Just when Major League Baseball, the NBA Playoffs, and hockey fans thought they could steal some spotlight from the Nation Football League, the American sports juggernaut unleashes the "final" schedules for the 2015-2016 regular season. As one might would expect, social media exploded with instant reactions, "in-depth" breakdowns, and attempts at pin-pointing future, "must-watch" games on the schedule.
However, at this point in the offseason, looking too deeply into the schedule is a futile exercise. Strengths of schedule are based off last year's performances from teams whose rosters may or may not look anything like they did four months ago; looking at you, San Francisco. Moreover, teams haven't even begun to start hammering out a 90-man offseason roster, with the NFL Draft still over a week away and NFL Free Agency 2.0 to follow shortly after. Then, we have to wait for the preseason injury lottery to play itself out, where there will undoubtedly (and unfortunately) be a half dozen "franchise" players get taken out for the season or, at least, for a significant portion of it.
So, is there any meaningful way of looking at the schedule and make predictions?
One philosophy, which is often utilized by Vegas sports' books and has been popularized by Colin Cowherd on the "The Herd," bases season predictions on the quality and quantity of high-caliber quarterbacks that a team faces throughout the season; call it the "Elite Quarterback Test." The under-arching (and initiative) belief is that the fewer "elite" quarterbacks you play throughout the season, the better your chances of finishing the season with a solid record and, thus, having a shot at winning your division or snagging a Wildcard spot.
So, how do the St. Louis Rams fare next season?
Pretty well, all things considered. On the conservative end, if we use Pro Football Focus as a reasonable metric for quarterback "eliteness," the Rams will only have two games against signal callers that graded out in the Top 10 last season; Green Bay and Pittsburgh. Taking a more liberal approach, one might argue that the St. Louis Rams could have as many as five games against high-caliber quarterbacks, adding on Russell Wilson's Seahawks, twice, and Joe Flacco's Ravens. For comparisons' sake, the Rams had seven of those games against top-tier signal callers last year.
However, as Rams' fans are well aware, playing against an inferior quarterback is only truly meaningful when you have a decent starter in your own backfield. Relatively speaking, it would be hard to justify the use of the aforementioned test when your own quarterback wouldn't qualify as a "starting-caliber" player on any of the opposing rosters.
So, after accounting for the high-caliber quarterbacks, the next step is comparing "your guy" to the rest of the signal callers on the schedule. Labeling Nick Foles as a "Top Something" can be a difficult task, particularly with only two seasons under his belt as a true starter; one being a nearly-perfect, Pro Bowl year and one being a less-than-stellar, collar bone-shattering year. All things considered, it would probably be fair to rank Foles as a Top 15-20 quarterback.
Taking that into consideration here are the other ball tossers on the Rams schedule:
Week 2 (@Washington): Robert Griffin III?
Week 4/ Week 13 (Arizona): Carson Palmer
Week 7 (Cleveland): Josh McCown/Johnny Manziel?
Week 8/ Week 17 (San Francisco): Colin Kaepernick
Week 9 (@Minnesota): Teddy Bridgewater
Week 10 (Chicago): Jay Cutler
Week 12 (@Cincinnati): Andy Dalton
Week 14 (Detroit): Matthew Stafford
Week 15 (Tampa Bay): Jameis Winston/Marcus Mariota?
Comparatively speaking, the St. Louis Rams and Nick Foles, arguably, should have the quarterbacking edge over the rest of the schedule. The toughest remaining quarterbacks are likely the oft-injured Carson Palmer, coming off a torn ACL, and Matthew Stafford, who will be coming off back-to-back games against the Packers and Eagles by Week 14. There are also three teams with genuine question marks at the quarterback spot heading into the Draft, with Cleveland, Washington, and Tampa Bay all still searching for their franchise signal caller.
Lastly, and most relevant to the actual release of the schedule, it is important to look at when and where the Rams will have to face off against top-tier quarterbacks. Last year, the Rams got slapped with a "gauntlet of eliteness" after their Week 4, way-too-early Bye. This year, their toughest stretch of the schedule is, arguably, their opening five games, where the Rams will take on three of their five toughest quarterbacks. However, none of those games are back-to-back, and only one of them is on the road; that being the matchup against Aaron Rodgers, which will thankfully be in Green Bay during October, as opposed to their blistering-cold Novembers and Decembers. After the Bye, their toughest quarterbacking bout is probably Week 11, on the road against Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens. Then, to finish off their "elite" schedule, they face the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 16. Luckily, that game follows the Rams Thursday Night Football matchup against the Buccaneers, meaning that St. Louis will have 10 days to prepare and heal for Russell Wilson and Co. at CenturyLink.
To quickly wrap all that together in a nice package, the St. Louis Rams should be thrilled about their schedule, particularly when considering the "Elite Quarterback Test." This season, they'll only face five top-tier signal callers, all of which are nicely spaced throughout the regular season, with a balance of home and away matchups. The rest of their schedule is muddled with average-at-best quarterbacks and question mark starters, which should,, theoretically, make for the easiest regular season the Rams have had in the post-Sam Bradford Rookie of the Year era.