You've had a few hours now to digest the St. Louis Rams 2011 schedule, a schedule that might or might not be played. Looking at it again, my thought this morning is the same as last night: you wanted a tough schedule, you got it. Obviously, lots of things can happen, the injury caveat can take a can't-miss 13-win team to a 3-win team in one snap. Players get older and new guys aren't ready to fill their shoes...things change from season to season. Nevertheless, the Rams play two perpetually competitive divisions in the NFC East and the AFC North. Some thoughts on the schedule...
Steve Spagnuolo Reunion Tour
Notice the Rams first two games of the season? At home against Philadelphia and on the road for a Monday night game against the New York Giants. Spagnuolo earned his NFL chops in those two cities and still has lots of ties, as evidenced by the number of former Eagles and Giants on the Rams roster.
The bye week comes early, week 5, after two home games against Baltimore and Washington. After a first month of four tough games, that'll be a good place to heal before division games start in week 9.
On the Road Again
As soon as the bye week ends, they get right back into the fight with consecutive road games at Green Bay and Dallas, before coming home to face the New Orleans Saints. That's not exactly a walk through the park.
The Rams play only three teams out of their first eight games that had losing records last year: Washington, Dallas and Arizona. The average win total for their first eight opponents is 8.75, and aside from those three afore mentioned teams, the other five teams all had double digit wins. From this angle, it's going to be tough for the Rams to get week 10 with four wins, three might be more realistic. I don't mean to be a pessimist; in fact, I think if you go back and look at my history with projections, you'll find I've done most of them through rose-colored glasses. But the Rams struggled against their better opponents last year, who took advantage of a couple big weaknesses in the Rams offense and defense. Without any certainty on free agency, it's going to be very difficult for the team to address those needs, and get an instant impact, through the draft.
The good news is that the Rams still play in the NFC West, and are currently the best team in the division. For as tough as the Rams schedule is, it's just as tough for the three other teams in the division who have to play those NFC East and AFC North opponents too. In the second half of the season, the Rams get to face mostly their NFC West rivals. The toughest game figures to be a visit to Pittsburgh. Winning against division foes will be must for the Rams this year; they can't leave any games on the table like that road loss in SF or the season opener against Arizona last year.
Right now, I'll predict 8-8 and the NFC West title.