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Sean McVay's Los Angeles Rams Are Legitimate Playoff Contenders

By Jason Keidel

If you watched the football assault perpetrated at MetLife Stadium yesterday, you had to wonder what planet we were on.

The New York Giants (1-7) were picked to be a playoff team while the Los Angeles Rams (6-2) were supposed to be mired in Year One of an epic rebuild. The Giants were the blue-blood franchise that has fans passing tickets down the generations, while the Rams have to borrow arenas until they build their own.

Yet it was the Rams who looked like the veteran-laden club littered with Pro Bowl players, while the Giants continue to sink into the Meadowlands swamp. At the end, the Rams left the Giants in flames, after a 51-17 drubbing.

While this has to shock the media and the masses, at least one former player and current NFL analyst saw the Rams resurgence coming. Ryan Clark was on this morning, talking about his last year in the NFL, which he spent on the Washington Redskins.

He ducked into a coach's office to take the pulse of the team, dishing out veteran nuggets on how to get the club pumped up. Most times, Clark said, a coach would offer an obligatory ear, politely nod, then ignore everything he said. Not this coach, whom Clark figured was 27 years old at the time. He said this guy, though a pup by coaching standards, was well past the rigors of Xs and Os.

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The coach? Sean McVay. Clark said even in his 20s, McVay had the talent and temperament to run an entire NFL team.

The Rams' turnaround is so soon and so severe you have a hard time believing it. It's almost happening beyond our eyes' ability to adjust. How can a 31-year-old not only call plays but command a locker room?

Sure, it helps that the team's key players -- like QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley, and DT Aaron Donald -- are still young men. The Rams are not hamstrung by old players stuck in bad habits. McVay has a wide gridiron canvas of young minds he can mold. Even still, when you consider how lost the Rams looked last year, even before September, during that Keystone Cops season of Hard Knocks, this 6-2 mark at midseason is astonishing.

Not only did the Rams destroy the Giants yesterday, they did so under unfavorable conditions. Consider that the Giants were at home, coming off their bye week, and had two weeks to prepare for the Rams. That's to say nothing of the woeful history West Coast clubs have traveling across country to play 1 p.m. games.

It always helps to be young, with those fleeting, regenerative powers, and a dearth of bad data in the brain, no poor thoughts or brutal practices to rewire. But youth cuts both ways. Many times a young coach of a young club gets a harsh lesson in the rigors of pro sports. Grown men have a way of schooling kids on how things are done. But the Rams are somehow young and mature, fast yet steady.

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The Rams are third in the NFL in total offense, with 382.1 yards per game, and lead the league in scoring (263 points) among teams that have played eight games. (Only the 8-1 Eagles have scored more after nine.). Yet the Rams aren't in the top five in rushing or passing, which speaks to the balance with which they spread the football.

They are 16th in total defense, surrendering 327 yards per game. But under the stewardship of defensive coordinator Wade Philips, the Rams are eighth in total points allowed (155). So the overhaul, at least at halftime of the NFL season, seems complete, or at least legit.

No doubt Eagles head man, Doug Pederson, is the midseason favorite to win Coach of the Year, with perhaps a few sympathy votes for Todd Bowles. And we have an impulse to ignore NFL startups, no matter how successful they are, while we wait for them to plunge back to reality.

But if the Rams somehow repeat their first half over the second half of the season, then serious consideration must be given to McVay, who has revived a moribund franchise that tanked under Jeff Fisher, and was saddled with sour fans after fleeing St. Louis. And his startling makeover, with this offense in general and Jared Goff in particular, gives you the sense McVay is for real, and around for a while. As are his Rams.

Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there's a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.

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