Week 1 - @ Oakland Raiders: L
I know, I know. The Los Angeles Rams are coming off of a 11-5 season and and NFC West title and a reclamation on the back of 13 losing seasons and a much-needed (albeit poorly timed...) winning season in LA. And with everything that’s gone down this offseason, people are understandably framing this largely as a Super Bowl or bust campaign. So how could they possibly come out and take an L in the season opener against a team that won just six games last year?
Well, consider how widely people underestimated the Rams last year, yours truly certainly included. While I bought into the McBae train, I thought it might take him a while to turn things around. Thankfully, all the time the Rams needed took place between February and August and by Week 1 of 2017, the team was ready to go. Could something similar take place for the Raiders this year? They’ve got a new head coach in Jon Gruden. They’ve got a sizable draft haul with their organic picks from every round supplemented with four compensatory Day 3 picks. And while I’m far from a fan of what they’ve done this offseason (and their outlook overall for the 2018 season), I could see everything coming together for them at least for one week while Gruden takes the stage against his former employer on ESPN’s broadcast of Monday Night Football.
Week 2 - v. Arizona Cardinals: W
And I’d predict a big win at that.
The talent disparity is huge. And if the Rams do indeed drop that first one, look out. The Rams were very, very good at bouncing back from losses in 2017. If we can ascribe a sizable proportion of the responsibility for that (if not the majority) to Head Coach Sean McVay, I don’t see why the Rams shouldn’t be able to lean into that as a strength this year.
All that being said, I find the Cardinals one of the most fascinating teams in the NFL this year. They’re simply not built to compete right now, and the challenge for both a staff and a roster to make use of that kind of futility can be overwhelming. There’s a universe in which the Cardinals put together a winning record in 2019. What would it require of them in 2018 to get to that path? What do they absolutely need to achieve to avoid a repeat of the Jake Plummer years or the sea of horrible that preceded it? They’re not playing to win now. They’re playing to win tomorrow. And that can be just as much motivation for those players who will be there beyond 2018.
Week 3 - v. Los Angeles Chargers: W
It was made obvious the moment the league approved the relocation of the Chargers to join the Rams in LA: they’re going to fabricate a rivalry out of this.
#FightforLA, pay your rent, whatever you want to call it. This will turn into a matchup as big as the NFC West rivals in the years to come. I really thought they could push this into December to force feed that rivalry status upon us, but give the NFL scheduling wizards credit for waiting. The Rams are riding a crest while the Chargers are figuring out which way the tide is pushing. The year to make this a December primetime contest is when they’re both in sync, and that’s just not this year. Maybe 2019? Certainly 2020 when they share a new stadium would make sense. But this year, it’s set up as a fair refresh of last year’s preseason intra-LA battle.
As for the football, the Chargers are one of the most confusing teams in the NFL. Annually. Last year was just about surviving the difficulty of their early season to allow them a chance to come on late. An 0-4 start was simply too much for them to make up even with a 9-3 finish.
This year? Who knows. The defense was MUCH improved last year. They’ve got a full draft class comin in. At 36-years old, QB Philip Rivers is still doing it. I could totally see them ending their four-year playoff drought. And because of that, this poses the Rams’ first big-ticket test. I’ve got them passing that test, but it could take a chunk out of them physically and mentally.
Week 4 - v. Minnesota Vikings: L
Rams fans are going to want to overturn that painful loss in Minneapolis from last year in Week 11. But they’ve had one of the best defense in the NFL for years that hit stride last year. They’re bringing back RB Dalvin Cook who had a very promising rookie season cut short by an ACL injury. And they’ve replaced QB Case Keenum with QB Kirk Cousins.
Like a couple of other games on the slate, this one certainly offers the potential to get a rematch in the NFC Championship. I wonder how many fans would be apoplectic at a 2-2 start given the hype this team has invited over the last two months and will certainly build upon over the next four.
Week 5 - @ Seattle Seahawks: W
Man, if the Cardinals are interesting because they’re simply off the map right now, what are the Seahawks? The Legion of Boom is over. CB Richard Sherman is gone. And the last time these two played...
Week 5 - @ Denver Broncos: W
First-year Head Coach Vance Joseph wasn’t able to stem the tide in Denver as they went 5-11 after five winning seasons. Their defense was still third in yards allowed, so there’s an obvious path back to the better side of .500 leaning on OLB Von Miller and the rest of that defense. But CB Aqib Talib and S T.J. Ward are gone bringing an end to the No Fly Zone. And the offense...yeesh. Perhaps QB Case Keenum can stabilize things while they shore up the personnel through the draft.
If anything, this game offers HUUUUUUUUUGE trap game potential given what’s looming...
Week 7 - @ San Francisco 49ers: W
The biggest game of the first half of the season? I think so.
This is the Rams’ final game of their three-game road trip before coming home. You’ve got the rivalry factor. You’ve got the optimism the Niners are riding on the back of their five-game winning streak thanks largely to QB Janeane Garofalo. And it’s on national TV.
This is that sauce.
Week 8 - v. Green Bay Packers: W
A four-game winning streak? Juicy.
I like the matchup overall. It’s our only home game in October. It’ll come off the back of that huge Niners game which, if we win, we should be riding some major momentum. And by this point, we should have figured out the idiosyncrasies among the personnel, both in terms of new Rams but also developing youth that assume greater roles (TE Gerald Everett anyone?).
So while I’m certainly not counting out the Packers this season, they looked a markedly different team without QB Aaron Rodgers. That showed us (a) just how damn good he is but also (b) how reliant they are on him for success. So while they certainly could find that success again this year, it would appear they’ve isolated Rodgers without sufficient talent to exceed around, and/or without, him.
To the degree that affects our matchup, I like our chances.
Week 9 - @ New Orleans Saints: L
Another huge matchup in a rubber match from 2017. Last year, the Rams held serve at home in Week 12 after a demoralizing loss in Minnesota in Week 11. This year, we have to travel to Nola. What’s interesting (ironic?) is that this year, New Orleans is heading to Minnesota in Week 8 before inviting us a week later. Could they be coming off a loss to Minny looking to right the ship?
The Saints have always been a threat since Head Coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees linked up. It’s been the defense that held them up at times over the last decade and reaaaaaaaaally struggled from 2014-16. But last year, Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen shored things up with 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year CB Marshon Lattimore helping substantially. Like Week 4, if the Rams are able to get to the NFC Championship, this certainly offers a potential preview.
Week 10 - v. Seattle Seahawks: W
I mentioned in my five takeaways from the schedule release that the Rams-49ers rivalry is getting pumped up. Part of what isn’t getting said there? That the Rams-Seahawks rivalry is most certainly not. Whether it was the beatdown in Week 15 last year or the Seahawks’ roster moves this offseason or the sheer absence of WR Richard Sherman on the Seahawks’ sidelines (and his presence on the Niners’), this one has lost some luster.
The clearest evidence is that the NFL has the Rams-Seahawks offerings both off the table before Thanksgiving. The last time that happened? The 2006 season when the GSOT was dying off. Now, the tables have turned and it’s the Rams riding high as the Seahawks stave off demise. That sets up the old dynamic of the trap games of the Fisher years where we were spoiling the Seahawks’ run, but I’m not sure these Rams are susceptible. Beyond 2018? I could see it being a very painful thorn in our sides.
Week 11 - v.* Kansas City Chiefs: W
* - The Rams’ “home” game in Week 11 against the Chiefs will be played in Mexico City
How incredibly fun is this going to be? CB Marcus Peters going against his former employer. WR Sammy Watkins going against his former employer. McBae v. Andy Reid. An up-and-coming West Coast team versus a Midwest mainstay with visions past of the Governor’s Cup.
IN CIUDAD DE MÉXICO!!! TODO EL FÚTBOL!!! TODA LA GLORIA!!!
TODOS LOS TACOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOS DE LENGUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!
Week 12 - BYE
Good bye week timing this year. Comes after the midway point so we’ll certainly have some injuries that could use the break. And coming after the trip (and the lengua), it’ll be a much-needed off week.
Week 13 - @ Detroit Lions: W
These first two games out of the bye week are weird. The two furthest road games of the year, we go to Detroit and Chicago in December. Woof. At least this one will be indoors.
But what will it be? Detroit won nine games last season with a strong offense and a lagging defense. Will new Defensive Coordinator Paul Pasqualoni make enough of a difference in Year One? I think the Lions are one of those teams that we won’t have any clue of what they’re going to be this season until we get well into this season.
This game takes place on December 2. I think we might as well just wait until Thanksgiving to get a feel for this one.
Week 14 - @ Chicago Bears: L
I’ve got to go with one shocker to kind of line up with last year’s loss to the Washington Rams Beaters, at least in hindsight. On paper, this one certainly doesn’t look headed this way...but remember what happened to the Rams last season!
I could see Chicago improving substantially this year. New head coach. Second-year QB. Coming off of a horrible year offensively.
Hey, I’ve seen this movie!
Week 15 - v. Philadelphia Eagles: W
Saving words for this one for December
Week 16 - @ Arizona Cardinals: W
Is there a less interesting game on the schedule? We’ll have to see how things go through the first three months, but I could see this one being a match of like 2017 Week 17.
Week 17 - v. San Francisco 49ers: L
Yeah, I’m already there again. The Rams have locked up home-field advantage. San Fran is maybe on the cusp of playoff football needing a win and maybe some luck a la the 2017 Buffalo Bills at this point. They’re playing for everything. We’re holding back again.
I know. Emotions are already bubbling up. Keep em pushed way down. You know, healthy living and whatnot. We’ll get there, Pop. We’ll get there.
The thing is, you could predict the Rams going 16-0 and have a legitimate case game-by-game. There’s not a game on paper the Rams can’t win. Of course, history tells us it’s just not likely whatsoever. Which isn’t a bad thing. If the Rams drop five games in the regular season and make it to the Super Bowl, who’s gonna care about those five losses?
The 2018 Los Angeles Rams have put themselves in position to compete for success in January, less so in October. But they’ll still have to get there.
Is anyone betting on a collapse this season and a wildly disappointing single-digit win season? I know full well there are plenty of bright-eyed fans leaning into those 16-0 or 15-1 predictions.
Mild spoiler: the SB Nation NFL site win-loss predictions are in and only one site among the NFC teams is predicting a losing season. Those should be up next week, but until then consider this.
Of the 16 teams in the NFC, 11 have been to the playoffs in the last two years. The balance of the conference is not top heavy at all. It’s wildly competitive. I could see 10 different teams in the NFC Championship.
The Rams are obviously one of them.
It’s going to take a lot of work to make it so, in spite of the high expectations.