ST. LOUIS -- In many ways, the 2013 NFL season tasted like chalk. The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos were both preseason favorites to reach and win the Super Bowl, both earned No. 1 seeds in their respective conference and went on to reach the big game.
It's unlikely such a scenario will play out again in 2014 considering the NFL tradition of parity taking precedence over dynasty. As prognosticators begin trying to project what's going to happen next season (the countdown has already begun!), it's important to try to identify some teams slightly off the radar who might be ready to take the leap from under the radar to legitimate contender.
Right here at ESPN.com, the professor, John Clayton put together his first rough list of five teams who could win it all in 2014. Although Clayton allowed himself a little wiggle room by naming four teams for the fifth spot, he made sure to include some teams that many others might not mention. Sure, the usual suspects such as Seattle, Denver, San Francisco and New England are present and accounted for. But there, listed along with the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals is the St. Louis Rams.
That's right, the Rams. After going 7-9 in 2013, the Rams are the only team coming off a losing season to make Clayton's list. Along with Arizona, they're the only team not to reach the playoffs as well.
Clayton points to the idea of a young team continuing to mature, the return of quarterback Sam Bradford and the team's two first-round picks as reasons for a possible ascent. If nothing else, it should tell you all you need to know about the current strength of the NFC West that the entire division makes Clayton's cut.
A roundup of Monday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we began with a column from the Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke, who writes that the Rams moving back to Los Angeles isn't all that far-fetched. ... Next, we took a look at the well-deserved Hall of Fame selection of former Rams defensive back Aeneas Williams. ... Then, we took a look at the early odds for the Rams to win the Super Bowl next year. ... We closed the day by revisiting my preseason picks for any number of awards, offering you the opportunity to hold me accountable for the things I missed wildly.
ESPN Insider Mike Sando explores the potential of a Seattle dynasty in this Insider piece.
Grantland's Bill Barnwell breaks down how Seattle built its championship team, a blueprint the Rams can and should follow.
At stltoday.com, columnist Bryan Burwell explains how Rams fans can have their say in the team's ultimate St. Louis fate.
Columnist Bernie Miklasz gives a great inside look at how Williams was selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
News side columnist Bill McClellan isn't as optimistic as others in St. Louis that the Rams are here to stay.
The great Bob McGinn, of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ranks his top 25 quarterbacks of all time with one former Ram getting some love.
Turf Show Times wonders if, even with a healthy Jake Long, the Rams are good enough at left tackle.