If you base the future outlook on the first six weeks of the NFL season, the Rams’ schedule won’t be as menacing. Only two of their final 11 games will be played against teams (Cincinnati, Arizona) ranked among the top nine in winning percentage as of Monday morning. Another, Minnesota, has a winning record (3-2.) The other eight games on the Rams’ sked are against teams that currently own a losing record.
We're seeing it in the comments, on the TST Facebook page and Twitter feed. The Rams fan base is hungry and hopeful. And per the quote above from yesterday's Bernie Miklasz column, you can understand why.
The schedule looks promising.
Nick Wagoner has weighed in on the schedule at ESPN as has the P-D's Jim Thomas. More immediately this morning, new TST staffer BMule jumped on the Browns' rushing defense and the opportunity they're providing RB Todd Gurley on Sunday.
But we have to remember these are the Rams. From Wagoner:
More than any of that, the Rams haven't come anywhere close to earning the benefit of the doubt when it comes to winning games they are "supposed" to win. This is the team that, under Fisher, has made a habit of winning games that many think they'll lose and losing games that many think they'll win. There are plenty of examples from recent seasons but none more relevant than the first five games this year.
Wagoner's right that the immediacy of the recent losses to Washington and Pittsburgh carry more relevance to the outlook for 2015, but the sheer volume of dropped opportunities is why you literally have to ignore St. Louis Rams football from 2012 to carry any optimism.
So let's try to approach this week, at least, with a thin layer of incertitude as we head into the midsection of the schedule.
Here's how things are shaping up over the next six weeks before kicking off December with a three-game homestand:
Week 7: v. Cleveland Browns (2-4)
Obviously, we'll be unpacking this one this week from every angle (as will Dawgs By Nature for Browns fans). The bottom line though is that the win-loss record is an incomplete story here. Cleveland couldn't complete the comeback in Week 3 losing to the Oakland Raiders by a touchdown. A week later, a fluke finish saw the San Diego Chargers kick a field goal as time expired to take a 3-point win over the Browns. Last week, they pulled off a hard-fought win in Baltimore with a field goal in overtime. And yesterday, they were on the other side of the coin with the Denver Broncos pulling the winning overtime field goal act.
Keep in mind, Cleveland is 12th in the NFL putting up more than 23 points per game; the Rams, for reference, are 31st, scoring less than 17 per. And with the Browns themselves sitting on just two wins, there's plenty to play for for both teams this weekend.
Week 8: v. San Francisco 49ers (2-4)
The Niners stopped their four-game skid with a big win homestand over the Baltimore Ravens yesterday. They've got the Seahawks at home before our Week 8 clash in St. Louis, so it's tough to know whether they'll be 3-4 hunting for .500 or 2-5 clinging on to 2015.
Week 9: @ Minnesota Vikings (3-2)
After a surprising Week 1 bust to the 49ers, the Vikings have righted their season winning three out of the last four. A three-point loss to the Broncos two weeks ago is all that separates them from sitting on a four-game winning streak with trips to Detroit and Chicago up next.
The last two Rams-Vikings contests are nausea-inducing. Last year's season opening 34-6 spanking set the Rams on a Fisherball rollercoaster of a season by kicking off the Shaun Hill/Austin Davis Show. Three years ago, it was a Week 15 loss that effectively nixed the Rams' longshot playoff chances as the Vikings marched out to a 33-7 lead before easing off the gas.
Week 10: v. Chicago Bears (2-4)
The Bears looked headed toward the basement after three losses to open the season. Two skintight wins in Weeks 4 and 5 brought them back from the brink, but they couldn't survive the risky waters yesterday dropping in overtime to the Lions on yet another OT field goal (THEME!). They'll take their bye week this week before bringing the Vikings coming to town and then heading to San Diego ahead of Week 10. Tough to figure this whole group out right now with everyone mixing it up with each other.
Week 11: @ Baltimore Ravens (1-5)
The pre-Thanksgiving game, the Ravens are struggling to get over the hump week-to-week. They've lost their five games on average by less than 5 points. At 1-5, their 2015 season is practically an NFL Draft placement exercise at this point. The Rams will be the third visiting team in a row to head to M&T Bank Stadium by the time we get here.
Week 12: @ Cincinnati Bengals (6-0)
The Rams follow this up with a three-game home run before heading to Seattle and San Francisco to finish the season. Suffice to say, if we make good on the opportunity afforded us between now and this one, it'll be as big as any game on the schedule.
The Bengals are playing quality football, and Rams fans will get solid looks at them with two primetime contests between now and Week 12.
Certainly, the calls for taking things "week to week" merit attention. It's the only rational way to approach the overwhelming daunt of an NFL season. There's no doubt that the Rams have a legitimate opportunity afforded them these next five weeks ahead of the trip to Cincy.
Still, we've seen Fisherball flub opportunity before.
If the 2015 St. Louis Rams are truly different than their forebears, we'll find out by Thanksgiving. A misstep or two before then, and we'll be where we always were.