On Wednesday, the NFL released its slate of games for the 2014 season. Playing in the NFC West guarantees the Rams a difficult schedule all by itself. Adding three playoff teams from the AFC West - Denver, Kansas City, and San Diego - makes it much more difficult. Toss in the Eagles for good measure, and the Rams have one of the more difficult schedules, with ten games - six on the road - against playoff/10-win teams from 2013.
With the remainder of the off-season, especially the draft, still ahead of us, it's pretty early to look at how the Rams - or any other team - will fare this coming season. Notwithstanding the time of year, it's never too early to look ahead, and briefly examine what the Rams will need to accomplish to have a successful season. ESPN's Nick Wagoner shared his thoughts this morning, with an analysis of the Rams' schedule. What stands out is an eight-game stretch, one that will no doubt determine their fate this coming season.
"Aside from having to finish the season in Seattle for a third consecutive year, there's one glaring complaint that might jump out to the Rams and their fans: A brutal eight-game stretch against teams with winning records in 2013 that comes after an early bye week. Smack in the middle is a three-game road swing at Kansas City, San Francisco and Arizona."
Given the difficulty of their schedule this season, how many games can the Rams expect to win? I believe the floor is 7 wins. The Rams could play much better than last season, and end up with the same record to show for it. The ceiling? 10 wins. The Rams will need to win at least 3 games in that tough eight-game stretch, then virtually run the table in their remaining games.
The accompanying chart presents a preliminary look at the Rams schedule, and outcomes needed to achieve 10 victories (and possibly reach the playoffs):
Week Home Away Prediction Record 1 St. Louis Minnesota St. Louis 1 0 2 Tampa Bay St. Louis St. Louis 2 0 3 St. Louis Dallas St. Louis 3 0 4 Bye Bye Bye 3 0 5 Philadelphia St. Louis Philadelphia 3 1 6 St. Louis San Francisco San Francisco 3 2 7 St. Louis Seattle St. Louis 4 2 8 Kansas City St. Louis St. Louis 5 2 9 San Francisco St. Louis San Francisco 5 3 10 Arizona St. Louis Arizona 5 4 11 St. Louis Denver Denver 5 5 12 San Diego St. Louis St. Louis 6 5 13 St. Louis Oakland St. Louis 7 5 14 Washington St. Louis St. Louis 8 5 15 St. Louis Arizona St. Louis 9 5 16 St. Louis NY Giants St. Louis 10 5 17 Seattle St. Louis Seattle 10 6
This is the time of year where optimism reigns supreme. The Rams could greatly improve their team in the upcoming draft. They will need to, for it's a treacherous path to the playoffs this year. No one is doing the Rams any favors, especially the schedule-makers. Let's hope the Rams grow up together, in a hurry.
When all is said and done, the Rams won 7 games last year, without their starting QB for more than half of them. A solid draft, another year of experience for the league's youngest team, the arrival of Gregg Williams, and a healthy Sam Bradford should - combined - translate to a minimum of 3 additional wins over last year.