Last evening, the official 2014 schedule for the Rams was made public. Let's go beyond the dates and times to look at how this shapes up week to week.
Week 1 - vs. Minnesota Vikings: Sunday, Sep. 7, 12:00 p.m.
There's an argument to be made that this game is must-win if the Rams want to be in the playoff hunt. I know, that's a hyperbolic start to this, but here's the real. This is one of the easiest games on the schedule. It's at home. It's early enough that the roster shouldn't be (knock on all things made of wood within earshot) too depleted from the battering of the regular season. And they'll be coming off a long rest wrapping up their preseason two Thursdays prior.
Still, this shouldn't be viewed as a walk. Don't forget that two years ago, the Vikings crushed the Rams' postseason hopes on the back of Adrian Peterson's 212-yard rushing performance which ultimately cost then de facto defensive coordinator Blake Williams his job. A little revenge would be a crucial step to getting off on the right foot which, disconcertingly, is not exactly something Jeff Fisher's teams are known for.
Week 2 - at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sunday, Sep. 14, 3:05 p.m.
Each of the last two seasons has seen the Rams beat the Buccaneers in Week 16, including a road win two years ago. Strangely, that win followed the Minnesota game I discussed above. So this go round, instead of a late season pairing that, in some part, cost the Rams a shot at the playoffs, we get a pre-bye set of rematches. If there's another theme to these two games, it's quarterback play.
Minnesota is widely expected to use one of their draft picks to either bring in a viable rookie starter or at least someone with a suggestion of credible starting capability soon after the season starts if Christian Ponder continues to struggle. Tampa, on the other hand, is currently sitting on the duo of Josh McCown, he of last season's replacement heroics in lieu of Jay Cutler, and young giraffenecked Mike Glennon. Bottom line: assuming Sam Bradford's starting in both of these early games, there's no reason not to demand that he outplay his counterparts.
Week 3 - vs. Dallas Cowboys: Sunday, Sep. 21, 12:00 p.m.
This is one of the season's most interesting games to me.
The Cowboys are, perhaps, on the precipice of having everything break down. Tony Romo, for all the drama, posted a solid 2013; however, you have to wonder if at 34 and coming off of a late-season herniated disk with an offseason cyst (which is now a favorite phrase of mine) to boot. The defense was abysmal in 2013. Jason Witten can't have much left in him. Dez Bryant, though talented, is a powder keg. There's a lot going on in Dallas, and a lot of it is entirely combustible.
Then again, the Rams have been plowed by the Cowboys the last two times they've played them, including last year's week three 31-7 ass crumpling (favorite phrase #2). History does not look kind on this matchup, but if the Rams are trying to shed the stain of the last decade or thereabouts, this would be a big game to win and suggest that 2014 could be the year that happens.
Week 4 - BYE
YOU CAN'T LOSE IN A BYE WEEK. WE ALL WIN. WE ALL WIN. GET HEALTHY. WE ALL WIN.
As I mentioned on the hangout last night, there's a good side/bad side going on here. Good side, you isolate three winnable games early, get in good physical health and then get your mind right for a brutal stretch ahead. There's fair reason to hope for 3-0 at this point. On the other hand, this forces you to ride out 13 games into the playoffs in a row. For a team that has been, and we should expect to be, as physical as the Rams, this could be something we look back at and wish had been pushed a few weeks later.
Week 5 - at Philadelphia Eagles: Sunday, Oct. 5, 12:00 p.m.
It's Chip Kelly's Eagles. This is gonna be wild. And coming out of the bye week ESPECIALLY if the Rams are 2-1 or, inshallah, 3-0?! This is one of the few games on the schedule that makes me smile just looking at it.
Week 6 - vs. San Francisco 49ers: Monday, Oct. 13, 7:30 p.m.
Aaaaaand there goes the smile. Monday Night Football. The Niners. First of what should be six absolute smash mouth NFC West contests. Again, this doesn't need much hyping.
Week 7 - vs. Seattle Seahawks: Sunday, Oct. 19, 12:00 p.m.
At this point, you're three games into the Octet of Pain™ (OOP). I think I'm looking at these eight games in pairings. If you can get two wins from the pre-bye trio and float .500 through the OOP, you're at six wins with five to play. That's just about playoff threshold level, so anything below that makes it a struggle while exceeding that mark puts you on a path to the postseason. This pair's the second toughest out of the OOP for me (behind @SF, @ARI), so picking up a big home win against the Super Bowl champs would do us a ton of good.
Week 8 - at Kansas City Chiefs: Sunday, Oct. 10, 12:00 p.m.
Governor's Cup mid-season? Why, it's as if the NFL is trying to develop this rivalry into, uh, a rivalry! The Chiefs have won the last two post-preseason pre-postseason Cup battles in 2010 and 2006, both in the Ed. Here, I will quote noted sportswordsmaker Joe McAtee who mere paragraphs ago noted:
...if the Rams are trying to shed the stain of the last decade or thereabouts, this would be a big game to win and suggest that 2014 could be the year that happens.
I agree with that wise and dashing wordtypedoer.
Week 9 - at San Francisco 49ers: Sunday, Nov. 2, 3:05 p.m.
Game five of the OOP, game two of the road trio and game one of the toughest OOP pairing. This is a tall task.
Fair question to be asked though as to how long San Francisco can maintain their high level of play. For me, there's no reason to think it begins to cave in 2014. That makes this a tough, tough outing. Faith is the watchword, brothers and sisters.
Week 10 - at Arizona Cardinals: Sunday, Nov. 9, 3:25 p.m.
The more winnable game on paper, this is one of my three must-wins along with that week one contest. It's one of the best matchups in the OOP, and while a meaningful Governors Cup would go a long way toward helping the Rams find success this year, the Rams got looped 30-10 last season in Phoenix. That needs a reversal. To stay afloat in the NFC West, the Rams need to pick up a road victory. I don't think it's all that courageous to suggest the Cardinals would be the prime target for doing just that. And with heading to St. Louis for part two just five weeks later, this would be a huge statement win.
Week 11 - vs. Denver Broncos: Sunday, Nov. 16, 12:00 p.m.
Peyton Manning, the robot who never sleeps. Last time we saw ye, we wished we hadn't seen ye. May we smite thee with the utmost grace and power. All hail Sir Janoris and his Pickdom.
Seriously though, this is going to take some defensive production. If anything, a copycat of the Super Bowl sure would be nice, though you have to assume Peyton has spent roughly 94% of the time he wasn't sleeping studying that game and preparing to put forth a rebuttal in 2014. Save it for Week 12, Peytonbot.
Week 12 - at San Diego Chargers: Sunday, Nov. 23, 3:05 p.m.
Almost a must-win for me, but this is the end of the OOP, the end of the tunnel. I think we'll all just be glad when it's over. San Diego is just a better version of the Cowboys, so I'm concerned here. The numbers were impressive, but at some point, the careers of Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have to come to a close. Of course that will come as Keenan Allen is likely taking off after a very impressive rookie campaign and a resurgent Ryan Matthews tries to cement his slot in the top tier of NFL rushers. Weird clash of styles here.
Week 13 - vs. Oakland Raiders: Sunday, Nov. 30, 12:00 p.m.
This is less of a must-win and more of a demand-win. Oakland's a hot mess right now both on the field and in the front office. Matt Schaub is nobody's savior. This would be an opportune time to put up some big numbers coming out of the OOP and build up confidence in the locker room and among the fan base if a postseason push is a reality here.
Week 14 - at Washington Redskins: Sunday, Dec. 7, 12:00 p.m.
Here's my third must-win. The Rams have won four of their last six against Washington, though we skipped the meeting last year. You've got the draft/trade/RGIII narrative bundled up nicely. And of course I doubt RGIII has forgotten how he was treated last time the Rams hosted the Skins in St. Louis. I wouldn't be all that upset if we extended the same
hostility hospitality this time. The turf in St. Louis is absolutely wonderful this time of year. Here, have a sniff.
Week 15 - vs. Arizona Cardinals: Thursday, Dec. 11, 7:25 p.m.
I mentioned the scenario above where the Rams pick up at least two wins from the pre-bye trio and manage to get four out of the OOP that leaves this final five-game stretch to get into the playoffs. This could be the hinge game. Of course things will look differently depending on how things go in part one of this series in the week 10 Arizona-hosted clash, but I would expect the Rams to come out forcing the issue if they're playing for something at this point which I'm more expecting than not to be the case.
Week 16 - vs. New York Giants: Sunday, Dec. 21, 3:05 p.m.
Another near must-win for me, but coming off of three very winnable games you gotta expect that one of these four is a disappointment for the Rams. For a team as volatile as the Giants (which is as volatile as Eli Manning makes them), who knows what kind of Giants team this will be come late December. Remember, the Giants won the Super Bowl just more than two years ago. The NFL moves fast, man.
Week 17 - at Seattle Seahawks: Sunday, Dec. 28, 3:25 p.m.
YOU DO NOT NEED WORDS. YOU NEED RESOLVE. I WILL NOT SPEAK OF THIS GAME UNTIL BOXING DAY UPON WHENCE I WILL SPRING FORTH NOT IN MY HUMAN FORM BUT AS AN ORB OF PURE ENERGY PREPARED TO EXTINGUISH ALL LIFEFORMS THAT DO NOT HEED MY COMMAND. I DO NOT TRAVEL TO THIS LAND TO TAKE LIGHTLY THE WANTON AND CRAVEN DESIRES OF MEN WHO CALL THEMSELVES CHAMPIONS. THEY HAVE YET TO BE TESTED BY MINE OWN HAND AND THIS DAY SHALL BE THE DAY I DECLARE TO BE IN MINE OWN POSSESSION. IF IT IS TO BE ANY OTHER WAY, LET FATHER DEATH DECIDE WHO LIVES ON.
Kind of excited for this one.