St. Louis Rams: I've Been Thinkin'...

It's raining here... Everything is soggy, except for the open bag of Cheetos next to me... To some, days like these are great for sitting with a cup of coffee and pondering the myriad of things going on in the world. But broad, worldwide thinking taxes my brain, so I try to limit my focus to things I know about in moderate detail. For instance, I KNOW it's not particularly wise - if at all possible - to drive a Yugo in the rain. If you do, make sure your Yugo is equipped with the new after-market flotation device...

As I float down the road at the whim of both destiny and current, my mind turns to the St. Louis Rams. If the NFL off season were a river, it would be murky and slow moving. The excitement of the NFL Draft is behind us, we're in the doldrums; windless and drifting - like me, and my Yugo - until training camps begin. Player signings used to be interesting, but the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement put an end to wondering how many gillions of dollars a 22 year old rookie might be paid. The Manzeil-Sam interest has waned, letting these young men find their way in the NFL, and rightly so. We're left pondering the possible as seen through our uniquely individual mind's eyes.

I can't help but wonder how the Rams will fair in the tough NFC West? Seattle and San Francisco are loaded with talent. Arizona shocked the NFL world in 2013, and look improved based on their draft choices and free agent acquisitions. Outside of a stellar 2014 NFL Draft, the Rams didn't do much this off season, but have to be considered the wild card in the NFC West.

Last season, I wondered if the NFC West division title would come down to a tie between all four teams. It didn't happen, but I think it's possible this year? Home field advantage is going to key, as it is every year. Seattle's thundering valley of humanity will be a tough place to win for visiting teams. San Francisco has a new home in Santa Clara, replacing the storied - and miserable - Candlestick Park.

Arizona was 2-4 against NFC West opponents in 2013, and their home field didn't really help them all that much. The 49ers were 5-1 in the West, followed by Seattle at 4-2. In the basement of a division they won in 2012, the Rams finished 2013 with a 1-5 record. I don't get as distrubed as many have with the upheaval in win loss record for the Rams in the NFC West. Let's face it, it's a tough division. When Jeff Fisher arrived in 2012, he took division foes far more seriously than his NFC West coaching peers. He attacked division games with playoff-style abandon, catching the 49ers off guard twice, and battling Seattle to a split. They swept Arizona, on the way to a 2012 record of 4-1-1. It was a wake up call for the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, but also for the rest of the NFL. 2013 marked the NFC West as the biggest and baddest of them all, supplanting former division powerhouses like the NFC East and North as they began to slide.

I think Mocking the Draft's Matthew Fairburn may have said it best: "The NFC West is eating itself..." He was talking about how the division concentrated on even more defensive talent in the 2014 NFL Draft, and he could be right? What's more, outside the division opponents have to not only worry about playing the West, but the game the following week. NFC West defenses are going to be flat out brutal; taking a toll on players who need to be able to play a week after being slapped around by Robert Quinn, Patrick Willis, Kam Chancellor, Daryl Washington, et al...

But Fairburn's comment made me think the division may be so tough they'll all be kind of battered before the post season arrives?

The Rams are still an absurdly young team. Over the past two seasons, they had the youngest rosters in the NFL. This year, they rank #2 on the inexperience chart. With arguably the toughest schedule in the NFL this season, it's hard for many to see how St. Louis can improve on it's 7-9 2013 record. Honestly, if the Rams win 10 games in 2014 it will be one of the greatest team turnarounds in NFL history. Kansas City rose from a disastrous two win 2012, to starting the 2013 season with 9 straight wins before finishing 11-5. Yet, their schedule wasn't nearly as tough as the one the Rams currently face.

I don't like predicting win/loss records, especially this early in the off season. Rational thinking has to weigh in at some point, so anywhere from 11 to 7 wins for the Rams seems reasonable? If there's movement in the NFC West, it will be with Seattle, San Francisco, and Arizona. I believe the Rams will improve overall, but to make any upward movement in the NFC West, the other teams will have to slide down. Injuries will play a key role, as they do every year. I honestly think the team who wins the NFC West will be the one with the shortest list of names on injured reserve at the end of the season. The West is going to be a war of attrition, and teams with older mainstay players could be the ones who slide...

Who do you think will be the key players for each of the NFC West teams? Sam Bradford for the Rams is an easy one, right? Take a look at the division teams, and tell me who you think needs to step up in 2014...

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