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Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Experts' NFL Predictions: Love for Austin

By Nick Wagoner

Today on ESPN.com, we unveiled a lengthy list of league-wide predictions from 36 writers both national and embedded in cities around the NFL.

On each list, each participant picked a winner in each division, the two wild card berths on both sides, a conference champion and a Super Bowl champion. From there, each panelist selected award winners including an MVP, coach of the year and offensive and defensive rookies of the year.

Falling in line with what seems to be a national consensus, the Rams didn't get many nods from the group as a team. In fact, every writer picked Seattle and San Francisco to make the playoffs in some combination of division winner and wild card. Both teams were strong favorites to win the Super Bowl as well, with eight writers (myself included) choosing Seattle and 10 picking San Francisco to finish what it started last season. That means exactly half the writers making picks chose one of the two NFC West powerhouses to win the Super Bowl.

The Rams, meanwhile, appeared just once on the list from a team perspective. Denver Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold selected the Rams to make it as a wild card. He had all three of the NFC West teams represented in his playoff picks.

On a brighter note from a Rams perspective, rookie wideout Tavon Austin was a popular choice to win the team's second Offensive Rookie of the Year award in the past four seasons. Austin was named on 14 ballots, including seven of the 12 national writers.

Fellow 2013 Rams' first-round pick Alec Ogletree also drew a mention as Matt Williamson tabbed him for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

My take: It should be no surprise that the Rams didn't appear much on the list of playoff teams. The general belief seems to be that they are  team headed in the right direction but their breakthrough to the postseason will have to wait as the team matures and attempts to catch up to powerhouses in Seattle and San Francisco. I have the Rams at 9-7 and just missing the playoffs but a little luck on the injury front and a bounce or two going their way and they could be in the mix.

We discussed Austin winning the offensive rookie of the year award in the previous note about odds but it's again no surprise that he's something of a favorite of this panel. Austin was the highest drafted skill position player and brings an element of excitement that none of the other projected candidates can. Still, it's difficult for a rookie receiver to make an impact right away. Where Austin benefits is his versatility and chance to affect the game in other ways.