Posted 09/01/2011 at 01:05 PM
After going 1-15 in 2009 the Rams were a nice story last season but they finished just 7-9. It was a great improvement but St. Louis was outscored by 39 points on the season and only Carolina and Minnesota scored fewer points than St. Louis on the season in the NFC. The Rams went just 2-6 on the road with only wins at Denver and at Arizona and only a bizarre 20-17 win over San Diego counted as a victory against a team that finished with a winning record. The Rams were not overly competitive against the best teams that they faced, losing by 38 to Detroit, by 17 to Atlanta, 18 against New Orleans, and 14 against Kansas City. In a make-or-break game to win the division and make the playoffs at the end of the season the Rams posted just six points and while rookie QB Sam Bradford showed some promise, the offense has a long ways to go before being considered a high quality team and a conference championship contender in the NFC.
This season the schedule will be dramatically more difficult, particularly early in the year. The Rams trade the four teams from the weak AFC West, which contributed two wins to St. Louis last season for the four teams in the AFC North. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are known for physical defensive play and Cleveland and Cincinnati may be better on defense than most expect. The Rams do get the Bengals at home but that game comes late in the year instead of early when a young QB may be more vulnerable. The Rams played the four NFC South teams last year and that was a quality division but St. Louis and the rest of the NFC West has to face the NFC East teams this year and that group of teams may be even stronger from top to bottom. Being a second place team last season has a huge penalty on the schedule in the NFC this season as the Rams have to play the Packers and the Saints, two elite contenders that no one else in the division will have to face. The Rams will have a tough time surviving the first half of the season with this opening schedule, hosting Philadelphia, at NY Giants, Baltimore, and Washington before a week 5 bye week and then games at Green Bay, at Dallas, and home against New Orleans. Best case scenario might be 2-5 in that stretch and while that won’t knock the Rams out of the NFC West race it could be tough for a young team to overcome a discouraging start to the season. Three separate times St. Louis will have to play back-to-back road games and late season road games in the elements at Seattle and at Pittsburgh will also present serious challenges.
The Rams are a trendy pick to win the NFC West with an up-and-coming QB and a defense that was statistically the best in the division last year, allowing less than 21 points per game. Bradford did not once pass for over 300 yards last season and only once did St. Louis have a 100 yard receiver as the defense led the way in most wins. St. Louis did allow 30 or more points five times last season and the numbers likely benefited from the offensive challenges that were faced by the rest of the division. While it is hard to say that any of the other three teams in the division will be greatly improved, all three have made some changes that could help the cause. As bad as the NFC West was last season the Rams went just 3-3, splitting with all three teams. St. Louis might be the best team in the NFC West but they have been dealt a huge disadvantage in the schedule and the best team in a division does not always end up with the best record as the Bears certainly proved last year.