Power Rankings: Preseason: 32. This week: 21.
Where they stand: The Rams are 4-4 and leading the NFC West. They hold the tiebreaker over 4-4 Seattle after beating the Seahawks in Week 4. The Rams have used improved quarterback play, a better-than-expected defensive front and a favorable schedule to win more games at the midpoint than they won in the full 2008 and 2009 seasons combined. The Rams are building toward a brighter future while competing for a playoff spot in the present. They've been the most consistent team in the division. They have the NFL's 10th-ranked defense and a quarterback to build around in rookie Sam Bradford.
Falling: The Rams have had a hard time keeping receivers and tight ends healthy for Bradford, threatening their offensive productivity. Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton are on injured reserve with knee injuries. Fellow wideout Danario Alexander lasted two games before needing another knee surgery. Rookie tight end Mike Hoomanawanui was looking like a go-to receiver for Bradford until a high-ankle sprain sidelined him for a four-game stretch. The Rams hired a new training staff before the season. They're getting their money's worth at receiver and tight end alone.
Rising: Bradford is the obvious choice here. He became a credible leader right away through his preparation, demeanor and production. Bradford has answered questions about his durability. He has five touchdown passes without an interception in his past three games. Bradford, Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning are the only rookie quarterbacks since 1970 with 11 touchdown passes in their first eight games. On defense, coach Steve Spagnuolo and coordinator Ken Flajole deserve credit for their scheming amid significant injury issues in the secondary. Defensive linemen Chris Long, Fred Robbins and James Hall are playing at a high level.
Midseason MVP: Bradford gets my vote. Steven Jackson is the heart and soul of this team, but Bradford is the biggest difference for the Rams this season. The Rams have been starved for a leader at quarterback. Bradford gives the team hope and a chance on offense.
Outlook: Let's see how the Rams fare on the road against San Francisco in Week 10. That game could reveal whether the Rams are division favorites or whether they're one of four teams hanging around to see what happens in the end. Injuries at receiver and in the secondary have hurt. The Rams lack the depth to withstand too many more casualties. The bye came at a good time on that front. Four of the Rams' next five games fall on the road, however, and the team hasn't won away from the Edward Jones Dome this season. Home games against Atlanta and Kansas City appear tough. I could see the Rams heading to Seattle in Week 17 with a shot at 8-8.