to win? It comes with sacrifice and hard work and being a great teammate."

Stafford was all of that last season, passing for 4,886 yards and 41 touchdowns, both franchise records, the second sees him tied with Kurt Warner.

Stafford, who came to LA in a quarterback trade with the Lions, turned out to be one of the biggest moves in franchise history and has everything at his disposal to repeat in the Super Bowl.

And that “everything” can be summed up in two words: Cooper Kupp.

Kupp became the fourth wide receiver since 1970 to lead the league in catches (145), yards (1,947) and touchdowns (16) in a single season.

Opponents knew Stafford would come back to Kupp and yet they still couldn’t defend him: Kupp had at least 100 yards in 11 games in 2021, which tied a record that he now shares with Michael Irvin (1995) and Calvin Johnson (2012).

The offensive line lost left tackle Andrew Whitworth and his spot will be taken by Joe Noteboom, a third-round pick in 2018 who has only 17 games as a starter and is now responsible for taking care of Stafford’s blind side.

With the departure of Sony Michel, coach McVay has set his confidence in Cam Akers, who returned earlier than anticipated after suffering a rib injury in Week 2, although that was never a factor in the playoffs.

Akers will be joined in the backfield by Darrell Henderson.

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Championship Defense

For a couple of months there was speculation that Aaron Donald would announce his retirement after obtaining that coveted championship ring, but the two-time Defensive Player of the Year signed a six-year, $135 million extension.

And as long as Donald anchors this defense and Jalen Ramsey handles the opposition’s wide receivers, the Rams should be considered contenders in the NFC.

Donald led the team with 12.5 sacks and became the fourth player in history with at least eight sacks in his first eight seasons in the league and is the only one with 10 sacks or more each year since 2017.

Ramsey is considered by Pro Football Focus to be the best cornerback in the league and in 2021 he tied for fifth with 16 passes defended.

Von Miller went to Buffalo, but in free agency the Rams got Bobby Wagner, a tackling machine who in 2021 was third in the NFL with 170 stops.

The Rams’ stars are back and, along with the Arizona Cardinals, are the only teams that seem to have quarterback stability in the NFC West.

Sean McVay’s team is ready to return to the Super Bowl.